Fuel For The Fire
When I am sourcing inspiration for a new piece, I never know what will stick in my mind. It could be the shape of a leaf, or a song on the radio, or the color of a ceiling tile. My only job is to let things float in and float out until something decides to stick. During a visit to the site of my most recent project, what stuck was a fireplace. In the middle of a beautiful open-air space with views of downtown and Atlanta’s famous tree canopy, there it was: a huge, free-standing feat of engineering whose flames burned red, blue, and green. Of all the things I saw that day, it was that image of the rainbow fire that took root and began to grow.
I had seen a rainbow fire once before, in the Summer when I was nineteen and living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I went to a party with some friends on a little spit of land between a scrub oak forest and the Atlantic Ocean, seventeen miles from the mainland and one of the darkest places in the country. Someone had made a bonfire there out of driftwood, and the salt in the wood made the ten-foot flames burn electric green and blue.
That fire cast a spell on us. We became wild mythical beasts, running and yelling and splashing, animated by its otherworldly light. When I think about that night, I remember it in snapshots: Jane is dancing in her favorite mint-green jumpsuit. Nick and his brother are play-fighting with their fishing poles. David is holding a can of Bud Light and laughing with his mouth wide open. All of us are glowing green under a sky full of stars.
There is something about fire that draws out our animal nature. Wherever there is fire, people will assemble—cookouts, campsites, bonfires. It isn't only moths who are drawn to the flame. We gather around it and, little by little, our essential selves begin to surface. The tone of the conversations change. Stories are told, walls come down, hearts crack open.
This is the power of fire.
Murals have a similar power. I've seen them draw people in and captivate them. I've seen them build a community by sheer magnetism. Maybe it's the color or the design, maybe it's the fact that someone is paying attention to a space that others had stopped seeing. There's a kind of alchemy that happens when you add paint and intention to a wall. Suddenly somewhere new exists that didn't exist before—a place within a place. Fire creates place the same way, by becoming a beacon of light to gather around.
When I imagined the Sky Lounge where the mural would be, eight stories above a busy road and open to all the sounds of the city, I knew the fireplace would be its beating heart. People could gather there and enjoy the simple kinship of being together. Art, like fire, strengthens our sense of shared humanity. More than creating a piece of art to look at, I wanted to help build an environment—a place within a place—that mirrored the magic of the rainbow flames.
Even within the roaring chaos of a city, even within a crowd of strangers, there are places where we can remember what connects us and be at home.