It’s not the kind of artwork you’re likely to spy just driving through Poncey-Highland.
But if you want to see the terrific wall-size painting of the blue owl, you have to veer a little off the beaten path.
Specifically, that point where Somerset Terrace splits into three branches: one leads into the huge parking lot anchored by the Ralph McGill branch of the post office; one narrows before becoming the start of Bonaventure Avenue; one leads to the stretch of the Beltline that overlooks the new Old Fourth Ward park.
This particular owl is shades of blue, lying on its side in great pain, with little spikes protruding from its feathers. One leg is bandaged. His sad yellow eyes (with turquoise bags) stare balefully into the distance. Crutches look tossed aside, a bottle of pills spills open nearby.
Those details may make this mural sound sad – but what strikes you first is its unexpected beauty. It’s such an arresting image to stumble upon. Its blues are so sad; yellows so bright; perspective so unexpected – that once I discovered it mere blocks from my house, I re-routed walks to pass by at different times of day, so I could watch the way the traveling sun’s light altered the view.
Early mornings let you take in the wall as a whole – some corners are hard to appreciate without even illumination. When the sun starts to dip over the city skyline, it bathes the owl with golden-pink rays that can make it appear to breathe. At night, streetlights cast the fallen bird in rays of stark icy blue.
All that admiring made me want to know who’d made this owl – and why.
It seemed too painstaking for a paint-and-run, though it has the energy of the city’s best street art. Taking up an entire wall of the 1960s-era red-brick office building, which looks to be about 60 feet wide by 20 feet tall, the piece was clearly telling a story. With “Never Satisfied” painted overhead in his distinctive curvy script, the noted street artist known simply as “Never” seemed a good bet for its creator. But how to track down a guy who makes some of his grandest paintings on the sly?
One bright Saturday morning not long ago, we noticed a young man on a ladder, adding finishing touches to his work. It was Never himself, and he was glad to answer questions about the mural and let us take photos, as long as we didn’t show his face.
Although he has a broad palette of design commissions, across all media, being a street artist means staying as anonymous as possible.
It was a commission from the building’s owners, he said, who’d given him free reign to create whatever he wanted on its most visible side. The commission just happened to coincide with a medical nightmare involving knee surgery and a subsequent infection, so the painting took a somewhat biographical turn.
“I drew this sketch,” he said, “after being stuck in the emergency room for about 10 hours with an IV hooked in my arm.”
Turns out old skateboarding injuries had made knee surgery necessary. When an infection tripled the pain and prolonged his recovery time, he found some refuge in telling the story with paint. Although working with an injured leg was a challenge unto itself.
At first, building owner Sharon Dennehy said, she hadn’t planned to do anything with the side of her building – which once housed the homicide division of the Atlanta Police Department. Until, that is, she came across Never’s artwork in last summer’s citywide Living Walls exhibition, and continued to be impressed with the pieces of his she saw all over town.
So she tracked him down and commissioned him to add his distinctive style to the office building she owns with her husband, Mitch Sosebee.
“The more I saw of Never’s work – especially in East Atlanta – the more impressed I became,” she said. “And I thought one of his paintings on the side of the building would look so much more beautiful than just plain red brick.”
She was right.
Not only does Dennehy – who serves on the Art on the Beltline committee – love the finished mural, her neighbors do too. They’ve gone out of their way to let her know how much they like finding something so unexpected and beautiful in what was once a forgotten corner.
“Everybody has just loved having it there,” Dennehy said. “If I’m outside the building or getting in my car, people want to tell me how glad they are it’s there. They’ll even drive by and give me a thumbs up.”
At first, she was a little reluctant to talk about the project, as if doing so would take the focus off the artist who made the wall something to see.
“We didn’t do it to be in the spotlight,” she said. “We just did it to create something beautiful in the community.”