A high-pitched beep from a cash register punctuates the air.
A paper bag is whipped open, emitting a rush and rustle as a bundle of produce
fills its body. Notes from a synth flute flow from the speakers overhead as Ace
of Base’s “The Sign” begins to play. It’s the symphony of Deep Roots Market on
a Saturday afternoon. But in the back corner of the store, a smaller microcosm
of sound begins its own performance.

Quick, frantic scrawls emitted from a pastel crayon and the
scratchy resistance of a paint-soaked sponge gliding across a blank sheet of
paper act as a kind of abstract orchestra, mimicking the nonfigurative art that
each utensil creates.

“People will say ‘Oh, just so you know, I can’t draw,’”
explains Karen Archia, the founder of Public Art Practice and former owner of
the now-closed People’s Perk Coffee Shop in Greensboro. “And I’ve come to learn
what that really means. And it means that I can’t accurately or perfectly
recreate something that I see, and that’s only one really narrow form of
marking and drawing. So, one of my goals is to liberate people from that
constraint of ‘I can’t draw.’ If you can sign your name, you can make beautiful
marks.”

Archia is a self-taught artist who has been holding space for art-making in public spaces since September 2019. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Archia is a self-taught artist who has been holding space
for art-making in public spaces since September 2019. She usually creates work
in the seating area at Deep Roots Market and invites others to explore
artmaking with her three times a week.

On a recent Saturday, Archia sets up her shopping cart full
of art supplies — various paints, empty sour-cream tubs, clear squeezy bottles
of Elmer’s glue with the orange twisty tops, large sheets of thick watercolor
paper — next to her regular table and gets to work. Today, she uses long
pipettes which she dips into black ink to create curving, organic waves on her
canvas. She’s joined by three of her friends, some of whom have attended these sessions
before.

Archia sets up her shopping cart full of art supplies — various paints, empty sour-cream tubs, clear squeezy bottles of Elmer’s glue with the orange twisty tops, large sheets of thick watercolor paper — next to her table. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“It’s probably my third time,” says Lakeisha Williams. “And
each time it’s a different experience. It does something different for me. It
tends to help me reconnect with art and it helps me feel alive and artistic…. This
kind of lets me know that you don’t have to go to school for art to be an
artist.”

To guide the practice, Archia shares a few words and phrases as prompts for the group to latch on to: sentimental, nostalgia, layered, least favorite, process of erasure, self-generative.

Williams starts by adding a few drops of gray paint to her
blank sheet and smears them with a foam brush. Minutes later, she introduces a
range of darker tones to the canvas, gently spreading the pigments together
with a palette knife.

Next to her sits Michelle Everette, whose piece contrasts
against Williams’ darker portrayal with its bright pops up blue and drops of
red.

Anyone is welcome to join in art-making at Public Art Practice. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“I remember when I was in second grade, I used to love
drawing and stuff and painting and using my hands really,” Everette recalls. “And
then someone told me that a picture of a gorilla I made was ugly and then I
stopped. I was like, ‘I’ll never draw again!’”

Everette, who is a poet, says words come more easily to her
as an artistic medium than visual art. But she says watching Archia has made
her want to get more visually creative. She even purchased one of Archia’s
paintings and put it in her living room.

“Every time I see it, I have so many feelings about it,”
Everette says. “To me, it’s just like love. It looks like someone who loves
life made it. I feel lovely when I look at it. It’s very inspiring. I think
that being around Karen is just so inspiring…. And I hope to be inspired here.
I’m already inspired.”

And that, for Archia, is the goal of Public Art Practice.

“I just really believe fundamentally that everybody has a creative spirit,” she says. “We just need some time and space and some encouragement.”

LaToya Winslow, a third-time Public Art Practice participant
and former People’s Perk patron, opts for the pastels for her piece. Bright
marks of orange, red and blue slowly start to fill the paper canvas that she’s
taped to the table. She says the occasions have replaced the community aspect
that People’s Perk provided for her.

LaToya Winslow, a third-time Public Art Practice participant and former People’s Perk patron, opts for the pastels for her piece. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

That’s intentional too.

Archia explains that she chooses to create in public spaces,
rather than working in an isolated studio or renting out a separate space to
create art, to invite others in. Her ultimate goal, Archia says, is to turn Public
Art Practice into a nonprofit that encourages art-making in public spaces and inspires
other artists to do the same.

“There’s value in making art in plain sight and making art
in everyday space because the point is that art is accessible to everyone; art
is for everyone; everyone is an artist,” Archia says. “Fundamentally, we all
have a creative spirit. And I think making art in an everyday space like this
where people are grocery shopping, eating, there’s a diversity of people here,
that they see the making, I think it brings a sort of energy to the space as
well and it sends the message that art is something that is not rarified and
it’s not just in a museum and that art is everywhere and can be made
everywhere.”

To learn more about Public Art Practice, follow the page on Facebook or on Instagram at @publicartpractice. You can also follow Archia on Instagram at @scrappyunicorn. To participate, visit Deep Roots Market on Mondays at 12:30, Tuesdays at noon and Saturdays at 3 p.m.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

🗲 Join The Society 🗲