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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

The art of his story
Stacy Utley draws on fascination with masters and memories
Published Thursday, October 25, 2012 11:04 am
by Michaela L. Duckett


As a child, every aspect of Stacy Utley’s life was permeated with art, including the TV shows he watched.

“Chavis Heights” depicts Utley's grandmother's old neighborhood in Raleigh near Shaw University. Utley says the piece was inspired by the scent of his mother cooking Sunday dinner. It reminded him of going with his grandmother to buy fresh collard greens off the produce truck.

He recalls watching “The Cosby Show” and being fascinated by all the black art that adorned the walls of the Huxtable household.

“I just remember seeing that and being mesmerized by this artwork that looks like us,” he says. “I always wanted to know who those artists were so I learned about Romare Bearden, Annie Lee and Varnette Honeywood.”

Utley comes from an artistic family. His father was a sketcher and painter. His uncle sketched comics and his grandfather was also an artist.
“Art is one of those things I was kind of born into,” he said. “It was just all around me, and I paid attention to all of it.”

Utley’s art is drawing attention in Charlotte. He was commissioned to complete a series of jazz-inspired pieces for Charlotte dentist Brad Picot’s SouthEnd office. The Chris Canty Foundation hired him to do a mixed media collage representing West Charlotte to commemorate the “Historic West End Clean Up for Change.” The piece includes representations of The United House of Prayer, Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Johnson C. Smith University, the Excelsior Club and the Washington Heights community.

“As I went out and experienced the neighborhood,” Utley says, “I noticed how the neighborhood was changing, but you still had the essence of what Beatties Ford Road was, and I wanted to capture that for this particular piece.”

Other pieces were inspired by the old neighborhoods in Raleigh were Utley grew up.

“A lot of these communities are no longer there,” he says. “They have been redeveloped so some of the work I’m doing now is to help preserve the history of these neighborhoods that no longer exist. I’m telling the story.”

Last summer, Utley was commissioned by Charlotte businessman Herb Gray to complete a piece for his annual charity golf tournament. The collage titled “Finding Our Fairway” features legendary African-Americans golfers over the past 30 years and is displayed at Delta’s Restaurant in Uptown.

“People get into art for different reasons,” says Utley. “For me, it was kind of my retreat. It was something that nobody had to tell me how to do. I just did it because I loved it, and I loved telling the story behind it.”

Determined not to become the proverbial “starving artist,” Utley studied architecture. In high school, he enrolled in a program at North Carolina State University, where he studied under and worked for Philip Freelon, principal architect and president of The Freelon Group, architects of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture. Freelon is the husband of Grammy-nominated jazz singer Nnenna Freelon.

Working with Freelon not only helped Utley improve his architectural skills, it further piqued his interest in art.

“(Freelon’s) family was hugely into the arts,” Utley says. “I learned about his grandfather, who is a painter. His daughter is also an accomplished artist. So even though I went for architecture, I was exposed to the arts because of his family.”

After graduating N.C. State, Utley went on to embark on a relatively successful career as an architectural designer. He enjoyed it but admits that his heart was never fully into it. He grew more discontented as the economy tanked.

“I just was not feeling it anymore,” he said. “The economy was changing. The industry was changing, and I just really did not enjoy what I was doing.”

Utley worked in Dallas, Texas for a while. Then, in 2008, when the recession officially began, Utley and his wife packed up their twins and moved the family to Charlotte. He took a job at a local architectural firm but was laid off in 2011. Initially, Utley viewed it as a negative, but it turned out to be a positive because it positioned him to have an opportunity to do what he loved most.

“Opportunities just started coming to me randomly,” he says.

Utley has also documented his own family’s history through his art. Several of his pieces have been inspired by matriarchs in his family – his grandmother, great aunt, his mother and his great grandmother.

Earlier this year, Utley enrolled in residency program, which he attends twice a year, at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. He is slated to receive his master’s in fine arts in two years.

Upon graduation, Utley says he would like an opportunity to teach art. He recalls when he would go to schools to talk about his architecture career, he was often the first and only black person students had met with such a career.

“I find the same thing with art,” he says. “I want to reach back and help out others because I have been blessed with a tremendous opportunity. A lot of people have helped me out and I want to be able to do that for someone else.”

To see more of Utley’s work, visit www.alerisart.com



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