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Art is life and an escape for illustrator to see the world
Charlotte’s Wolly McNair rides homegrown wave
Published Wednesday, July 17, 2019 4:13 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte artist Wolly McNair's art his part of an exhibit shown in the Mint Museum Randolph. He has also illustrated six graphic novels.

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Wolly McNair escaped daily life through art.

Originally from Lumberton, North Carolina, he grew up in Charlotte and graduated Garinger High School. Like most kids, he turned to drawing, but the significance ran deeper than a childhood hobby.

“That was kind of my escape from everything else,” McNair said. “I didn’t really realize how vast the world was, because everybody lives in their own bubbles. Not until I moved out of Earle Village did I realize where we came from, what we were surviving and dealing with. Art was always a chance for me to kind of channel certain energy. People around me always pushed for me to stay focused on art, despite what was going on around us, what we were seeing on a day-to-day basis.”

McNair realized that art could become a career.

“Growing up, even now, a lot of parents don’t look at art as a way to survive—if you’re not doing certain major things, how do you live drawing?” McNair said. “I was fortunate enough to run into people who were turning it into a source of income, and a lot of them were willing to show me certain aspects of things.”
Atlanta was a roadmap as McNair explored where creativity could lead.

“We could see art, and we could see successful black people,” he said. “Not that there weren’t any in Charlotte, we just didn’t see it on a regular basis, but in Atlanta, here’s somebody successful. Here’s art on the wall, and it’s supposed to be there.”

Wolly McNair’s “Of Peace and War” is displayed at the Mint Museum Randolph.

McNair and fellow artists de’Angelo Dia-Bethune, Meika Fields, John Hairston, Marcus Kiser, Donavan Lyons, Antoine Williams, and Jen Woods utilized their creative collective entitled God City as a means to get their work in front of an audience over a decade ago.

“People thought we were a church group at first, but mathematically G is the seventh letter in the alphabet, the zero is congruent with a circle, a complete cypher, and D is the fourth letter in the alphabet—704,” McNair said. “We figured that would be a cool spin on Charlotte without having to say Charlotte all the time. We formed an art collective.”

Traditional galleries would not showcase their work, so they took it upon themselves to send their work into the universe.

“A lot of our work was based in where we came from—hip hop and things of that nature, which at the time for Charlotte wasn’t cool—it wasn’t an in thing,” McNair said. “Galleries would tell us no, ‘we don’t have security. We can’t afford security for you guys.’ It was just the craziest things. ‘Security for an art show?’ We put our money together, and started renting out spaces, and we would just invite other artists, because we realized we’re not the only ones getting turned down. We’d just invite any artists with something to say, who couldn’t get into a gallery, just come. You don’t have to pay anything. Just be here with your work on these dates, and your work will be on display.”

Showcasing their own work forced McNair and his peers to learn marketing.

“That taught us a lot about business and marketing and branding having to figure the other side of things,” he said. “That was the core of what really got me started and pushing to be in gallery spaces, freelance work and things of that nature.”

From graphic novels to Nike collaborations during NBA All-Star weekend to local showcases, McNair is another layer in Charlotte’s artist bedrock. Two of his published works are currently on view at the Mint Museum’s Randolph location.  His featured works are “Of Peace Of War” and “Black Hornet,” which are in the gallery adjacent to “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi.”

“The ‘Of Peace Of War’ piece originally was for a series I was working on for a gallery show, but in the process of that, I did some work with a company called 21 Draw Inc.,” McNair said. “I wanted to cover the idea that someone can be a peaceful person, but also have this war within themselves, but also be prepared to be a warrior. Doves in our culture in America are often symbols of peace and hope, or the idea of finding what you’re looking for. That’s why you see the doves flying out from under her cloak.”

“Black Hornet” was a collaboration with Black Sheep Skate Shop and Nike during All-Star Weekend in February.

“They called me and basically to create a character based on the designs and the process of the shoe, because they wanted to have a superhero feel for the sneaker,” McNair said. “That was the piece I ended up designing to be packaged along with the print products and the promotional products for the limited edition sneaker, as well as the standard release.”


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