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Inspiration and life surrounded by symbols

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

I'll start off by saying this post isn't about Roatán, or Black Mountain / Linwell Falls, or about anything I'd typically write about on this site or with this blog. But the format is perfect for what I need to get out and the photos I want to share, so bear with me! It's about a project of ours in Charlotte - the NoDa Company Canteen. And I'll start by sharing photos from our other location, the NoDa Company Store - a "rug" on our patio that Joey painted years ago, so much so you'll see it's faded and chipped away. Of symbols that he's painted and doodled for years. This SHOULD HAVE quashed any questions about current images, but somehow they persist. So here it is and here goes:


Now on to the post!

Just a bit of insight here, we own two cafe / beertanical garden / store / lounge hybrids in Charlotte. The second location opening just a couple weeks ago. The first has never been controversial and we never expected controversy with the second. The first shares much of the feel and influence of what we love, including the symbols in question.

But controversy (or maybe confauxversy) showed up at our feet - in response to artwork Joey produced on our walls over this past summer when we locked ourselves inside and created the space. We did most everything ourselves and Joey did all the murals himself. Photos of those above and below.

Where did Joey get his inspiration? I’ve heard that question a few times now since we opened the Canteen. Overwhelmingly in the context of folks we know, and others we don’t, who appreciate the outpouring of himself he put on the walls, in the decor, on the floors and even in the bathrooms. Just simple curiosity. Anyone that actually knows us, especially far south in the Caribbean, will likely see clearly the influence of Roatán island. But I'll get more into that later.

But the place, to us, is a piece of art itself as a whole. We wanted patrons and visitors to feel engulfed by art - something to see at every corner. A visual feast. Everything in the spot down to the details of little figures adorning the bar top and the plants by the windows to the 15' live palms.

But there have been a couple local artists asking, more specifically, about two components on two of the walls. A portion of the piece as a whole. Like taking someones painting on a wall and asking where did you find inspiration for that left corner? Or the choice of using red? But they have chosen to focus on one part, so I will too.

Where could Joey have found inspiration for using a pattern of symbols? Honestly, that’s a really tough question to answer. Symbols are everywhere. Symbols have been used by humanity for as far back as we can find evidence of humanity. From the earliest stages when we occupied caves to the creation of communities, towns and cities. Humanity has adorned where we live with symbols of all sorts forever. You could technically say they are all similar, being symbols...but they are all also different and unique to their own creators and their lives. And the ones in question, from Joey and the others - they don't look alike, one being very modern and, for lack of a better word, "rigid" with straight lines and dots. Joey's free flowing, and with far more variations in symbols. But they are symbols.

Joey has pointed out that he’s been doodling and drawing symbols as far back as he can remember. In a social media thread about this people he went to school with chimed in: “you were putting stuff like that in my year book in Junior High”. Another said in High School.

I’ve spent the last 20 years with him. Part of what I love about him is his deep creativity. One of our bedrooms in our home now, and one in our last home, and one in the two homes before that, has a sewing machine, mannequin, a high work table covered in fabric, paint, canvasses, spray paint, books of clothing patterns, pens and pencils. Even a green wall to create our own ads with “green screen” backgrounds during the pandemic. His head bounces between mediums to release his creativity and I love watching it happen. And it is primarily very private. Much of what I think is amazing work never gets seen by eyes other than mine. Stepping out and creating such a huge space like the Canteen with all the painting on the walls and floors his own, was a huge deal for him and something he was terrified to do. An attack on a portion of it is completely unexpected by us.

So where could he have ever found inspiration for that one part? They ask this, and since “they weren’t there” for it all I might as well succumb to the exercise of thinking it through since they also won’t take the truth for their answer. It wasn’t them. Our home is filled iwth art, much of it symbols. But the harassment isn't stopping, so here we go…

It could have been this tapestry that we've had for years, that hangs above our bed.

It could have been South Atlanta. His surroundings and street art in Riverdale, Forest Park, and Jonesboro - South Atlanta. That’s where he grew up and that’s where much of his taste in clothes, music and art would have developed from.

Central American tapestry on our wall

It could have come from our trips to Tulum, Mexico, where we walked the ruins of Mayan Temples and other structures, all covered in symbolism and carvings.

It could have come from places less authentic like Atlantis, Bahamas. We’ve been there a couple times now. The place is teeming with faux archaeological “ruins’ and pieces, pattern and symbols everywhere.

It could have been our trips to other places in Central America and in the Caribbean. A place we love deeply and travel to often (pre-pandemic). We love it so much we own a home in Honduras on an island called Roatán. Our home is very remote, only accessed by boat and within eyesight of no other homes. There are only about 12 in the couple mile long bay where we are. History abounds there from Paya natives who once occupied the island to the British and Spanish who once used the harbor and built fortifications all around - many of which are still there. Our lives and our decor at both spots in Charlotte are by far most heavily influenced by this place and this island. It should be obvious. This site is dedicated to that wonderful island and the myriad of culture there.

Could it be the Afro-Caribbeans, the Garifuna, who live just over the mountain from us in Punta Gorda? We’ve come to know them and visit those we know, their town and homes whenever we are on the island. The colors and patterns of their clothes and decor easily giving away their West African decent. And the food. But that’s another part of our story.

Could it be the patterns of the pottery and other artifacts we’ve seen from the Paya? From the authentic pieces we’ve held ourselves that many who live down there own? Or the replicas that fill the little tiendas in the more touristy areas? Replicas of pottery, cloth, carvings and woodwork?

Maybe the answer isn’t so far away. It might be from the dozens, maybe actually a couple hundred now, of the magazines I get to quench my thirst for history. National Geographic, Archaeology Magazine, American Archaeology, The Smithsonian. There are stacks of these around our house. I read them all, Joey reads a good bit but definitely thumbs through them - if all you want are the photos they are filled with beautiful and amazing imagery.

The magazines currently on our coffee table

Celtic circles, Viking runes, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cuneiform. South American, Australia, African, the Middle East, India. Images from these places are everywhere in this publications.

I see the work Joey is accused of copying as something very modern. When I first saw just the image last week I thought it resembled a futuristic, maybe alien, computer code or some similar language. I certainly saw language. After reading the words of the artist and what it means to him I could see that too. But that deep meaning to him doesn't mean he suddenly owns symbols - or symbols on walls. And I still have to go back to the fact that Joey (or myself or anyone of our employees or most people I've talked to) has never seen this guys work before this past week or heard of him. That should also end this non-story. Maybe he just can't believe everyone doesn't know him?

What do I see in Joey’s work? Not the future but the past. Runes or symbols like the ones from our past. More of an archaeological style. Maybe even more Indiana Jones. I could see these carved on Olmec stones or pyramids and never think twice about their authenticity.

I don’t know what exactly inspired him to create the work he created, I’ve never questioned any of what he’s done like that, but I know what it WASN'T inspired by. You can’t see inspiration in what you’ve never, well, seen. Please read that again.

I do think both artists and their work stand on their own. His work, independently inspired and created, doesn’t diminish or somehow give less value or meaning to the work of the other artist. There is no reason that persons work can’t continue to be everything it ever was to that artist and those that see it. It will retain all of its meaning. It can continue to deliver the message that was so carefully constructed by it’s creator to tell his story. Nothing about that has changed unless he allows it to.

At the same time work by any others that might include symbols can also be their work, with whatever message they wish to convey with it. Humans have used symbols, I’m using them now to tell this story, as long as we’ve had the desire to leave our mark and tell our tales. No one owns the use of symbols and no one will. They will evolve, like we have, and they can be a thing of beauty. Nothing to covet, cover, and claim as our own but to inspire and speak. Lastly, for clarity for those in the back...the work on the Canteen walls is not, whatsoever, inspired, copied or otherwise "taken" from anyone, especially someone Joey has never heard of before now.

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Shirley Renninger
Shirley Renninger
Sep 25, 2022

Good read, look forward to your posts, you and Joey stay , just keep on KEEPING!

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