GREENSBORO — Passing motorists on Lawndale Drive near the Urban Loop will notice art amid the construction.
Part of Lawndale Village Shopping Center, once home to Mahi’s Seafood Restaurant and other businesses, has become a canvas for artists from Portugal.
Owner Marty Kotis brought in a husband and wife team, which goes by the name of BellaPhame, to paint the entire 14,000-square-foot empty complex of shops in a colorful, abstract design.
Only the shopping center’s Food Lion store — which Kotis previously sold to an investment group — remains untouched.
BellaPhame joins the list of local and internationally known street artists whom Kotis has commissioned to create art on the exterior of his commercial properties.
“Instead of putting art around my living room, this is my public gallery out here,” Kotis said.
Justin Phameand Bella Amaral have created images in their signature colors of purple and teal green — as well as black and white — that depict hands holding cellphones.
They will cover the entire building of synthetic stucco, brick and glass, minus its roof. Colors will extend onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot. Interior purple and green lights will shine through windows.
The design and colors comment on social media.
“People use their phones too much and they are not able to experience what’s around them, in real life,” Justin Phame said during a break on a rainy Thursday.
Kotis and BellaPhame hope the message of appreciating art and beauty resonates not only with adults but with students passing by from nearby Greensboro Day School and Jesse Wharton Elementary School.
It works. Some passers-by have called Kotis’ office, stopped by the site or communicated via social media.
“It has gotten a lot of activity and interest,” Kotis said, adding that all feedback has been positive.
In the last three years, Kotis has commissioned more than 50 street art installations. Most are in Midtown — including Red Cinemas at 1305 Battleground Ave. — as well as downtown and the Tracks Bazaar and Tracks Beer Garden on West Gate City Boulevard and South Eugene Street.
Many lie along the developing Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway.
Kotis aims for more than 100.
“All of this is designed to make you think, brighten your day and allow you to enjoy art outside traditional galleries and on a massive scale,” he said.
They reflect his desire to turn the city into a street art destination that will retain millennials and give the city a reputation for being cool.
Other property owners and artists have done the same, adding murals to blank walls.
“People are driving in from other cities and states to see the art,” Kotis said.
This week, he added more, both on the exterior and interior of his buildings.
The Greek mural artist known as Insane51 is painting a “Star Wars”-themed piece to Red Cinemas.
Across Battleground Avenue at Pig Pounder Pavilion, Insane51 is creating an interior installation with a provocative, political theme called “No Filter.”
Looking through a red lens, viewers see one image. Looking through blue, they see another. Looking without any lens, viewers see the whole picture.
Kotis said that he had planned to use the 4711 Lawndale Drive building in the city’s northern section for retail shops. Then he learned that the Urban Loop would clip it.
For the last few years, he used it for storage.
That use will end with the completion of Urban Loop construction, because access will be too difficult, he said.
So it will stay as art. “This is the whole building as a piece of art,” Kotis said. “I don’t have anything else like that.”
BellaPhame is making that happen.
Justin Phame hails from Brooklyn, N.Y. Bella Amaral is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
From their home base in Portugal, BellaPhame travels the world creating street art. They’re now on a five-month U.S. tour.
While on their way to see relatives in Winston-Salem, they found Kotis’ art installations on Instagram, a photo-sharing service.
Kotis showed them optional locations among his buildings. They selected the Lawndale site.
The project likely will take more than 50 gallons of acrylic latex exterior paint, plus about 50 cans of spray paint for detail work.
As in their relationship, the couple aims for balance and equality in their art — a balance of color, a balance of characters or figures.
Justin paints with purple; Bella with green, primarily teal green. This image will depict four hands, two of each color, holding three cellphones with gray screens.
The gray signifies people being stuck in a matrix. “They are missing what’s happening around them,” Bella said.
When Thursday’s rain kept them from painting, they made stencils of letters to add a word search game, a common element in their art.
They hope that passers-by will stop and search for words.
Melanie Morrison was among those who stopped to watch them paint. She wants to bring more murals to her city of Reidsville.
“I love your use of colors,” she said to the couple as they painted on top of a lift. “You are doing a phenomenal job. And I’m so tickled that Marty brought you here.”