In mid-September, I spent four very long days down at the RVA Street Art Festival, a public celebration of many talented Richmond-based artists (read the original article here), and I learned a lot about a scene and culture that previously I knew next to nothing about. It has spurred in me not only a greater love for the form, but a hunger to learn more, and a desire to be proactive in the promotion of that which I feel deserves attention.
During my time covering the event, I spoke to almost every person involved at any level with the RVA Street Art Festival. This includes everyone from former Richmond City Council representative Jon Baliles, to Billy (the only identifier I could get out of him), the elusive man who I found painting cranes on a small pillar near the entrance to the HydroElectric Plant (after our conversation, I never found another trace of him). I spoke to almost all of the artists, and as I sat back to reflect on those beautiful September days, it became clear to me that we must celebrate these artists, who help define our community. However, it is also clear that we cannot celebrate these artists properly, and appreciate just what exactly makes them so unique, without first understanding who they are and where they come from.
Richmond has consistently touted our community as a haven of arts and culture, and profited from that perception of the city, all while offering little to no acknowledgment for those that actually participate in the various artistic scenes around town. It’s become a pattern, and we must break it. So, in an effort to stray from this intransigence, I would like to showcase who these artists are, the work they create, and what it is about each of them that has made them a defining feature of Richmond, Virginia.
It’s hard to move through the artistic communities of Richmond without hearing the name Hamilton Glass. To say that the Richmond-based street artist is prolific would be an understatement; Glass has been one of the most prominent artists in the city for the better part of a decade, with dozens of murals in every corner of Richmond and even more in numerous major cities up and down the east coast. Hamilton Glass is one of our city’s most celebrated public artists, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Originally from Philadelphia, Glass studied in a number of youth programs at the Philadelphia Institute of Art, nurturing an early love for painting in him. After briefly attending college in Atlanta, Glass eventually decided that he would finish his collegiate studies at Hampton University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. He moved to Richmond in 2007, but soon fell victim to the recession of 2008, and was laid off from his architecture firm. At that point, he began to work seriously on his art, having his first public showings soon after. Although he briefly went back to work as an architect, the artistic bug still festered in him, and in 2012 he made the decision to go full time as an artist. It was around this time that Glass participated in the very first RVA Street Art Festival, and being featured as a legacy artist in the festival a decade later has brought him full circle to one of the places where he first made his name.
Having painted murals everywhere from San Francisco to Washington D.C, Glass prefers to work on the east coast, where most of his murals are concentrated. Prominently featuring black culture and figures, Glass’ mural at the Canal Walk is an exhibition of hands intertwining against a colorful geometric background. He admits that he wasn’t trying to make any statement, saying that, with this year’s mural, he was just “trying to make something beautiful.”
Right in the middle of the HydroElectric Plant on the Canal Walk you will find the work of Auz Miles. Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Miles came to Richmond to study Communication Arts and Painting and Printmaking at VCU, eventually earning her Bachelor’s degree in the former, with a minor in the latter. While at school, Miles actually worked with Glass for a time as his assistant. Glass introduced Miles to mural work, a love that evidently stuck. The connection between the two of them has also proven to be a lasting one; at the 2022 RVA Street Art Festival, after all these years, they created murals less than 50 feet from each other.
Having tested her skill on walls all over the country, Miles has painted murals in Magnolia, Mississippi; Durham, North Carolina; and Cleveland, Ohio. Though she generally considers herself an oil painter, Miles has been called to do more mural work in the last several years, and sees the more public medium as an opportunity to speak about issues that need another voice. In giving back to the community in this way, Miles likes to focus on issues concerning Black and other marginalized communities, and has participated in numerous events in an advocacy role at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, as well as the public art project Mending Walls (which, as it happens, was founded by Hamilton Glass).
Miles’s piece at the RVA Street Art Festival, an amalgam of ribbons and colors swarming around a group of young dancers, features the Brown Ballerinas for Change, a Richmond-based group of ballerinas who use their art form to promote advocacy, social justice, and giving a voice to disenfranchised communities. The group was brought to the attention of the world in 2020 as they posed for pictures in front of various Confederate statues lining the streets of Richmond, protesting the statues’ continued existence and the grief they brought to Richmond’s Black community and to the city as a whole.
Perhaps the most striking mural at the Canal Walk is the large orange and black cataclysm that appears to be oozing through the walls of the HydroElectric Plant. This would be the work of Virginia native Chr!s Visions, a multi-talented young artist who does not restrict himself to one discipline. Originally from Lexington, Virginia, Visions grew up in a somewhat sterile rural environment, and was attracted to the urban aesthetic of street art. Specifically, he notes having been inspired by graffiti art, a style that he now claims “made me feel seen” amongst the otherwise pastoral landscape.
After taking a further interest in the arts as a teenager, Visions came to Richmond to attend VCU, where he studied illustration and eventually earned his Bachelor’s degree in the subject. A self-described “Jack of all trades,” Visions has done a variety of work, from editorial illustrations to working on comics, and teaches at two different local schools. He also volunteers at Art 180, a Richmond-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing a creative space for youth to experiment with different forms of art.
Though commissioned to do his first murals back in Lexington, Visions had his Richmond debut in 2020. Since then, he notes, it has become a fairly regular gig. Whereas most of the muralists have lost track of the amount of murals they’ve created, with their creations potentially numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Visions believes this particular project to be mural number nine. With undeniable skill, and a work ethic that extends not only into his passion projects but into volunteer work as well, Visions is fully prepared to bring his next vision to life on the streets of Richmond.
That’s it for volume one of this series. Check back regularly, as we will be posting more profiles on the artists who covered the walls of the Haxall Canal’s HydroElectric Plant at the RVA Street Art Festival.
Photos by Tyler Scheerschmidt