Atlanta artist Taylor Wright Rushing is finishing up his three-month residence at Graduate Richmond this week with an exhibition of his hippie-hillbilly aesthetic. In conversation with Annie Parnell, he spoke of his time soaking up Richmond’s inspiring vibes and pouring them into his work.
“I really tried to imagine what it must have been like at the Chelsea Hotel,” laughs Taylor Wright Rushing of his artistic residence at Richmond’s Graduate Hotel, which is set to culminate on Wednesday with a happy hour showcase from 6-8 PM.
Rushing is a member of the inaugural class of the boutique hotel chain’s Sweet Dreams Society, a residency program that places emerging creators in live-in residency programs at Graduate locations across the country. He’s also one of the program’s few expats — while many of his classmates took up residence at Graduate locations in cities where they were based, the Atlanta-based muralist and painter has spent the last three months living and creating in Richmond.
“It’s been a total dream,” says Rushing, who remarks that living in the middle of the “funky buzz” of the hotel has been a far cry from his solitary in-home studio in Atlanta. “It’s kind of fascinating to be in a workshop and see people go by on business trips.”
This new hustle and bustle has added an interesting texture to his artistic style, which he describes as “the confluence between hippies and hillbillies.” A passionate collector of self-taught art, he cites the 1970s poster artists of Austin, Texas as a major influence, as well as “anything that’s groovy and weird,” including the counterculture magazine Whole Earth Catalog and 1973 LGBTQ+ country album Lavender Country.
Rushing’s work at his company, Not Bad Illustration, has led him to find a niche creating promotional materials for modern-day musicians, including Willie Nelson’s Luck Journal and the Athens, Georgia cosmic-country rock band The Pink Stones. The showcase on the 15th will feature a DJ set of musical clients he’s worked with, as well as a special country-and-western cocktail at the bar inspired by his work.
Rushing is quick to point out, however, that the “outsider art” he loves is a foundational tenet of a variety of music traditions.
“I went to school in Olympia, Washington,” he notes, adding that the DIY ethos of punk and grunge carries a throughline of the folk art spirit of “making something out of nothing.”
His time in Richmond has also left a distinct impact on his work, from an industrial color palette inspired by Belle Isle to a marathon creative session at Garnett’s that produced a poster for Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall. He recalls spending hours taking photographs of architecture and posters around the city, as well as seeing Orville Peck perform at The National, enjoying autumn in “the ultimate Halloween town,” and appreciating the intersection of “Carhartt overalls and Dale Earnhardt t-shirts” at Cobra Cabana.
In one particularly impactful visit to Hollywood Cemetery, he also visited the grave of Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus of GWAR. “Talk about a band on the fringe,” he notes of the famous sci-fi heavy metal act that formed at the Richmond Dairy art space in 1984 — the unique product, he believes, of a city in which “it’s totally safe to be as weird and funky as you want to be.”
All in all, says Rushing, his biggest takeaway from his Richmond residency is the culture of creative expression that has nourished him throughout his stay in town. “It’s really valuable to spend time in a city…[with] an obvious love of art,” he concludes — and in Richmond, he’s found a community that “really values the sort of things that America seems to be lacking.”
Taylor Wright Rushing’s End-of-Residency Celebration is taking place in the art studio at Graduate Richmond, located at 301 W. Broad St, from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, December 15. Admission is free.
Images courtesy Taylor Wright Rushing