UK Digital Media Design Student Paints Mural on Carson's

If you've visited downtown Lexington recently, you may have seen some artwork by our School of Art and Visual Studies students, an inspiring example of UK's town and gown relationship with the Bluegrass.

UK Guerilla Art class students stand in front of the original "InsideOut Lex" mural.
UK students in front of original mural for "InsideOut Lex."

Lee Ann Paynter, lecturer in Digital Media Foundations and Photography in UK’s School of Art and Visual Studies, has been a loyal customer of Carson’s Restaurant in Downtown Lexington since it opened and decided to approach the owner, Mark Fichtner, about the InsideOut project, an international art project initiated by French photographer JR. - the concept of which is intended to give people in various communities the opportunity to share their portraits and a statement of what they stand for with the world.  

From the Inside Out Project website: “ IOP provides individuals and groups from all corners of the globe with a vehicle to make a statement. Anyone can participate, and is challenged to use photographic portraits to share the untold stories and images of people in their communities. Their actions are documented, archived and exhibited online at www.insideoutproject.net. In the first 8 years of the project, more than 400,000 people have participated in Inside Out in more than 140 countries, and in 2013 a documentary film, Inside Out, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, revealing the working process behind the project and the remarkable levels of participation in the project around the world.” 

After some research about the InsideOut project, Carson’s owner Mark Fichtner agreed to let Paynter and her guerilla art class get to work on their own version of the InsideOut Project based on interviews and photos taken over the past several years from communities around Lexington. “Our restaurant is located as a sort of a ‘gateway to the city of Lexington’ and originally we wanted a mural on the side of the building, maybe a huge rickhouse and in the top right corner a “Welcome to Downtown Lexington,” he said. However, after the initial project was installed, unexpected weather conditions brought the installation  down much earlier than Paynter or her students expected. 

“Any time you’re doing an art project on this scale, there’s always a concern about the art coming off or what to do if there’s a problem. I asked Lee Ann ‘what happens if there’s a problem’ and she assured me they would fix it or possibly paint over it. I asked myself, ‘when something isn’t working, what’s the joy you can find within it?’ We would have never ever seen [the potential for] what was underneath the InsideOut installation, had the project not come down due to the weather.”  

Paynter approached one of her students, Ben Darlington, a digital media design senior, with a minor in media arts and studies (College of Communication and Information). Ben had been doing an independent study with Paynter on mural work for the past year and was tapped to do a new mural on Carson's.

“Last semester I talked to Lee Ann about getting into mural painting because I took her guerrilla art class the previous year and we worked with PRHBTN and got to help a handful of famous artists like Alice Mizrachi and Spencer Reinhardt, just to name a few,” says Darlington. Ben enlisted the help of his family from Northern Kentucky to help. “It was a pretty big undertaking considering it was the first mural I'd ever done and it was on a 75-foot wall, but Mark and Lee Ann are both incredible people and had my back the entire way.”

About his plans for the future, Darlington says, “I always pictured myself living and working in the creative field out west somewhere so maybe I could try that after college and see how things work out. I want to continue mural painting because it's such a good time and I'm really into it, but I also do a lot of digital artwork and videography work and I'm starting to get into animation and audio production.” 

Darlington enlisted the help of family and friends to help him tackle the large scale project. It became all hands on deck. He says he owes a “huge thanks to everyone who helped- Jason, Caleb, Shaddys, Ellen, Maddie, Mom, Dad, and Granny and Grandaddy... I realized that I underestimated the scope of this project and started hitting people up. My family always has my back so as soon as I mentioned helping, they drove down from Northern Kentucky the next day to paint. Everyone volunteered their time to help me finish this thing and without them I’d probably still be working on it!” 

Fichtner has been very pleased with the result. “I’ve been really happy with the process, and I was touched by the fact that his family came out and painted with him. I think that’s one of the things at Carson’s we’ve really strive for – to be involved with our community and treat each other as family members. For Ben to do that, I think it’s exactly who we are at Carson’s and exactly what we should all be doing more of.” To Mr. Fitchner, the piece represents something greater than a painted mural on the side of a building. “His {Darlington’s} actual family’s hands that helped create it.” Fitchner explains how family is integrated into the literal foundation of his restaurant, “My grandfather’s bible is buried in the foundation of our restaurant...and so we are all about generations of family, supporting each other as we walk through life. That mural takes on a whole other aspect to me because of that family element.” 

UK student-artist Ben Darlington in front of his completed mural at Carson's Restaurant. Photo: Carson Fichtner.
UK student-artist Ben Darlington in front of his completed mural at Carson's Restaurant. Photo: Carson Fichtner.

About where his influences come from, Darlington takes it from various sources – mostly music. “There’s a lot I’m influenced by, but for this particular piece I let the music I listened to influence me. Artists like the $uicideboy$, Nujabes, Joji, Goth Babe, and Mac Miller are a few I remember listening to while making it. Also shout out to Restless Leg String Band and Lost Dog Street Band. 

Fichtner sums it up best - “Art is not just about what you’re seeing – it's the emotion that’s either painted in the picture or the hand that touched the sculpture; the emotion that someone is putting into the piece so when you look at art you have to look past what you’re seeing and see into the soul of what it is.”