Artist Peter Ferrari Brings Atlanta's Art to the Public

His incredibly popular Forward Warrior mural project is "like a block party."

Muriel Vega

Photo courtesy of Peter Ferrari

Peter Ferrari likes to get his hands dirty. He's been an essential part of the ongoing public art conversation in Atlanta for a very long time—a large-scale mural artist before there were any formal organizations in place for it. A former Living Walls contributor, Ferrari paints his vibrant colors and slightly-psychedelic patterns along the city's buildings. He's been in ATL since 1991 and has seen city's vibrant arts scene blossom into one teeming with emerging talent.

To nurture new artists Ferrari created Forward Warrior, an annual live painting performance. The two-day event encourages established and up-and-coming local artists to collaborate on badass concepts for murals along a city street, normally in Cabbagetown. Better yet, it helps residents see the city's talent up close and personal—each and every paint stroke from beginning to end. Now, five years since it began, it's one of the most popular art events in the city. Here Ferrari gives us the spiel on ATL's mural scene, and the lowdown about the places he loves most in the city he calls home.

VICE: How has the public art conversation evolved in the last few years?
Peter Ferrari: The last five to six years have been interesting. There has always been a fair amount of public art in Atlanta, but after the Living Walls conference in 2009, things just took off. A lot of artists were inspired to come out and get involved in murals/street art and a lot of businesses wanted to get their walls painted. I was just starting to do large scale public work, so the timing worked out really well for me. I also got to meet a lot of amazing artists who came through to paint for events. The scene was really tight then. Lots of collaboration and freedom to take risks. It was so quick and so much art was going up, I think that's why we saw some backlash.

On a few occasions, communities felt slighted or disrespected, and we all had to learn how to create and manage public art with respect to the communities where it's located. It's a continuing conversation, which it should be. The trick is finding that place where artists and property owners feel free and unrestrained and communities still feel their voices are heard.

How do you think Forward Warrior helped advance that conversation?
Forward Warrior is basically a large scale live painting event that I started in 2011. Last year we had 35 artists all working together on a single huge wall in Cabbagetown. It's like a block party vibe.

It's really fun and tons of people show up. It's all ages, and totally free to the public. The artists are given a lot of freedom as far as content goes and the whole thing is community-funded. Almost all the paint is donated and the artists aren't paid much, if anything. It's really an act of appreciation for public art, both by the artists and the community. I get some the best artists in town all collaborating publicly. It's pretty amazing to see.

What's your experience been like living as a full-time artist in Atlanta?
It's been great for the most part. Atlanta is still expanding pretty quick, so there's always new restaurants, movies, TV shows, condos, etc. that need art. I have a lot of freedom to work on my own stuff and commissions are frequent enough that I don't have to starve. The film industry has been a real boon to a lot of us local artists and creatives. They have proper budgets and they give you a lot of freedom. I got to work with one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, recently, so that was a pretty fucking dope. Atlanta is blowing up on a lot of levels and the whole city can feel it, good or bad.

What's the best way for a newbie to see the city's true soul and experience good art?
It depends what you like. Atlanta has everything from the highest conceptual type galleries to the grimiest bando, piecing spots. I would start by just going for a ride through the city. There's tons of public art in the city's neighborhood like Downtown, Edgewood, Old Fourth Ward, Cabbagetown, Castleberry Hill, and West End.

How has Atlanta changed in the last five years?
Everything has just accelerated. New developments are going up all over the place and there's this huge influx of people to the city. It's good for business, but I know a lot of people who are starting to get priced out of certain areas of town. I think it's going to be one of the biggest issues coming up for Atlanta. There are a lot people with deep roots here and they need to be respected while this city grows.

Where are your favorite places to eat in the city?
My go-to places are Elmyr, So Ba, Carroll Street Cafe, maybe some La Fonda here and there. Babette's Cafe when I'm rich.

What are other places you love in Atlanta, organizations you support?
Lately I've been more into the natural world outside of Atlanta. I grew up such a city kid, but I always loved nature. Georgia has some amazing places so I've been trying to discover more. My favorite place is Cumberland Island. It's a nature preserve off the coast. There's a limited amount of people allowed on the island so it's pristine. There's literally wild horses running along the beach and shit. It's an amazing place.

What would you tell someone from out of town about Atlanta?
I think of Atlanta as a big bottleneck for creative people in the South. So much of the surrounding area is hyper-conservative and fundamentalist, so people who feel rejected or constrained by their communities or families will come here and flourish. We have such a big mix of creative people and it leads to a crazy unique blend of styles and personalities. I don't think you can find anything else like it.

Read the entire VICE Guide to Atlanta here.