On the cover: Phillip Hyman’s Walter Scott piece

The North Charleston artist explains the process behind ‘REAL Life and Death’

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You're probably already familiar with the piece of art featured on the cover of today's print edition. Protesters have carried it at numerous activist events since the April 4 killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, and media outlets including CNN and The Atlantic have featured photographs of it.

The piece, titled "REAL Life and Death," was created by North Charleston artist Phillip Hyman shortly after the news broke of Scott's shooting. Hyman has been a part of the local arts scene for years. In addition to his prolific output of visual art, he's known for curating underground art shows, building huge blue crabs to line Coleman Boulevard, and creating the dog-mobile that his wife, the Charleston Animal Society's Kay Hyman, drives during parades.

"I used to play in the woods and go snake gigging less than 100 yards away from where [Scott] actually died," Hyman says. "That's my old stomping ground, that area."

Hyman sent us the following artist's statement about the Walter Scott piece:

I saw people murdered in my youth, and the Walter Scott murder affected me greatly. When I first tried to find out where exactly he died, I realized two days later that I was less than 20 feet from where he passed. The image is composed of the top half of a white man and the bottom half of a black man. It is a composite of the "profile" engraved in people's conscience.

I purposefully made this piece of art named 'REAL Life and Death,' without a stand so it would constantly be held, carried, and touched, capturing people's energy, prayers, and feelings. All who came in contact with it were asked to send a message to Mr. Scott's family by touching it. This piece of art was made out of love to promote healing and helped to keep the focus on the family and their grief.
Phillip Hyman stands with his piece at the site of the shooting. - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Phillip Hyman stands with his piece at the site of the shooting.

Some commentators have called the piece a representation of Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie at the time of his shooting, but Hyman says he didn't mean it that way.

"It could have been a white person. That's why I made the composite half a white person, half a black person," Hyman says. "I went to Google, and I looked at images for the top half of the body. The person that ended up being the image was a white person. And I went to Google and looked for poses of black men with baggy pants, and then I composited the image off of those two, just for that reason.

"But it's cool that people are taking it on its own, and it's taken a life of its own. People actually have a large amount of meanings in this, and that's what good art is about, that everybody personalizes it and takes it on themselves."

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