More than a week after students at the College of Charleston had moved into the new Liberty Street Residence Hall, a few loose ends were being tied up.
Signage was still being put on doors, and workers were installing Maytag washers and dryers, but the most exciting was a 130-foot-long, 14-foot-tall mural. Going up on the side of new parking garage on St. Philip Street, it's only for the eyes of the dorm's residents.
The artist is Mt. Pleasant's Douglas Panzone, known as "The Sheepman;" he's been working on the mural for four weeks now in a heat-trap canyon formed by the U-shaped dorm and the garage. Architect Sandy Logan of LS3P Associates commissioned the work for the developers; he describes it as a "phantasmagorical depiction of the world of fantasy and a profile of the curriculum, sort of fancily played out."
As lead design architect on the project, Logan realized the interior rooms were going to face a drab atrium, just a blank wall with a floor of industrial exhaust equipment. At the same time, his night-job passion of photographing graffiti and industrial sites led him to the back of the old S-Mart on Folly Road.
The white-elephant strip mall partially occupied by Buffalo South restaurant was where Panzone says he learned to paint. Granted permission by the building's owner, for five years he created 100-by-10-foot murals, then painted over and started again. He can't remember how many times."Layers and layers," he says.
"There were flourishes of graffiti in his work," Logan says, "but it was overshadowed by a very complex and ultra-real technique, representation of seascapes and people and such. It told me this was not a graffiti artist, this was not a guy who shot in the dark but was someone who thought things out. Because you really can't do that as a graffiti artist — you're always looking over your shoulder for the cops."
Originally from Jackson, Miss., Panzone, 26, got his moniker for a character he often drew of a sheep's body and a man's head. He'd been supporting himself as a carpenter until going full-time with his muraling in the last year, traveling to Italy for one project and painting locally in bars, youth centers, private homes, and restaurants like the new Uni Bar on Savannah Highway.
Last week, still several days away from completion, Panzone climbed down from his three-story, hand-burning scaffolding to talk about the painting, called "Convergence." It was just after noon on a day not nearly as hot as it can get, but his sleeveless shirt was already soaked through.
"We obviously had to go through a lot of levels of approval before we could start," he says, "but the original concept of the meeting of the right- and left-brains is still the same."
Working with Logan, Panzone fleshed out a depiction of the "whole student," a graffiti-inspired work of art that was meant to stimulate, not incite defiance or rebellion.
The right-brained, arts side of the mural depicts Shakespeare's hand and Louis Armstrong, blowing a scaly dragon out of his horn. On the left-brained, science-and-nature side are the moon landing and Einstein with a swarm of bugs coming out of his ear. There's also an Escher-like theme of puzzle pieces and birds. The meeting of arts and technology is symbolized in the middle by an iPod.
Logan says that while Steve Jobs has not kicked in for product placement, the mural is a gift from LS3P and McAlister Development, which developed the mixed-used facility. It's not a cheap piece of art. Besides Panzone's substantial honorarium, there's the 400 to 500 cans of Montana Gold spray paint.
With the garage and dorm both now up and running, Panzone is working five hours a day, above the loud drum of the exhaust vents from the Liberty Street Fresh Food Company (it's a dining hall) and the new parking garage.
"I'm basically smelling fried chicken and diesel fumes all day," he says, adding that the heat is "good for you."
"It's horrible working conditions," Logan says. "And now he's got all kinds of people staring at him."
Apparently they like what they see. A number of freshmen have hung signs in their windows with messages like "YOU ARE AMAZING."