The expression “once in a blue moon” is commonly associated with a rare and fantastic event. In an act of pure oracular pizzazz, the second full moon of August 2012 heralded the arrival of a radical, multiuse art complex on the outskirts of downtown. Two years later Wilmington’s urban sprawl is pushing south, priming Art Factory to be one of the area’s most coveted stomping grounds.


MANUFACTURING ART: Art Factory’s skilled resident artists will showcase their work to celebrate the multiuse art complex’s second anniversary. Photo by Holland Dotts

Located in a cozy, industrial neighborhood off Front Street, on the east bank of the Cape Fear River, the building was established in 1938 as a Jacobi Hardware distributorship. Over the years the owners made additions to the structure, and gave the interior tons of space and decades of character. Today Art Factory bustles with activity, as it houses a gallery, performance space, 16 studios (four of which are vacant), a print and frame shop, classrooms, and a retail area.

“We’re trying to provide all the services an artist would need under one roof, so they don’t have to go anywhere else to get the job done,” Marcus Rich, director and jack of all trades of Art Factory, says. 

Rich’s vision for the area is similar to the burghal splendor of Asheville’s River Arts District, which comingles working studios with old factories and historic buildings. Currently, 2,000 square feet in the warehouse portion of the building is being converted into a brewery for Waterline Brewing Company. It’s set to open in early 2015.

“Marcus’s vision is really ahead of its time,” Cheryl McGraw, the factory’s first resident artist, says. “I just think there’s a cleanliness about the southend of downtown that’s kind of attractive and waiting to happen.”

Originally, natural light and air-conditioning drew McGraw to Art Factory. Her current work canvases the majority of the brightly lit second-floor studio. It’s a refreshing amalgam of abstract forms she embraced in college and representational works she’s created in the last two years. 

One piece on display this Friday is a preview from her solo exhibition to be held at Art Factory in November. “It is in forgiving…” represents how her show is evolving. The oil-paint image of an African American woman lifted from a Depression-era black-and-white photograph is rendered in vibrant color. The lighting is dramatic, and the stoic female figure is planted, with her arms-crossed, in the doorway of a pitch-black room.

“I got such a feeling about her,” McGraw says. “People who lived through the Depression were just normal people going through a rough time. They still had their dignity; she has a lot of dignity.”

The lower left portion of the canvas is a study in abstract letter form, with bits of letters and words from St. Francis’ Peace Prayer swirling in the same breeze that’s blowing her skirt. Viewing the figure, one realizes this piece delves into skin tones, too. Warm shades of gold and ember, combined with flecks of turquoise and rose, are understated cues as to how adept at blending and manipulating oils the artist is. 

Kevin Dunn, Art Factory’s newest resident, is interested in taking people’s special places and immortalizing them in oil paint. He captures a moment, so it can be brought home. It takes painstaking labor: Dunn sometimes must sit for extended amounts of time in hot, buggy, humid, and extremely sunny situations. 

“There’s a bit of exposure in all my paintings in terms putting myself out there,” he tells. “It’s kind of a scavenger hunt . . . [and] it gives [me] a chance to explore the world.”

Recently, Dunn’s explorations have taken him just outside the front door of Art Factory. His featured piece in the resident show is a 2-by-4 panoramic view of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. He describes life along the river at sun-up and sun-down as surreal. The misty and humid atmosphere is poetic. It also is the best time to experience the subtle, pink light dancing off the mint-green towering behemoth. 

With summer still stretching out the days, Dunn’s evening view can be glimpsed from the building’s front porch when Art Factory welcomes guests with art, music and wine the last Friday of each month. Typically, the multilayered exhibits run in conjunction with the art council’s popular Fourth Friday Gallery Walk, but every once in a blue moon, a fifth Friday magically appears on the horizon. The second annual Art Factory Resident Artists Show happens to perfectly align. How’s that for rare and fantastic? 


Resident Artists Show

Work by Carrie Joy Byrnes, Kevin Dunn, Cheryl McGraw, EveRobinson, Paul Stavovy, and Elizabeth Singletary
Music by James Jarvis (7 p.m. – 8 p.m.) and Michael Frusha (8 p.m.-10 p.m.)
Friday, August 29th, 6 p.m.
Art Factory, 721 Surry St.

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