Artist brings color to downtown High Point

by Jordan Green

Perched on scaffolding about six feet off the ground, Brian Davis applied red paint to the toes of an oversized tree frog leaping into the air on the side of the French Interiors building in the heart of High Point’s furniture showroom district.

Classic rock blared from a radio in Davis’ truck, competing with the sound of riveting from a nearby construction site.

Davis met William Thorpe, a woodworker trained in 17 th century interior styles, at the Penny Path Café and Crepe Shop for lunch some time back. Thorpe said he would put up about $200 for paints and Davis agreed to contribute his labor for free. And the deal was done.

“There’s no significance with the tree frog,” Davis said. “It could be a poison dart coming from its mouth. But it’s colorful. That’s what I want to bring to High Point: vibrant re-coloring.

“I want it to be almost out of place,” he added. “A rainforest tree frog climbing the side of a building in downtown High Point? I love it.”

Davis wants to drop murals around key locations of the city to create points of interest that will inspire people to re-imagine what High Point could look like, what kind of businesses could inhabit its underutilized showrooms and warehouses, and what kinds of activities could revitalize this faded furniture town.

Davis and Ryan Saunders have been working together on a variety of projects whose common focus is injecting a sense of creativity, community and vitality into the city, even if it means butting heads with big institutional players such as High Point University and the furniture market. At the end of a weeklong charrette in which urban planner Andres Duany slammed the city for stifling innovation, Saunders and Davis hosted a pop-up party in an area known as the Pit near the train station that featured a live-painting wall. They’re looking for things they can do to breathe life back into the city that don’t require high overhead or waiting for official approval.

“Young people come here to attend High Point University,” Davis said. “If we don’t have anything to keep them, High Point University becomes the Vatican of Guilford County.”

His criticism of the High Point Market is even tougher. “Forget this dinosaur called ‘furniture market,’” Davis said, noting that many of the showrooms are only used a couple weeks out of the year, when international buyers come to town.

“Property owners sit on vacant, gorgeous buildings that can be used to build High Point quickly to encourage stores, boutiques, business incubators,” Davis continued. “It’s wasted space. It’s wasted resources. Give people short-term leases. Maybe there’s a think-tank from Raleigh or Durham that wants to come here for a couple months out of the year to do some research, I don’t know.”

Davis, 43, grew up in Lexington and has lived in High Point off and on for six or seven years. He’s proudly, defiantly a High Point artist, and doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the question as why he didn’t set up his studio in Winston-Salem or Greensboro, while admitting that he thought about moving to Barcelona.

Miro Buzof, who owns the crepe shop, shares a similar streak of stubborn loyalty, mixed with frustration.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve talked Brian out of leaving,” he said. “He got really depressed about High Point and stopped painting for a couple years. This place is littered with talent.”

Davis has something in mind other than a long-term vision for High Point.

“I’m not interested in a 10-20-year plan,” Davis said. “I’m into the two to three year ones. I want to see something happen now.”