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SCAD Alum Nears Completion on Two Murals at Midtown Union

JOEKINGATL’s murals rise 120 feet off the ground on the north and south ends of the complex.

Published: 06/02/22

A rendering of one of Dreher's murals depicting him and his wife.

BY ELLIE HENSLEY

Midtown Union, a mixed-use project rising at the north end of the district, is a project that is impossible to miss. With residential, retail and office space plus a hotel, the development spans an entire city block. 

When the time came to select an artist to paint murals on the north and south faces of the structures, master developer Granite Properties knew the stakes were high. The murals would be visible from the Downtown Connector and the unique pedestrian walkway that comprises part of the development and extends Arts Center Way. The murals rise 120 feet off the ground, with the largest stretching across 4,750 square feet. 

Granite commissioned artist Joe Dreher, AKA JOEKINGATL, to paint both murals, and he plans to put the finishing touches on them in June. The works augment Midtown’s identity as Atlanta’s heart of the arts and join a formidable collection of more than 50 public art installations concentrated within a square mile in Midtown, from free-standing sculptures to murals. 

Learn how Dreher’s SCAD connection helped him land the job and what inspired these works below.

 

A Visual Representation of ‘Union’

Dreher typically paints people he meets on the street who he feels are underrepresented in an effort to amplify their voices and tell their stories. But when he was approached by Granite Properties to paint the Midtown Union murals, at the beginning of the pandemic, he wasn’t leaving the house much. 

“I couldn’t meet someone on the street and do a photoshoot; I had to create something with materials I already had,” he said. “And my wife is always joking, ‘why don’t you paint a picture of me?’ I thought, well, maybe this time I could.” 

Dreher created a design using a photo of the couple taken 30 years ago in college. Originally, he was commissioned to do only one wall, but when he got the opportunity to do a second mural on the development’s other side, he chose another concept he had submitted of their whole family, including their two (now adult) children, Alex and Max. 

The artist incorporated a Möbius strip into both murals, which was inspired by the project’s name, “Midtown Union.” In mathematics, a Möbius strip is a surface that can be formed by attaching the ends of a strip of paper together with a half-twist, turning a two-sided surface into a single-sided surface with no boundaries.

“My mind went towards ‘union’ and what represented that visually,” he said. “This idea of two becoming one also represented a marriage and the start of a family.” 


Scaffolding was required to paint Dreher's murals on an active construction site.

An Alignment of the Stars

Midtown Union might be the perfect project for Dreher, uniting two of his passions: architecture and art. He attended the Savannah College of Art and Design at its Savannah campus to get his Master of Architecture degree. He went on to operate his own firm, which he operated until the Great Recession forced him to shut his doors. 

These days, Dreher is more focused on his installation art, and his mediums include photography murals, street art and sculpture. But his SCAD connection has endured through the years, with the college actually helping him to land the mural job at Midtown Union.

“Commissioned through SCAD Art Sales, the university's art consultancy and curatorial platform, brilliant SCAD alum and artist Joe King's murals will soar to great heights in the heart of Midtown,” said Audra Pittman, Vice President of SCAD Atlanta and board member at Midtown Alliance. “SCAD is woven into the heart of Atlanta's art community, and it has been a thrill to see Joe in action throughout this process bringing his vision to life for the dynamic Midtown Union project.”  

Dreher and his team worked in and around an active construction site to paint the murals as construction crews ready the complex itself for a Fall 2022 opening. It will include an office tower anchored by Invesco, the Mira, a 355-unit apartment complex; and the Kimpton Wade Hotel

“It’s an alignment of the stars,” he said. “It feels like [the murals] are meant to be there and are really part of the overall vision and design of the complex.” 

Follow JOEKINGATL and Midtown Union on Instagram here. 

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