Burners and Barbecue creates a new mural for the River Arts District

THE DUDE ABIDES: Every year, artists from around the country team up to add some color to Asheville. This mural, in honor of The Big Lebowski, is at Sky Lanes. Photo by Thomas Calder

If you’ve crossed the Bowen Bridge on your way into downtown, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the Hatchery Studio’s call for “Good Vibes,” spray-painted in blue and white on the side of its silo. If you’ve driven past Sky Lanes on Patton Avenue, odds are you noticed the colorful design that includes a giant image of the Dude from The Big Lebowski. Both works were done by a collective of artists who’ve collaborated for the past two years on an annual outdoor mural event known as Burners and Barbecue.

The third gathering takes place Friday, May 20, and runs through the weekend. This year’s project has the group — which fluctuates from five to 25 members — in the River Arts District, at the Asheville Waste Paper Mill.

Burners and Barbecue, launched in 2014 by aerosol artists Gus Cutty and Topr, began as a simple excuse to bring friends together. “We’ve got people from Atlanta, Alabama, the Northeast region and then several people from California [participating],” says Cutty. He notes that many of the artists return each year.

SPREADING THE WORD: Since 2014 Burners and Barbecues have been offering good vibes to local business. Photo by Thomas Calder
SPREADING THE WORD: Since 2014 Burners and Barbecue have created good vibes for local businesses. Photo by Thomas Calder

This time, the event spans three days and will involve covering a concrete canvas stretching 15,000 square feet. All of artists work on a volunteer basis. “It’s a gift,” says muralist Ian Wilkinson, who is producing the project. “Not just to [the paper mill], but to the whole River Arts District and the Asheville community at large.”

Neither Cutty nor Wilkinson would disclose this year’s design in advance. Unlike their previous works, they say, the paper mill’s mural will not be themed. This is due in part to the varying types of artists involved in the project. While previous gatherings were graffiti-centered, for this year’s Burners and Barbecue, muralists as well as graffiti and street artists have been invited to participate. “What you’re going to see is a really sweet mix of every talented person who want[s] to be involved,” says Wilkinson.

He acknowledges that such a collaboration is “fraught with potential chaos” but insists that at its core, Burners and Barbecue is always a team effort. “There’s no ego battles,” Wilkinson says. “Everybody leaves it on the wall.”

Burners and Barbecue derives its name from the event’s two main components. The first half, Wilkinson explains, is a graffiti term. There are three general ways to categorize a piece of graffiti art: A “tag” is something that is done in haste, taking a matter of second; a “throwie” is a step above a tag and requires a little more time; and a “burner” is the gold standard of creation — a piece that an artist can step back from, take in and keep working on.

The second component of the event’s name is still in the works. Wilkinson has reached out to a few local barbecues about possible participation, but at press time has not received a confirmation. Still, he remains optimistic that the tradition of barbecue will continue on. “There’s always somebody with a cooker that’ll get out there and shake a leg for us,” he says.

Wilkinson and Cutty are also hopeful about their project’s overall contribution to the River Arts District. Riverview Station is of particular interest. “[It has] historically had difficulty keeping [itself] attached to the River Arts District,” Wilkinson says. He notes that many visitors are unaware that there are studios south of 12 Bones. With the new mural, Wilkinson sees the potential to fill the gap and draw tourists farther down Lyman Street.

In addition to bringing artists together to create a new piece, this family-friendly event will offer community members a chance to put faces to many of the designs they pass by every day. Ultimately, though, the weekend gathering is just an initial step. “The thing about murals and all this stuff is it’s not really about what happens during that day,” Wilkinson says. “It’s about what’s left behind. And what will be left behind is a colorful transformation.”

WHAT: Burners and Barbecue

WHERE: Asheville Waste Paper Mill, 304 Lyman St.

WHEN: Friday-Sunday May 20-22, sunrise to sunset,  avl.mx/2j6

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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