ATL pop artist R.Land takes action: ‘prayers’ aren’t enough
United Way and other organizations to benefit from his artwork
It’s an image so ubiquitous in Atlanta that it’s now burned into our collective subconscious landscape. One that’s simple, really, but says so much: A drawing of two hands, clasped in prayer, with the words “Pray for ATL” below them. Originally attributed to R.L. Ministries, it’s the work of Atlanta pop artist R.Land. It’s not the only image for which R.Land is known, but it has certainly had the most impact.
R.Land has been an artist since the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until he moved from Duval County, in northeast Florida, to Atlanta a quarter of a century ago that his work began popping up in the city he now calls home. The inhabitants of his drawings are somewhat disheveled and scraggly — misfits, if you will — yet endearing in an inviting way. The creatures draw you in — and then seem to knock you sideways with a saying or surroundings that make you think twice.
With the advent of the coronavirus, R.Land thought it was time to take action to insure the health and safety of those in this city who’ve embraced his work over the years. With a few changes, “Pray for ATL” became “Wash for ATL,” and the clasped hands took on a new significance in light of the threat of COVID-19.
In a recent exchange of emails — R.Land was one of the first in Atlanta to take up voluntary self-isolation (he also wears his painting respirator when he has to go shopping) — the artist discussed his new work and what has become a new mantra for Atlanta and the United Way.
Tony Paris: You created the “Wash for ATL” design based on “Pray for ATL.” What was the inspiration behind “Pray for ATL?”
R.Land: Originally, “Pray for ATL” was a reaction to what was starting to happen in intown Atlanta in the early part of this century — the unique, soulful vibe of the urban core was under attack … developers were coming in and bringing chain retail businesses (normally found in the suburbs) and building “yuppie ghettos,” those large condos and loft buildings. They were quickly constructed and exploding all over town.
I knew this threatened the very character of the city that I had fallen in love with decades earlier. The call for prayer was just my way of expressing my frustration and dismay over that situation, but once I started posting the image around the streets (of Atlanta) in 2004, it took off pretty fast and meant different things to different people. I love that the design has absolutely transcended its original intent and has become a hometown identifier for lots of folks.
In a United Way press release you state you created “Wash” as a “lighthearted way to remind people” of what to do during this pandemic. A lot of your work, on the surface, seems lighthearted, but many times I sense a deeper meaning to it. Do you find such an approach tends to get a message across better than to knock someone over the head with sloganeering and beliefs?
Yes, because it gives the viewer a chance to think about the issue or subject in an unexpected or challenging way, hopefully. Even a very profound and serious message can be delivered in a seemingly simple and lighthearted package.
Funds raised from the sale of “Wash for ATL” items will provide crucial services to high-risk audiences, yet you were interested in working with United Way even before this project. What is it that draws you to the organization?
They are a tried-and-true, respected organization, and the Atlanta chapter is the largest in the country. They have the reach and ability to get help to those who are in dire need quickly and on a large scale. They’re working with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta on the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund, and they have done, and are doing, a lot of good for our community as well.
How is “Wash for ATL” helping United Way?
The image is continuing to be a good PSA, and it’s raising awareness and money for the fund. But hopefully it’s also reaching new people who may know my work but don’t have a relationship with United Way, and it’s letting them know they can help by making a donation — or they can help by buying a “Wash for ATL” t-shirt or a mug or a magnet. All of it helps. And I hope people feel good while they’re wearing their shirt or drinking coffee in their mug because they know they’re doing good. They’re not just buying something they may like of mine, which is great, of course; they’re actually making a difference. Taking the old “Pray for ATL” design and changing it to “Wash for” and adding suds was a no-brainer in light of what was happening with the pandemic. I’m glad I did it, because I couldn’t have imagined the kind of response it has gotten ... or that United Way would reach out to partner, and it would turn into something that actually offers relief to people being hit hard by this.
There are t-shirts, coffee mugs, and small magnets available. Are there plans for any other items?
Yes! Coming up ... wall art prints, poster prints, and soap dispensers (not really). I do have more phases of the campaign planned. And we’ve been working with Chris Carlock from Bang-On (T-Shirts) in L5P on the t-shirts. There are some new colors coming out soon.
Recently you also created the label for Ria Pell Ale. Was that your idea, or, were you approached by Creature Comforts Brewing Company to create the artwork?
Creature Comforts contacted me back in November of 2019, and we talked extensively about the plan for that product and its launch. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of the beer will go to Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition.
There was a celebration for Ria Pell Ale’s release at Elmyriachi on March 15, yet you weren’t in attendance. That was the first weekend that Atlantans seemed truly concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, even a week before the Mayor signed a stay-at-home order. Where were you?
At home! As you said, it was the first week where folks were beginning to freak out about the virus, and I was just getting over a pretty rough bout of viral bronchitis. So I wasn’t gonna push my luck, as much as I would’ve loved to have been there!
I understand that there were posters made for Ria Pell Ale which were printed but, since you were in quarantine, were not distributed March 15. What are the plans for those posters now?
Those prints were planned for that event but now we’re selling them at rlandart.com, and the proceeds will go to Ria’s Bluebird to financially help the staff (who of course aren’t working while the restaurant is closed), until the crisis subsides and things start to open back up again.
Another one of your designs, “Plazasaur,” is also being used to raise funds for employees of the Plaza Theatre. Was that image originally for fundraising as such — or was it a logo created for the Plaza to do with it as they like?
Yes, I created that design a decade or so ago and donated it to Jonny and Gayle Rej, who were the owners of the Plaza Theatre at that time, so that they could sell the shirts as souvenirs and have a way to make extra money. I really loved that they were keeping the Plaza alive and giving it so much love! Chris Escobar, the new owner, reached out a couple of weeks ago and asked if we could reboot the design and use it as something they could sell to generate interest in the theater and help offset operation\costs and help employees while they are closed for the duration of the pandemic.
Are any other of your works currently being sold in conjunction with efforts to raise money for those impacted by COVID-19?
I’ve got some things in the works. I’ll let you know when they’re ready to go.
A number of people complain about having to stay at home during the pandemic, yet, in a previous conversation we had, you said people should take advantage of this time in quarantine. What did you mean?
I’m trying to treat it as an opportunity to deep dive into new projects, catch up on old projects, and focus on that stuff, unfettered by the expectations of a normal day. What my normal day was. It’s an opportunity to crack shit wide open in terms of things you’d like to take on or have yet to imagine … At least for me. A lot of people don’t have that kind of opportunity because they’re working on the front lines and just trying to survive this, so it’s also been important for me to use this time to find a way to help those folks in the way I can.
For more information:
To order "Wash for ATL" t-shirts, go here.
To order other "Wash for ATL" and R.Land items, go here.
For more information on how to donate to The Greater Atlanta Covid19 Response and Recovery Fund, go here. To learn more about the fund, go here.
For information on how you might receive help, go here.