From raising awareness around women’s issues and inspiring school children to beautifying the community, Lori Pratico, Tee “Teepop” Davis and Rick Worth are making a difference with every single brushstroke.
Since Fort Lauderdale-based artist Lori Pratico started her Girl Noticed mural project in January 2015, she’s created a platform for women and girls whose voices and experiences are often neglected. Drawing large-scale portraits in the ephemeral medium of charcoal, her subjects are refugees, cancer survivors, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, girls tormented by bullying, the painfully shy, a marathon runner who overcame obesity and a former addict celebrating 20 years of sobriety, among others — all with the prompt “Notice Me” provocatively etched beside them on the wall.
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“Charcoal carries the message so perfectly,” Pratico says. “It wears off the wall. There’s a short window of time to notice before things change.”
The project got its legs when she shared the idea with Elizabeth Sanjuan, owner of Gallery 2014 where Pratico held her first solo exhibition in 2013. She wanted a photographer and collaborator to capture the work and spread the message digitally. Sanjuan, a longtime travel photographer, believed in the mission and wanted to be on board. “It was so nice that the person who first noticed me would be the one to work on this project,” says Pratico.
Their objective is to create a Girl Noticed mural in all 50 states, telling the many stories of women and girls across the country. So far they’ve visited about nine states, and in each they ask for the community to nominate the portrait’s subject. They also work with local foundations and civic groups to identify a wall and coordinate interactive experiences. At schools, they’ve used the writing prompt “I am…” or “Notice my…” on sticky notes to invite students to interact with the art. Responses have included spirit, brilliance, talent, creativity and smile, among many others.
Sanjuan says that while Pratico is drawing, it’s often the spontaneous passerby on the street who leaves a lasting impression. In Novato, California, they met a woman — a Mexican immigrant and single mother — who was so moved by the work in progress that she returned with tears in her eyes and gifts of embroidered blouses. She showed Pratico and Sanjuan a video of her teenage daughter being presented with a leadership award at school. “It was so important for her daughter to be recognized and noticed,” Sanjuan says.
Each portrait has its own tagline representing the subject. Love Thy Neighbor, You Will Not Silence My Story, Be Kind to Yourself, Take Care of One Another and other messages are used to help convey each mural’s individual story, but they are purposely left up to interpretation and meant to be universal.
Onlookers often say they can’t help but see themselves reflected back from the paintings on the walls. Pratico herself thinks of the kid she was while growing up in Philadelphia, and the girls and women who are like her today. “I was not supported when I was younger,” she says. “It’s the people who noticed me later in life that made me feel like I have value.”
Tee “Teepop” Davis has a message for potential artists: Not everyone starves. Growing up in Pittsburgh, she was kept from pursuing art because it was considered impractical. After moving to New York City, she reignited her passion and has spent the last two decades in Miami as a working artist, originally studying graphic design at the International Fine Arts College.
“I’m an infant,” she says of her relatively new painting career, which began in 2003 when she was 33. But she wants kids to know that it is possible. “There are so many ways to make a living as an artist today.”
This is why outreach to children and schools is such a big part of her work. A pop artist who specializes in large format portraits of rock stars and jazz musicians — from Billie Holiday and Nina Simone to Bob Marely and Amy Winehouse — she’s also branched out into mural work. This summer, she spent two weeks at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in West Kendall painting a mural on William Shakespeare and his work inside the school’s Axiom Media Center.
The magnet school offers a creative curriculum through its DASH Design and Arts Academy with advanced offerings in visual arts, journalism, theater and architecture. Their media center — designed to feel more like a cozy coffee shop than a dusty high school book repository — is an even more inviting place to study and learn thanks to Davis’ mural and that of fellow artist, Alvin Hernandez, on a neighboring wall.
Inspired by her favorite play, MacBeth, Davis decided to create a mural dedicated to the bard with a bust donning Basquiat’s crown and a bookshelf holding a few of his classics: Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Hamlet and, of course, MacBeth. Pop culture references, like the crown, can be found all over the painting. Shakespeare’s first name is presented like that of The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, and messages — like “Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional” — are embedded throughout.
“It was important to make it interactive,” Davis says. “I hope it becomes a study tool for teachers, and I look forward to visiting the school and talking to the kids.”
A funny thing happens in Key West when October rolls around. The free-spirited island really lets its hair down for Fantasy Fest, a 10-day street bacchanal that coincides with Halloween. Marked by wild costumes, body paint, glitter and beads flying from balconies, it culminates in a Mardi Gras-style street parade through the center of town, complete with floats, marching bands and dancers.
From its inception nearly 40 years ago, there’s always been a strong LGBT component to the festival, especially when it comes to the King and Queen’s Coronation Ball, which benefits AIDS Help. And whenever an artistic hand is needed, Rick Worth is the man on call.
“Everyone has my number. I’ll paint anything they need — a bicycle, a flower pot — to auction off. I’ll build things, props, set pieces, floats, drag queen costumes,” Worth says in a soft, lilting voice. His accent reveals his Ozarks origins. “I give ‘em something every time,” he says of the many charitable organizations on the island, including the MARC House and Samuel’s House.
A self-described “hillbilly” born to sharecropper parents, Worth has been creating art in Key West — spontaneously and prolifically — for the last 30 years. Whether you’ve heard his name or not, chances are pretty good that you’ve seen his work. It ranges from large-scale murals to artistically reimagined cars and paintings on tiny found objects, like roofing shingles, which he calls his “candy bars.” “There’s lots of them out there, probably three or four hundred,” he says.
He often gives his work away or takes little more than the cost of supplies when it comes to commissions and charity auctions, believing adamantly that the role of the artist is to beautify the community and to stay hungry. “I don’t take money from charities. I help them make it. I’m probably broke because of it. But that’s the starving artist. It’s a tough job…” he laughs, “hanging out and going to the beach everyday.”
Far from wasting away, Worth is more likely to be seen working on the side of a building. At Bobby’s Monkey Bar, the gay karaoke bar on Simonton Street, he painted a mural of George Washington crossing — not the Delaware — but Seven Mile Bridge, a rainbow flag gracing Washington’s boat. Worth also teaches a class at The Studios of Key West.
More recently, you could find him at a show. An exhibition titled Island Light, which featured old and new works, was on display at Salt Gallery on Fleming Street in September. He sees all of this as part of his overarching commitment is to “take the ugly out” and create something beautiful.