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Meet Jori Kent : Artist Behind a New Uptown Restaurant's Stunning 60-Foot Mural

This Summer, in the space that was formerly 12th Street Deli, a new restaurant is in the works that has put art and culture at the top of its priority list. Vertigo Fusion Kitchen will be brought to Columbus by the same team behind The Black Cow and Smoke Bourbon and BBQ. Though not open just yet, we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Vertigo's new show-stopping 60-foot mural by local artist and CSU student Jori Kent.

If Jori Kent isn't a name you're familiar with yet, buckle up. The artist's contribution to the restaurant is a standout among a growing number of public murals popping up around Uptown. Kent's talent is on full display, and we're thrilled to bring you the story behind her debut piece.

Read on to discover Kent's process in creating the new mural, and catch a glimpse of what you can expect to see when Vertigo Fusion Kitchen opens its doors.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Story by Carrie Beth Wallace.

Images property of The Columbusite unless otherwise noted.

Q: Jori, I'm looking at an incredible piece of art that I can't wait to ask you about, but let's start at the beginning. Where are you from?

A: I'm from here. I spent my childhood in Phenix City, and then moved out to Harris County for high school. After graduation, I began studying art at CSU where I'll be a sophomore this year.

Q: What is your declared major at CSU?

A: I'm studying visual art with a painting focus.

Q: What inspires you when you paint?

A: A lot of the time lately it's been more from a literature standpoint. I'll just read something and begin work based on the literature that grips me. For example, there's one really old poem called "One for Sorrow" that focuses on the superstition of magpies and I'm in the middle of a ten-painting series based on the poem. I've taken the poem line-by-line and done a painting for each of them.

Q: How did you get connected with Denise Stickney and Stephanie Woodham to create this beautiful mural in their new restaurant?

A: I have known Denise for awhile, and she just reached out and asked me if I would be willing to work on a mural for them.

Q: Have you done any murals before?

A: I have, but never something this big. While I have mural experience, I've never done something to this scale before. At first, I'd heard they were going to commission some paintings for the space, but when I heard they wanted a mural, I assumed it would be a regular wall size. I had no idea it would be 60 feet by 16 feet. It's been a really fun challenge to create something this size.

Q: How did you do it? What was your process like?

A: I mean, 60 feet by 16 feet meant that I had to measure it out and make a small model first. I needed to be able to map it all out so I could transfer it.

Q: Wow. Was that a difficult thing to do?

A: Well, by the time I got to actually painting the mural, I had drawn it out at various sizes about six or seven times. I drew it out first and made it into a wooden model for their approval. Then, to get it on the wall I projected it. I couldn't just use the model though, I had to divide it up into individual transparent sheets to put across the board so I could get it to size. I then redrew it for the third or fourth time and once we had everything drawn out to scale, I was able cast it onto the wall and create the actual mural.

Q: Was this a daunting process? Or exciting to you as an artist?

A: Both. When I first saw the size of the wall and they said, "We want you to paint this." I was terrified. But then I thought about it and thought, "if other artists can do this then why can't I?"

I just realized that clearly it can be done, so why not do it myself? I knew I could do it.

Q: Our team is so thrilled to see all of the public art popping up around town. What's it like to be a part of that? Because this is definitely going to be another local icon of that movement.

A: It's so fun. I feel like I'm in this exclusive club of artists in Uptown Columbus.

Q: I have some specific questions about the mural itself. What was the hardest part?

A: Well, I have a bit of a fear of heights. (laughing)

Q: What?! Then how did you do this? It's so high up there at the tallest points. Was it just mind over matter?

A: Yes. I just had to get up there and face my fear and get it done. It's funny because now? I'm good. I mean, clearly I'm pretty over it now. (laughing)

Q: I'm really interested in the colors chosen for the piece. How did you and the owners come up with them?

A: Stephanie and Denise had a wonderful interior designer named Ann Tankersly come in and help choose the colors for the space. They really matched up with what I was thinking, so it was easy to come up with a digital mockup of the mural with the colors she chose. Just to make sure it looked right.

Q: How did you create the digital mock?

A: I just pulled an actual image I'd drawn into photoshop and painted over it digitally. So I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like with the colors they'd chosen, and we all could see it develop along the way. For the most part, everything stayed the same. There are a few slight differences from the original mockup, but everything else stayed the same.

Q: This entire process is fascinating. One of the things that grips me most about this mural is her eyes.

A: Ah, yes. We've named her Amethyst. I love her eyes, too.

Eyes are one of the main things I do when I begin a new work. I love to put a lot of focus into eyes in my work. If you're going to capture the essence of someone, you're going to only be successful by achieving it through their eyes. Our eyes say so much about us, and I really wanted Amethyst's eyes to evoke a very specific look. I think there are four or five colors layered into her eyes. I used black, two different browns, and the same golden orange that appears elsewhere in the mural. I felt like she needed those little specks of the other colors to pull it all together.

Q: This new restaurant, called Vertigo Fusion Kitchen, has a Mexican influence throughout. I can tell that you've pulled inspiration from the Mexican tradition of El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead. Is that true?

A: Yes. It was a lot of fun to work with Stephanie, Denise and Bubba Woodham on this project. The Day of the Dead offers so much inspiration to draw from, and the Mexican culture is so apparent in the images found in the holiday. I did a lot of research and made sure to incorporate as much as I could to pull from the culture surrounding it.

Kent's new mural at Vertigo Fusion Kitchen, a new restaurant in Uptown Columbus opening soon. Photo courtesy of Donny Kent.

Q: Interesting. Can you give me some examples? A: Yes. The flowers are all marigolds, which are the official flower of The Day of the Dead. Traditionally, marigolds are what people offer to their ancestors during the occasion. I also included monarch butterflies to document their migration to the region. They also symbolize the rebirth that is celebrated throughout their culture on this day as well. Q: I love the blue agave, too. It adds such a depth to the painting. Can you speak a little about that? A: I decided to include the blue agave because I wanted there to be something that channeled the viewer's eye toward Amethyst, the lady at the focal point of the work. All of the elements in the painting are strategically placed to direct the focus to her. I feel as though the agave provides a really nice frame around her and helps drive attention to her face.

Q: The vertigo spiral is also really intriguing. A: Definitely. I didn't want the spiral to distract from the painting, but I wanted it to add to the overall ambiance of the restaurant. I mean, Vertigo Fusion Kitchen is the name of the restaurant, so the entire mural needed to represent that well. I wanted to make sure the vertigo spiral wasn't so round that it was dizzying, but worked to ensure that you can absolutely tell what it is without taking away from the focus of the painting. Q: It is really, really beautiful Jori. How do you feel like this has equipped you for your future as an artist? A: Well first of all, it has been such a great experience working with everyone at Vertigo on this project. I had so much creative license and everyone at Vertigo really encouraged me to do what I felt like I needed to do as an artist. It's also a wonderful experience to have on my resume. Doing this project has given me the confidence to know what I love. I knew I loved painting, and I have always liked murals. But this? This project and the mere scale of it has me hooked! This is the most fun I've had on a project by far. I really loved the process and I love the way the mural turned out. ◼︎


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