The most interesting parts of the Atlanta BeltLine are the bridges.
This is where paint explodes into faces and figures, words of inspiration or outrage. Where one day you see a woman spilling out of a bikini on a bridge pillar, the next a tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman or a squirrel or elephant or heart or likeness of Malcolm X. Where pastel bears have a permanent home under North Highland Ave. And the underbelly of John Lewis Freedom Parkway serves as a rotating gallery of murals that seem to appear and disappear in the night.
Now, a new mural going up underneath the BeltLine is bringing fresh life to Ralph McGill Boulevard.
On the Eastside Trail, under the bridge that carries BeltLiners over Ralph McGill, a sunny yellow slate and green hombre provide a backdrop for clusters of black leaves and flights of bright pink birds.
"Each line represents a person and the mark they make in other people's lives," Ricardo says. "The lines form leaves or plants. They represent community and friendship building and just the influence of other people in your life."
The birds, on the other hand, symbolize creativity.
Ricardo is from Hattiesburg, MS, but he and his wife, Sally, come to Atlanta frequently and have fallen in love with the city.
"Atlanta is a fun place, a cool place," Ricardo says. "There's so much creativity that happens here, whether it's art or breweries ... Each neighborhood has its own set of restaurants, artwork ... that's exciting ... There's a lot of fun, creative things happening here. I like to use birds to speak to that."
Finishing the painting has been somewhat of a struggle, as vandals have tagged the mural a few times, and rain this week threatened progress. Ricardo and his wife were trying to make up for these setbacks as he painted swirls of leaves by intuition (much the way human relationships work), and she traced his work with another coat of paint.
Neighbors have rallied around the artist. A truck driver stopped in the middle of Ralph McGill to praise the work, and neighbors have denounced the vandalism. Ricardo has also noticed that neighbors regularly pick up trash on Ralph McGill, and he has seen them clean up the sidewalk. This sense of community is exactly what he is trying to portray with his painting.
"It's kind of refreshing to be in a community where people care about where they live and care about the other people that live here too. I think in the end, it's a really beautiful thing. That's what the mural is trying to show the most, is just how things grow when community works together, the beauty of all those things coming together."
In addition to the mural, the old railroad bridge has been painted the same shade of yellow, and as the finishing touch, it will say Atlanta BeltLine, a much needed directional sign for the tourists who park on Ralph McGill to access the trail.
"Community is really important and so are the arts. The BeltLine is a great way to take advantage of seeing all the creative things happening around Atlanta," Ricardo says.
February is Black History Month. Read, learn or contribute in some way. Here are some ideas.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.