A way with words

People The Arts

May 1, 2020

Kent Youngstrom’s ephemeral art installation spreads love and generosity.

by Cathy Martin   •   photographs by Justin Driscoll

Over two days in mid-April, artist Kent Youngstrom and his two kids posted more than 100 poster-sized works of art around town, creating a social-media buzz and a scavenger hunt for his 12,000-plus Instagram followers. Youngstrom dropped hints about where the works were displayed and encouraged the seekers to “find one, take one.” 

It’s not the first time Youngstrom has randomly displayed his art in public places, but he says it’s his largest such project to date. Several years ago, he started creating “Words for Friends” installations, placing as many as 100 small cards with messages in a single location. 

Last month, he came up with the idea of placing art in public spaces as soon as the stay-at-home order was announced as a way of lifting people’s spirits. 

“One night I just started doodling,” on some black sheets of paper left over from a previous project, he says.

Then Youngstrom and his two kids, age 17 and 19, headed out and placed the art around Dilworth and along the rail trail in South End, leaving a few at Camp North End. The posters disappeared within hours.

Working out of his Matthews studio, Youngstrom creates paintings commissioned by clients including Crate & Barrel offshoot CB2. He recently completed a collaboration with Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market. Locally, his newest murals can be seen at Project 658 in east Charlotte and Camp North End. 

But what he most enjoys is working with words. The “love never fails” message has appeared in Youngstrom’s work off and on for more than a decade. 

The artist was a little surprised at the buzz surrounding the installation. “It was actually really cool. I was kind of touched by the response,” he says.

“Sometimes I forget what art can do,” he said on Instagram, challenging other artists and creators to find ways of giving back. “We all have something to give, and creative brains to figure out another way to do that. I believe one hundred percent [that if] you want to thrive and not just survive, you have to give first.” SP

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