Rise together

The Arts

October 1, 2021

Charlotte artists Jen Hill and Torrie Savage team up to create a pop art sensation. 

by Liz Logan

A few years ago, in a small yoga studio on Hawthorne Lane, Jen Hill and Torrie Savage met as they moved alongside each other in Chakti yoga, a practice dedicated to dance, balance and empowerment. The two artists had seen each other’s work displayed around town and on Instagram — Hill with Jen Hill Pop and Torrie with The Savage Way. Hill’s work focuses on brightly colored, often glittered paintings of pinup and pop icons with an Andy Warhol-meets-feminism approach. Savage concentrates on nature-inspired moss art, creating textured murals and logos, with a bit of clean graffiti — sidewalk art created with stencils and pressure washing — on the side.

The duo formed a friendship based on mutual respect for one another’s work, the intimacy that comes with the yoga community, and a shared love of hip-hop and creativity. 

In September 2019, as Hill’s partner, Chef Vince Giancarlo, was developing an event at Camp North End merging food and music, he began dreaming up ideas for art inclusion. One of these ideas grew from a flicker to a full-on glow: What if Hill and Savage collaborated on a project for the space?

“Frida” graces the Dilworth studio of cosmetic tattoo artist Stephanie Leigh. Photograph by Justin Driscoll.

A band performing during the dinner would feature the music of Jimi Hendrix and Prince — thus, Hill says, “The first love child was born.” The two got to work immediately, conceptualizing what this first project featuring two of music’s biggest icons would entail. The process was somewhat the same then as it is now: Savage and Hill mull over images of a given subject, finding the best fit for their marriage of moss and paint. Hill creates a rendering, while Savage determines where to place the moss amid Hill’s signature style. 

After weeks of work on their inaugural project, the pieces were completed, and the crowd went wild. Prince looks stoically into the distance, a yellow popped collar setting off the chartreuse details of the moss hair slightly covering his face in various shades of greens and blues. Jimi Hendrix, meanwhile, looks straight ahead, his piercing eyes captured in grayscale, his hair of moss incorporating the same color scheme as his counterpart.

Moss is sourced in shades varying slightly because of a unique preservation process — moisture is replaced with an oil-based element, ensuring the integrity of texture. Then, colors are added for an individualized look. 

Unlike her typical vivid color scheme, Hill keeps colors muted when collaborating with Savage, allowing the moss to pop and keeping the pieces from appearing “too busy.” 

As if on a first-name basis with the late musicians, the artists say the completion of “Prince and Jimi” birthed the next venture: Biggie Smalls. It was the beginning of the pandemic, and Savage needed a project — something to do with her hands. 

“So I told Jen, ‘Paint me a Biggie.’” Then she got to work, affixing moss to create Biggie’s signature sweater, and posted a time lapse of the process on social media. The piece sold quickly and now hangs in the home of former Carolina Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart and his wife, Natalie.

As word spread, the commissions rolled in, like former Fox 46 anchor Page Fehling and her husband, Jake. After seeing The Savage Way’s clean graffiti on the streets of NoDa, the couple began following Savage’s work on Instagram. As Biggie graced their feed, Page thought, “This is the most amazing piece of art I have ever seen.”

Despite the ease with which Fehling curates her eclectic decor, she could not find the right piece for the couple’s two-story stairwell. She envisioned a statement piece flowing with her aesthetic while holding sentimental value. Nothing was hitting the mark. 

At their wedding, before Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” became a viral hit on YouTube, the couple did a surprise first dance to the 2005 rap anthem. After seeing the artists’ take on Biggie, Fehling knew exactly what they needed.

With elements from their wedding, the Fehlings commissioned a 3-by-4 portrait of Elliott, embodying both the statement and sentimentality Page sought: Blue silk strands from Jake’s tie became Missy’s ring, and Page’s wedding veil also was incorporated in the work.

“We’ll post to social media with the painting in the background, and people will completely ignore what we’re saying and jump straight into asking us about Missy,” Fehling says.

Together, Savage and Hill have collaborated on close to 20 unique works, ranging from Dolly Parton to Mr. T, with dreams of David Bowie and Diana Ross.

“The moss thing isn’t new, but what we’re doing with it is,” Hill says. “It’s an unexpected pairing, and people have reacted so positively to it.”

The collective work has been formative for the two artists, stepping against the current of competition while embracing collaboration, each endorsing the other when potential clients are looking for a specific work. 

“Surround yourself with women who speak proudly of you when you’re not in the room,” Hill says. “We need more women in this space. We all rise together.”  SP

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