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Stories behind Raleigh’s murals: Georgia Tardy

Georgia Tardy NCMA

Georgia Tardy + her mural at NCMA | Photo by RALtoday

Abstract artist Georgia Tardy painted her first public mural on the boarded-up windows of Retro Modern Furnishings in 2020. Surrounded by unrest during that summer’s protests and the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, she had less than 24 hours to complete the unplanned project.

Georgia wanted to join the other artists creating murals on the temporary wooden boards plastered on businesses across Raleigh. “It was a beautiful moment in the midst of the chaos,” she said. After obtaining permission from Retro’s owner, she spray-painted flowing lines and vibrant colors around a Nina Simone quote: “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.”

Although Georgia’s mural at Retro came down when the shop reopened, her murals can still be found around the city in places like Whiskey Kitchen and the historic Gables Lodge. Her newest public mural is at the North Carolina Museum of Art — it’s the piece she’s most proud of to date. The mural, which Georgia completed in April 2021, is her first permanent work of art in a museum.

Now, Georgia is working on her biggest project in Raleigh yet — a new outdoor mural at a Raleigh hospital, which she expects to complete by this spring. The exact location isn’t public yet, but Georgia said she’d keep us updated.


Georgia’s mural at Whiskey Kitchen | Photo by RALtoday

An artist is born

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Georgia told RALtoday that she has always known she was an artist. When she was seven years old, she showed her family a drawing she made of a lion’s head with a flowing mane — and then they knew too.

“I was always put in a creative environment,” Georgia said. “So any creative urge that I said I wanted to do? I was in it.” She tried drawing, painting, pottery, jewelry-making, and music classes.

When she was a kid, Georgia couldn’t wait to snag the Sunday newspaper and pick out the comic section. She loved that on Sundays, they were in color. She spent hours in her room drawing each comic strip over and over again until she could freehand the characters from memory. “I was obsessed with comics, and with drawing,” she said.

Georgia moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend Kendall College of Art and Design, where she graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in design and advertising in 2003. After college, she worked in corporate design, the printing industry, and photography. She freelanced and taught art education for nearly a decade before becoming a full-time independent artist in 2014.

“The teaching is what got me so embedded into community art,” Georgia said. “I began to understand the connection between community and artists and public artwork and how it all intertwines.”

Diving into Raleigh

Georgia and her husband, Reggie Tardy, moved to Raleigh in 2015 to be closer to family and escape the Michigan snow. “I learned quickly that Raleigh is a very receptive environment to art and local artists,” she said. To connect with the city, she got out into the community — she explored local galleries during First Fridays and was drawn to the contemporary art at CAM.

Painting her first mural in downtown Raleigh sparked a desire in Georgia to create more large-scale work. She reached out to Jedidiah Gant of the Raleigh Murals Project, who connected her with project opportunities.

When seeking inspiration, Georgia enjoys watching ducks splash around in the Pullen Park lake or sitting under the trees among NCMA’s outdoor sculptures. She frequents The Optimist for coffee and enjoys Mofu’s dumplings, Raleigh Raw, and City Market Sushi.

Behind the art

Georgia’s abstract work, filled with varying shapes and bright colors, centers around themes of personal growth and development. “I show that through the organic lines that I use,” she said. “The lines, for me, represent the ebb and flow of life — how it goes up, how it goes down, how it turns, how it twists.”

Her use of color is just as intentional as her lines. “Every now and then, we have these high moments of accomplishment or joy or excitement,” she said. “I express that with bursts of color.”

Much of Georgia’s work includes faces and profiles of women. “Another part of my work is always making sure that Black women are represented in ways that reflect who we truly are,” she said. “I want to add to the story of who we are as Black women and get beyond the stereotypes that are often portrayed in mass media.”

She acknowledges how humans constantly evolve. “That is what my work is all about — the interwork that we do as human beings to become who we are.”