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Larger Than Life

Even by the big-thinking standards of the NC State University College of Design, a 20,000-square-foot building façade is a big canvas.

But it’s not too big for the latest project by a trio of rising seniors studying art and design at NC State. For a little more than two weeks, their 15-panel installation has adorned two sides of a two-year-old parking deck at the corner of McDowell and Davie streets in downtown Raleigh.

In April, work crews hung the first of the 15 panels comprising "The Amazing Sky Race."

Jordan Deva, Joe Lawson and Justin Phillips – The Balloon Boys, as they’ve dubbed themselves – designed the banners this past spring. They were selected from among several teams that participated in contest to make the parking deck, owned by Empire Properties, more attractive. NC State Art + Design Professor Charles Joyner, Associate Professor Pat Fitzgerald and Assistant Professor McArthur Freeman led the process.

Over several whirlwind weeks, Deva, Lawson and Phillips married two concepts to create “The Fantastic Sky Race” while also keeping up with their own coursework.

“I don’t think I’ve stayed up so many nights in a row before,” Lawson said. “But it was worth it. It’s the biggest canvas of my life.”

“The Fantastic Sky Race” runs from a cool, blue-hued coastal environment through temperate, grassy landscapes and a pair of arctic vistas. The final stages move to warmer climates: arid desert, grassland and a cloud city, rendered in orange, pink and purple shades. The colors of a sunset inspired the design of the finishing panels, Phillips said.

Workers finished installing the banners in mid-July.

The cast of race participants includes a polar bear, a dragon, a whale and, far from first place, a man in an easy chair carried by a flock of birds.

“We wanted to create something that any age can appreciate,” Lawson said.

Included in the installation are roughly a dozen references to Raleigh, Wake County and the state of North Carolina. Wake County Libraries will invite residents to submit stories inspired by “The Fantastic Sky Race” and distribute coloring books and bookmarks based on it.

An official unveiling for the banners will be part of First Friday events downtown on Aug. 5. It’s not clear how long the 60-foot-by-21-foot banners will stay in place. Regardless of when it comes down, seeing 20,000 square feet of their art on display is something the artists won’t soon forget.

“This has definitely been a unique experience that I would not have experienced without the university,” Phillips said.

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The Fantastic Sky Race Photo Gallery