Carrie Padgett of Off the Tracks.

Heads up Kirkwood, your walls are about to get a lot more colorful. On October 26, Off the Tracks Inc. will enlist artists to paint five new murals and crosswalk designs. Founded by artists Carrie Padgett (@imakebigart) and Adam Stephenson (@tiltandfade), Off The Tracks is an art nonprofit that aims to install murals, sculptures, and other public art throughout the city. 

The October festival marks the kickoff point for the organization and bigger events are already in the works for 2023. I recently had the opportunity to meet with Stephenson and hear a little more about his story and how he became involved with Off The Tracks. 

Stephenson doesn’t remember a time before he was an artist. Even as a young boy, his art received awards and won competitions, once actually winning a ride in a hot air balloon. Growing up in the small, conservative town of Decatur, Ala., his artistic talent pushed him to seek out opportunities. He landed in Atlanta, pursuing a degree in design. Inspired by the local street art scene, he found an outlet for his rebellious creativity in graffiti. In the years that followed, he worked as a designer and in the restaurant industry, making art and music on the side.

In 2019, he refocused his career on artistic expression through art. That summer, he met and worked with local artist and activist Yehimi Cambron on one of her murals. Cambron inspired Stephenson, and the two and have collaborated on multiple projects since. In fact, they are currently setting up a shared studio together. Cambron even lent a hand when Stephenson’s hometown gave him a grant to install a mural in honor of his late sister. It was full circle in some ways, going back home to paint something so vulnerable and personal in a public setting when he didn’t always feel as though he fit in there. 

Off the Tracks co-founder Adam Stephenson. (Photo by Patricia Hernandez)

“I do think that the public element is very important, and I relate to it. Being a child with no money and being outside of society, I don’t always feel comfortable going to galleries and museums. Street art was comfortable,” explained Stephenson. “To me, making art in public is a service to those people and everyone else.”

One of Stephenson’s most recent murals is on display at Pullman Yard. Painted as part of the outdoor exhibition Pieces of Pullman, the mural depicts a tiger mid-roar with two hands gently pushing its mouth closed. Flowers explode around the perimeter, encircling the creature in a halo of energy and movement. Stephenson explained that the symbolism behind this mural goes deeper than simply being a pretty picture of a tiger.

“The tiger is a thing that keeps happening in my dreams,” he told me. “It has been going on for maybe eight years now. It would be a normal dream but off in the distance I’d see a tiger prowling around.” Even in his dreams he began to notice the tiger’s reappearance, and over time the tiger draws closer. He believes this figure represents his anxiety, the “recklessness of youth,” and the human struggle to contend with sorrow, anger, and memories. Following the death of his father in 2020 which brought him back to Atlanta after years living in Mexico, Stephenson decided to get personal in his work, and the quelled tiger is one motif that represents so much in his personal life. 

Considering his affinity for street art, launching a mural festival was a natural next step. Stephenson’s career seems to be pulling him more and more towards public art projects. He hopes that Off The Tracks Inc will provide opportunities to local artists while beautifying Atlanta neighborhoods.

To learn more about the Off The Tracks Festival coming October 22, follow along on Instagram. You can also attend a public art discussion hosted by the founders at the Kirkwood library on Tuesday, August 30 at 4 p.m. 

This story first appeared in the newsletter Sketchbook. Click here to subscribe.

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.