GRAHAM — Kevin Hardin can usually be found in a classroom readjusting a projector or fixing a computer. But he does more than just  IT — he does art.

Many examples of Hardin’s artwork will be featured for the second time at the Independent Artist Movement’s (IAM) Merge Pop-up Exhibition on Thursday, Oct. 4.

Hardin’s favorite pieces to be featured at the show were inspired by events in his everyday life. He said he is excited to share more of the expressive side of his personality, a side that doesn’t come out at work.

“When it comes to fixing technology, there is no real way to express yourself. You fix it or you don’t,” Hardin said. “Whereas with art, you are able to express yourself and show emotion.”

Along with 32 other local artists, Hardin will be sharing his work at the exhibition from 6-10 p.m. at 110 N. Main St.

“Art gives me another avenue in life other than dealing with broken technology,” Hardin said. “I’m able to make something beautiful, rather than just make something work.”

In addition to his work on display inside, Hardin was asked to paint the storefront in order to catch the eyes of passersby.

“I was given a blank window, and I was able to create an entire piece of art,” Hardin said. “That’s why art is one of things I love because you are able to create something out of nothing.”

Elon University senior Alexis Vondran’s art will be on display as well. Like Hardin, Vondran said art gives her the opportunity to show the world a different side of her personality.

“I take risks in my art that you might not really see if you met me in person because I am a little more shy,” Vondran said. “My art is where more of my extrovert personality comes out.”

At Elon, Vondran can usually be found in her room with a paintbrush in hand, working on commissioned pieces for friends. In the week leading up to the exhibition, she said she is working on a piece featuring an outdoor social gathering.

“I love working on commissioned pieces because they make me try new things, like for this piece: I love the colors and the people and the moment,” Vondran said.

This will be the first time Vondran will have her art on display for the community outside of Elon, and she said it’s a step outside of her comfort zone. 

Two of her favorite pieces will be included in the exhibition: one of an ocean and the other of a bowl of tangerines.

“I love the process of making art that makes people feel a sense of comfort,” Vondran said. “But getting my art shown makes me a little nervous, but when I dropped off my work at Merge, I saw a lot of similar work on display and felt so welcome.”

The person in charge of curating all of the art for the show is Audrey Garton, the founder and president of IAM.

Garton’s dream of organizing an art show came true last year. 

More than 400 people came to see the work of more than 50 artists at last year’s Merge Exhibition.

“I wanted to have an art show with just a few artists, and it ended up snowballing into this huge event,” Garton said. “I had never thrown an art show like that before, and I was unsure if people would come, but people did and in the hundreds. It was such a fun night.”

The success of her first show is what inspired Garton to continue hosting the Merge show — something she hopes will become an annual event.

“In the art show last year, it felt like you were just transported into a different place,” Garton said. “And that’s especially important in Graham, a small city where there isn’t a whole lot of nightlife.”

In anticipation of a similarly sized crowd this year, Garton moved the location of the exhibition to a space almost twice the size so artists could share more of their work.

“I just want the people who come to Merge to see what the art does for other people,” Garton said. “People may not realize how big of a deal it is for artists to show their work and how good it feels.”

Hardin said he is excited, too.

“I can’t wait to see all of the local artists getting exposure,” Hardin said. “A lot of artists work full-time jobs, and while art is a passion, it’s not their jobs.”

Even though Hardin knows he’ll soon be back to fixing classroom technology, he can’t wait to feel that sense of pride Thursday night.

“Getting your art out there and seeing your art on the wall is something else,” Hardin said. “It is so satisfying because of all the work you put into it.”


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