Jackson State University Grad Creates Icons, Goes Viral And Has New Work Featured On CNN
(JACKSON, Miss.) — Reshonda Perryman has gone viral. In early April, the creative design manager for Visit Jackson finished painting the bright and bold “Jxn Icons” mural in downtown Jackson.
Before going to bed, she posted a picture of her work, and in the a.m., she awoke to more than 1,000 likes, 400 comments, 600 shares, and myriad text messages offering congratulations and compliments.
“I’ve gotten so much attention from this. I’m usually pretty under the radar. I’m kind of in my own bubble, so I had no expectations. But I also didn’t expect that. Within two hours or less, it was more than a thousand likes. Wow, my social media was blowing up,” the JSU graduate said.
Now, Perryman and her mural seem to be the toast of the town. “I was really pleased to share my art and gifts with people on this scale, and I’m looking forward to doing a lot more of it,” she said.
Located on the back wall of Old Capital Inn, the mural is of Mississippi icons Medgar Wiley Evers, a civil rights activist; Eudora Welty, a writer, and novelist; David Banner, a rapper and philanthropist; and Thalia Mara Mahoney, a ballet dancer, and educator.
Each artist selected for the project represents four capital city pillars that the Visit Jackson organization aims to promote – civil rights, performance art, literature, and music.
Perryman explains that her role at Visit Jackson is to present Jackson as a tourist destination while incorporating her graphic design skill. One way she does this is by creating appealing public art projects.
After working six-to-13-hour days, Perryman, 31, completed the vast mural in just under a month.
“I have this huge imagination where I think I can do pretty much anything that comes up. Like nothing can convince me that I can’t do it. So I just started doing it without really concentrating on what I was doing,” Perryman said. “I never really have a major plan when I get started, so I’m always surprised at the outcome.”
As far as approach, Perryman said that some people asked why each icon shares the same skin tone. The answer is rooted in her inventiveness and inspiration.
“I’m an artist. I see things in an abstract form anyway, but I specifically did not want to focus on (race). I wanted to sort of blend everybody together with a bunch of different vibrant hues. I wanted to show everything working together collectively,” she said. “That’s why I chose all the various shapes and sort of weird mosaic form. I wanted to show how we, as Mississippians, are a diverse group of people with a diverse range of gifts, and we can come together and make something beautiful.”
Making things beautiful appears to be a purpose manifested in Perryman as a child growing up in Fayette, Mississippi. She began drawing as soon as she could clutch a pencil and crayon, then ventured into painting as a middle schooler.
“I painted everything for a lot of people in my hometown. I did that all through high school. I have loved art most of my life, but by the time of my graduation, I was a little burnt out,” she admitted.
Afraid of losing her creativity, Perryman said she briefly contemplated majoring in pre-pharmacy at Jackson State. However, when it came time to submit her application, she chose the graphic design option because, she said, it provided another avenue of expression. Perryman described her matriculation at JSU as her first foray exploring the world outside her parents’ arms. She shared that it was filled with beautiful blackness, best friends, rediscovering her creativity in the art department, and finding her niche.
“I learned myself – good and bad. I learned people – good and bad. I saw the first Black president and celebrated with people who looked and felt like me. Teachers became great friends and mentors. It was milestone after milestone and one of the most well-rounded and beautiful experiences of my life,” she said.
In 2011, Perryman received a bachelor’s degree in art with a concentration in graphic design from the HBCU. She then attended Savannah College of Art and Design and attained a master’s in fine arts in 2014.
After deciding to turn her 10 years of freelance work into an official business, Pixels & Paint was born in 2018. The name is a celebration of her graphic design side and her favorite medium, which she uses to create colorful and custom art pieces for her clients. She joined Visit Jackson in 2019.
Recently, Perryman was contacted by a woman from CNN Style who was looking for Black designers and artists from Mississippi to recreate the state flag.
For years, Mississippi’s flag, bearing the controversial cross of the Confederacy, was a source of divisiveness and contention for many residents. On June 30, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill to retire it. The flag is now housed in the Two Mississippi Museums. A new flag design will be available for Mississippi voters to choose in November.
Perryman’s could be one of them.
“When it was announced that the flag was coming down, I had an idea loading in my head. That’s how my mind works. I instantly think of something, and it stays there until I find it a home,” she said.
Within a week, her design was on CNN Style’s website and social media. Perryman again woke to hundreds of messages from people all over the country praising her flag design.
“People were saying how much they loved my flag and how much they loved that a woman of color was doing something like this in Mississippi,” Perryman recalled.
Those messages she said resonated with her the most.
“It’s just really powerful for me. It’s a lot of weight, but it’s the best kind of weight – being a young Black woman from a place like Mississippi and a small town at that. Whether my flag is chosen or not, it is an honor to represent my state the way I see it.”
And, it appears that the state feels honored, too.