Anyone who has visited the Southside of Bethlehem knows that the area takes art very much to heart. At practically every corner is a distinct, fiery-colored planter that consists of elements of Bethlehem. And lest we forget, drivers and passersby alike can now enjoy the recently completed murals located near the New Street Bridge and bustling 4th Street.
I was walking one day and came across a planter that struck me as particularly beautiful artwork – a whimsical, twisting painting of a blue lion with vivacious streaks of golden hair in his mane. Even better was that the painter, Albert Negron III, otherwise known as @betterdayswillcome in his pieces, was kind enough to paint his Instagram handle into this incredible work of art. I reached out to @betterdayswillcome and got to speak with him at Color Me Mine, where he was presenting some of his other works, to learn more about what he does and what Southside means to him.
EV: Can you give me a brief history of Better Days Will Come and its purpose? Is it just a place for painters for hire?
Albert: I use @betterdayswillcome as my brand of my artwork. It’s either that or the acronym BDWC. Initially, I came up with the name because the name has been indebted in me for a while. I was a tattoo artist for ten years, and at one point I was able to have my own shop. I had a shop with a partner, and when we broke ways, I opened my own and ended up calling it Better Days. Situations occurred where I had to break free from that, and I re-established myself away from tattooing and into just artwork and painting. I was in a tough spot, but I knew that better days will come again. That stuck, and it just unfolded. So “Better Days Will Come” is actually just a rebirth of life. I’m showing that when times are hard, better days will come and to always keep that in mind. My artwork is a reflection of that as seen within these bright colors, and where nothing is negative at all. Just positive messages. What it is going to be, I’m not sure.
Other artists can be a part of it. I’m not in that position now, but if it grows into that, I would like to be involved. I also get involved in the city with the planters, and hopefully murals in the future. I’m creating a team with some artists from my church, and we’re looking at some ideas where we can execute some art on buildings around here. I live on the Southside of Bethlehem. I’m originally from New York City, but I established myself here for the past twenty years. This is home base for me, so I want to execute everything out of here. And it’s perfect timing!
E: How were you contacted to paint the planters? What inspired you to paint things like the blue lion on the 3rd Street planter?
A: I saw something on Facebook. There was a post from the Southside Arts District, and when I replied to the post, Missy Hartney asked me to draft something up, so I drafted 10-12 pieces, and I got approved for seven of them. I’ve only done two, due to my work and my daily living. It’s hard to get them all done. We then went through whatever the red tape I had to go through, because there were some things that had to be changed in my artworks.
I started with the first one, which was the lion, and Missy told me which planter to paint it on. The lions represent more than lion heads to me. They represent a spiritual connection. I see their spirit as taking over territory in a positive way. When Missy told me “I want to see that lion on that corner,” I was like, “perfect! Because that’s where I want it!”
It was cold when I was painting, but it was fine. I made sure it was a clear day, and not too cold so my paint didn’t freeze. I look at it like this: if somebody wants to do graffiti out in the streets and vandalize, they don’t care what time of the season it is, and they’ll get it up! I try to do my artwork with a purpose, so the weather shouldn’t matter either.
E: What are the other ways you have shown your artwork around the Southside?
A: I don’t think I have any other ways of exhibiting besides those two outlets. This was just part of the city’s pop up art galleries, and then the planters, and I’m planning to work on some murals. I did my very first gallery right here over at MVMNT Boutique. The owner opened the doors for me. I was talking to him and he said, “you got artwork? Bring it! We’ll do an exhibit!” And he set the whole thing up! It was a big success, and since then, he’s got nothing but artwork in there. He’s hosted a couple exhibits now. And that was his first one also, so it opened doors for him as an artist, too.
E: I saw on your website that you take your artwork to places other than Bethlehem. What are art shows in places like Philadelphia like?
A: I make sure to keep my eyes open for events that I can take part in. I’m not actually connected to too many things, but I am connected with Divine Works, which is a Christian artistry based out of New York City. I’m doing an exhibit in Philadelphia this upcoming weekend. It’s their second exhibit. My first one was in Harlem in New York City last year. The head of Divine Works lives in Philadelphia now, and she’s actually going to school there and wanted to host an exhibit, so we’ll see how that works. My artwork is basically faith-based, so this outlet is all Christian artists that are creating art based on a theme. I also have my artwork displayed in the Commonplace in Easton.
E: How is public artwork considered a social good? What makes local art in particular so special?
A: For me, artwork that is out in the open for the community to see is very powerful. And it’s powerful because people see this art daily, and all kinds of messages can be displayed, whether it’s positive or negative. It can form a community based on what people see in their environment. I think it’s very important that images and paintings or murals or planters in cities should be uplifting, depending on the message that is put across. And that itself can lift a community! My agenda in my work is to put a message in my art that has people reflect on themselves, their situations, or the people around them.
E: What about painting can help people?
A: It’s very therapeutic. No matter what you’re dealing with, whether you’re in a good mood or a bad mood, painting can alter that. And art can reflect that, too. The act of painting itself helps you bring stability in yourself, because you are concentrating. You are in focus mode, and when you’re in that position, there is a peace and joy that you are working with and zoning into.
E: What do you love most about the Southside? What do you think sets it apart from the rest?
A: There’s a few things that sets it apart. One is the rich history of the Southside. It’s the history of the working man, and that is unique. There’s also the growth of the Southside, how we have seen it in later years to now. It’s a very special place. There is a such a growth of different cultures in this side of town, and as small as it is, it’s big… Truthfully, what my heart is saying is that, although the Southside may need improvement, it’s good the way it is. It improves on its own. It’s been improving, and where it’s going is going to become even better. The Southside is continuing to go forward, and I see that just in the things that are happening in the community!
*Feature image of Negron’s lion mural planter. Photo credits: EV Dundon*