RALEIGH, N.C. — When Joseph Carnevale chopped up three stolen orange and white traffic barrels from a construction site to create a massive sculpture of a roadside monster thumbing a ride, the North Carolina college student said he saw it as a form of street art.
Raleigh, N.C., police just saw vandalism.
They dismantled the 10-foot "barrel monster" and arrested Carnevale. Hundreds of online supporters want the charges dropped and the publicity has turned the history major and part-time construction worker into a local celebrity.
Even the construction company has become a fan, and wants the 21-year-old to create a replica of the figure that led to his arrest on June 10.
"It's surprising how many people have called attention to it," Carnevale said.
'It was something I had to do'
The college junior hadn't spent much time planning when he set out the night of May 31 and snatched the barrels from the site near the North Carolina State University campus where he studies.
"I had the idea in class that morning, and it kind of grew in my head, until it was something I had to do," he said. He went back to his Raleigh apartment and in an hour and a half returned to the site to assemble the freshly painted pieces before driving away.
What emerged was a hulking figure that seemed to extend a thumb, seeking a ride from passing cars. The next morning Raleigh Police dismantled the creation and took the pieces in for evidence while they searched for the perpetrator.
Although photos quickly spread on the Internet featuring the "barrel monster," it was an N.C. State newspaper article that offered enough clues to lead police to a Web site that identified Carnevale. Police charged him with larceny and destruction of property, both misdemeanors, and he's scheduled to appear in court next month.
Carnevale, an Indianapolis native, prides himself on his street art, but said he's most interested in guerrilla photography — making art and snapping images from restricted locations.
"If you can break the rules, and no one knows they were broken in the first place, then there's no point," he said.
C'mon — what's not to like?
Hoof it over to Facebook to join the weird news herd.
- C'mon — what's not to like?
His apartment walls serve as a canvas, covered in various hues of paint, with images on the walls and doors of sharks, hollow skulls and even Gandhi. His 1997 Volkswagen Jetta is almost completely covered in hot-glued beer bottle caps.
Carnevale has made other street art pieces with stolen barrels, including an alligator and caricatures with small arms.
'It's been positive publicity for us'
Hamlin Associates, the construction company whose barrels were turned into a monster, doesn't want to press charges.
"We've had a fair amount of vandalism, but never anyone turn it into art," Company President Steven Hussey said. "I actually thought it was pretty neat."
Hussey said the value of the publicity his company has received is well above the $365 cost of the traffic barrels that Carnevale used.
"It's been positive publicity for us," he said. "If we'd known he'd do that good of a work, we'd have given him the barrels."
Carnevale said he's weighing Hussey's offer to reconstruct the monster for the company's offices in Climax, N.C., possibly for pay. Meanwhile, at least three Facebook support groups have formed to support Carnevale, including "Don't Charge Joseph Carnevale," boasting more than 800 members.
Raleigh police spokeswoman Laura Hourigan said the charges won't be dropped, despite the company's stance.
"The police department obviously has a job to do," she said. "And if someone is going to destroy property, we're going to take care of that situation."
Hourigan said police are speaking with the District Attorney's office to investigate other street art by Carnevale, though she would not discuss details. Hourigan said Carnevale's Web site displayed photos of destroyed property.
Carnevale said he's not sure what he'll do next, though he's interested in creating a T-Rex sculpture out of barrels.
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