The story behind the first of 8 new murals going up in the Gordon Square Arts District

Posted: 2:08 PM, Sep 13, 2017
Updated: 2017-09-14 06:09:46-04
The story behind the first of 8 new murals going up in the Gordon Square Arts District

Cleveland is getting more colorful thanks to several gallons of paint, a few paint brushes and the vision of two artists.

A new mural in the Gordon Square Arts district is bringing two artists together to paint one of eight murals going up around the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. 

Creative collaboration

Chicago-based post-graffiti expressionist Ish Muhammad and Cleveland-based painter, Eileen Dorsey only met about a year ago, but their artistic collaboration reflects what resembles to be a long-standing friendship. 

Muhammad’s wife and Dorsey’s sister-in-law who work together in Chicago encouraged the two to meet for a future artistic collaboration. When the two finally met in Chicago, they decided to swap artist studios to showcase their work.

Dorsey spent time working in Muhammad's studio in May and now Ish is working for a week out of 78th Street Studios as he gets to know the Cleveland arts scene.

Muhammad is well-versed in public mural projects throughout Chicago but it's the first public mural piece Dorsey is spearheading in Cleveland.

"I was pretty nervous at first. I wanted to get into this because I don’t want to to be just one type of artist, I want to be all kinds of an artist and having Ish here has really helped me because he isn’t holding my hand, but he is.. he is helping my confidence to do this type of work."

Stamy Paul, the founder of Grafitti HeArt—a nonprofit started in 2013 promoting urban artists and street art in a positive way through commissioned projects on approved canvasses throughout the city— was looking for the next project when Dorsey presented the idea of a mural collaboration.

"The goal is to help the community see, not only murals, but the graffiti art form as a true art form and a pretty wicked art form that can attract positivity and engage the community and make places a destination," Paul said, using the Grafitti HeArt commissioned piece "Greetings from Cleveland" mural off W.25th as an example.

Public art meets graffiti 

The latest commissioned piece Muhammad and Dorsey collaborated on together is on the side of Stockyard Meats on Detroit Avenue, made possible through a grant received by Graffiti HeArt from Neighborhood Connections and the Gordon Square Arts District along with help from LAND Studio managing the project.

"Public art by way of graffiti," is how Muhammad describes his background in public art forms, starting from when he was a teen. "I started doing graffiti murals then doing large scale commissioned murals."

Muhammad named the mural "More heart than art" because when a person improves their surroundings, that's when creativity thrives. Three spotlights stand in the forefront of the mural to reflect the presence of theaters and entertainment as an anchor in the district.

"I feel like it is exactly what this area is," Dorsey said. "It has these kinds of buildings amidst of nature because we are right here on the lake. We have an awesome Metroparks system so we are very conscious of what nature is around us. 

Muhammad considers himself a post-graffiti abstract artist and admits he still finds himself leaning towards that way of expression.

"That’s how I like to describe how I approach my fine art work and mural work, in the sense that they have these funky shapes kinda of has this graffiti vibe but also has this cartoonist energy so the whole goal is for the adults to enjoy the color, for the kids to see some form they may see in a cartoon and if one or two say that I can do that, mission accomplished," Muhammad said.

Public murals highlight Cleveland's artistic thread

The mural is the first of eight murals to be installed throughout the neighborhood over the next six months.

"The goal of the mural project is to bring the arts outside so everyone in the neighborhood who visits or lives here can enjoy the arts year-round," said Carrie Carpenter, executive director of the Gordon Square Arts District.

Carpenter said they surveyed businesses in the area to find out who wants to have murals posted on their buildings. Confirmed murals will be at Spice Kitchen, Banter, Astoria and the big mural welcoming everyone to the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood will be on the side of The Centers for Families and Children Gordon Square Campus. 

In just a few days of being in Cleveland, Muhammad has seen the diversity of public art throughout the city. He thinks cities, in general, can find more ways to bridge the gap between the graffiti community and artists who work on commissioned public art.

“As communities become more accepted of graffiti as an art form and as more individuals grow up around the lines and colors and the techniques of graffiti as a visual language, well it’s providing more opportunities for us to paint professionally," Muhammad said.