April 15, 2021

New EL MAC mural with AISE BORN in Ohio: "AXIS MUNDI"

This mural is a collaboration with my friend Jacori "AISE BORN" Perry, commissioned for the exterior of the Akron Civic Theatre, painted last year in Akron, Ohio. It was in the works for more than a year, part of a larger downtown revitalization project that includes a number of public art commissions from both local and national artists.
Aise and I visited Akron for a week last July to get a feel for the area, and although limited by Covid restrictions we also photographed people there as possible subjects for the mural. During that first visit we learned of the city's decline from its manufacturing heyday, but were also struck by its vitality, and the diversity and warmth of the people we met. We were also impressed by lushness of the surrounding nature, with all the giant trees, water, and greenery everywhere. (We even found ourselves experiencing some childlike excitement about seeing fireflies for the first time—so much so they were included as a motif in the background.) We visited local parks, churches, museums, cemeteries, and landmarks such as the John Brown House, all in search of inspiration and a sense of the local history and culture. Aise and myself, having both become fathers fairly recently, felt that imagery celebrating youthful purity and potential would be appropriate for this setting. We photographed a number of people, including a now four year-old girl named Laila that we randomly came across as she was with her parents playing with sticks and rocks at a local park. She ended up being the model for the figure of the girl in this mural, while the boy on the right side was modeled after my own toddler son, Max.
This mural's title, 'Axis Mundi', is an ancient Latin term for “axis of the world”—a point where heaven and earth meet. Akron is named after the Greek word for “summit” as it is located at a slightly higher elevation than surrounding areas. The mural is roughly eight stories high, and situated a couple stories directly over the Ohio & Erie Canal, a massive engineering work from the early 1800s that connected Akron with Lake Erie. Nearly the entire mural is suspended high above flowing water, in an impressive public space unlike any I've ever painted before. 
We began painting in late September and worked day and night on the mural for about two months. I was excited and proud to involve and collaborate with my younger crewmate AISE on this—I think this is some of the best public work he's had the opportunity to create so far. During a year characterized by division and fear, of COVID-19 social isolation and racial injustice protests, this mural project was a chance for us to create something positive and beautiful, something that hopefully conveys friendship, mutuality, and youthful innocence. It really felt like we were doing something special and important, channeling a little bit of celestial divinity onto this old brick wall in Ohio. Of course it's impossible to make public art that everyone will connect with or appreciate, but I know we put a massive amount of love and soul into this work and it's bound to retain and transmit at least some of that. I hope that this mural of these two children at play with the cosmos might offer some lasting light, hope, and inspiration.

Many thanks to everyone who helped make this project possible—my wife and son, AISE and his family, Howard Parr and the team at the Akron Civic Theatre, special thanks to Rick and Alita Rogers, extra thanks to Liz Gage, Courtney Cable, Curated Storefront, my brother HOXXOH, Louis Jensen, Matt Jennings, The Akron Civic Theatre Board of Trustees and the 'Staging The Future' capital campaign committee, the Akron Community Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the GAR Foundation, Laila, Monte Vales and Andrea Smith, as well as all the other families who allowed us to photograph them, LAND Studio, Janus Small, Mike Screwes, The Urban League, John Fiume, January Paint & Wallpaper, Mac Love, Beers, Mustard Seed Market, and all the other people of Akron and Ohio who showed support or kindness.

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