By Patsy Isenberg and Jan Worth-Nelson
A cold, rainy October week didn’t deter a scrum of international mural artists, drawn to Flint by its reputation, by the efforts of a local arts promoter, and by the lure of a series of inviting blank walls at Totem Bookstore, 620 W. Court St.
Binho Ribeiro of Brazil; David “Meggs” Hooke of Australia; and an artist duo from Manchester, England — Joy “cbloxxz” Gilead and Hayley “aylo” Garner, known as the Nomad Clan — came to town at the instigation of Joe Schipani, executive director of the Flint Public Art Project (FPAP). The project’s declared mission centers on “activating vacant spaces, connecting people and places, amplifying the local culture” and “transforming the image of the city.”
Once here and at work, the artists joined forces with Flint muralists Charles Boike and Kevin Burdick and Detroit artist Freddie Diaz.
The mural project, estimated to cost about $10,000 but “valued at $75,000,” according to Schipani, was financed by FPAP and grants from the Greater Flint Art Council, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and Kobra Paints. The artists donated their time.
Under drizzly skies the afternoon of an Oct. 20 party celebrating the murals, several of the artists were still outside putting on finishing touches. The project had expanded from the west wall of Totem Bookstore to include all four walls of the garage and storage buildings.
The muralists crew also took a break from Totem during their visit to adorn the new Flint Fresh Food Hub on East Court Street.
Totem Marketing Manager Tyler Bailey said the muralists sometimes took bits from conversations they’d heard or other things unique to Totem and worked representations of these observations into their designs. The murals convey ideas and themes through a collection of figures, objects and words arranged into colorful montages.
Schipani said people on the street stopped to watch as the artists worked. Both Schipani and Bailey said the whole project felt like a major gift to the community, and provided interaction with it.
“There are a wealth of options for how interactions with the artists and the community created new portions of the murals,” Bailey said. “A great example is the license plate on the car that Nomad Clan completed. This is a loose description of what happened: A woman called and wanted to speak with the artists. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy, and told them that the mural is what she has to look forward to each day when she rides the bus to and from treatment. She loved the beauty it brought to her drive.”
The first Totem wall was the work of Brazilian artist Ribeiro and features a palette dear to the heart of the Totem crew. It depicts enormous familiar books with other Totem objects such as an owl–a favorite symbol of Totem owner Dean Yeotis–a flag, bees buzzing, flowers and a container of writing implements.
The Nomad Clan’s wall features a teepee, canoe, a car and a person reading under a blanket with a flashlight. Nomad Clan incorporated the word “Flint” into the design too.
David “MEGGS” Hooke’s mural is an abstract wave design on the back of the building behind the store.
All of the mural artists have roots in street art and graffiti. Ribeiro, for example, started as a graffiti artist in Brazil in 1984. He honed his skills through the years and his work is on the streets as well as on canvases in galleries internationally.
The Nomad Clan duo said they like to customize their murals to the environment. This pair have received many accolades for their work in publications such as Widewalls, “Global Street Art” blog and The Guardian newspaper.
David “MEGGS” Hooke says his manifesto is that the “journey is the reward.” He states he is focussed on not-for-profit, socio-cultural issues, the natural world, pop-culture, in particular, comic book art, sci-fi fantasy, skateboarding, graffiti culture, heavy metal and punk rock–all areas that inspired him to pursue art.
The local artists who joined in have distinguished local credibility, too — and in each case have literally left their mark on Flint and Southeast Michigan already.
Kevin Burdick (“Scraps”) was born in Flint and attended Mott Community College and later the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to study Animation and Illustration but says he didn’t want to abandon the traditional hands-on art for digital. He says he prefers using paint, pencils, paper, canvasses and, yes, walls! Burdick discovered airbrushing and used all of his training to paint through a partnership with Psycho Customs in Bay City. Burdick painted the “Mad Hatter” portion of the large street side of the Totem garage.
Another local artist who painted on the Totem walls is Charlie Boike, who describes himself as “attorney by day and graffiti/street artist by night.” Boike painted a white rabbit on the same wall as Burdick. Boike is known for his murals depicting pop icons found around Flint such as Brush Alley and at 12th and Fenton Road. Boike painted the Marilyn Monroe portrait in Buckham Alley featured on the cover of the November 2017 issue of East Village Magazine.
Freddy Diaz comes from a first generation family in the U. S. and was born in Detroit. Diaz’s mural features a skeletal figure playing the accordion in neon color and style. Despite the pressure to choose a career after attending Detroit public schools he wasn’t sure he could “make a living off art.” He says he’s been learning on the job ever since and has made a success through his work with General Motors, Ernst & Young, Lear Corporation and Adidas. He’s also travelled and worked in Italy, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Cuba, Colombia, and Mexico.
Both Ribeiro and the Nomad Clan collaborate with CO-labs, according to its website a “visual art consulting firm and production company specializing in socially conscious installations and content” based in Los Angeles. Melissa Downing (who goes by “Zippy,”) a representative from CO-labs, came to Flint with the muralists and was present for much of the proceedings.
“We work with a lot of international artists,” she said, “and we came to Flint for an activism art project for awareness about the fact that the water crisis is still going on…We did a series of murals but, for most of them, the buildings have been leveled. So we decided that for ‘Chapter Two’ we wanted to come back with new messaging–no water crisis–it’s all positive.”
At the Oct. 20 party, the artists presented Totem owner Dean Yeotis with a painting of the same blue owl that newly appears on his outside wall. The painting now hangs inside the store.
Banner photo: David “MEGGS” Hooke’s abstract design (Photo by Patsy Isenberg).
EVM staff writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.