Chicago graffiti scene inspires Worthington artist's abstract paintings

Joel Oliphint
"Wavey" by Mike Graziani

During high school and college in Chicago, Mike Graziani would ride the elevated train and stare out the window at buildings and storefronts covered in graffiti. The street art captivated him, and eventually he got into Chicago’s vibrant graffiti scene.

Over time, that pursuit led to an interest in typography, design and computer work. These days, Graziani, 39, makes his living as a graphic designer, but about four years ago, he began making abstract paintings — an art form that provided a similar type of freedom that graffiti once did.

“I've always drawn or done some type of artwork, but I like doing abstract painting after being on a computer all day, where everything is very structured. This is just completely different,” Graziani said on a recent morning at Highline Coffee in Worthington, where his current exhibition, “Mike Graziani: Abstracts,” is displayed on one of the cafe’s walls. “A lot of people think in design you can just do whatever you want, but you're working on a brand. They have guidelines, colors. You can't just change the font or logo because you think it's cool.”

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Graziani’s acrylic pieces tend to begin with colors that bring to mind people or places. Two paintings in the exhibition recall the ocean blues from Graziani’s beachfront nuptials in Delray Beach, Florida, eight years ago.

“Lush,” on the other hand, was one of the first pieces Graziani made when he began painting abstracts; it seems to revel in freedom, adding colors and lines and palette knife textures to the canvas at will, with a playful disregard for boundaries.

The largest piece, “Birch,” is the starkest of the bunch, with white, feathery, branch-like markings set against a black background. Graziani plans to play with contrasts more in future work.

Highline will host an opening reception for the small show at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9. And while each piece in the coffee shop is for sale, Graziani said he’s not concerned with any profits from the paintings. For now, escaping into the world of abstracts in the basement studio of his Worthington home is a relaxing, therapeutic way to express himself creatively. “I like being more out of bounds with things,” he said.

Highline Coffee Art Space

Opening reception 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9

On view through Dec. 2

693 N. High St., Worthington

“Mike Graziani: Abstracts”