Muralists embrace the power of art to 'Uplift'

Andy Downing
The team behind the Gravity Uplifts mural cube

Though brainstormed and painted by four different artists, the panels making up the first Gravity Uplifts art cube placed riverside at Genoa Park share commonalities, most obviously a focus on nature.

Murals by AJ Vanderelli and Adam Brouillette both feature wide swaths of rainbow, while contributions from Lucie Shearer and Mandi Caskey bloom with flowers. Even a song written by Johnny Riddle that pairs with Shearer’s mural and can be accessed via a QR code embedded in the 8-foot-by-8-foot painting takes inspiration from the natural world, with Riddle saying it was his attempt to sonically recreate the feel of a sunny spring stroll.

“I think we all know what we miss and what we are hoping to get back,” Riddle said of life in the time of the coronavirus. “Also, you start to better appreciate those things you take for granted living in normal circumstances, and all of those little things start to become more meaningful. For Lucie’s piece, ‘Nature’s Grace,’ it’s embracing the flowers that are around you. … Having that confinement that we’re relegated to, you start to understand and embrace all of that beauty that is around. So when I saw what [Shearer] was going with, I felt this very positive [sense], like, ‘What would the soundtrack be, walking in springtime and picking flowers?’ And that’s what I tried to convey with my song.”

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The public art initiative features contributions from 20 artists, including the aforementioned four. Vanderelli, Brouillette, Caskey and Riddle, who serves as the executive director of 934 Gallery, were also invited to curate cubes to be placed elsewhere in the city. There will be five cubes in total and a list of the contributing artists by locationcan be found here.

Vanderelli said she selected her four muralists with minimal criteria in mind. The artists had to be located on the West Side, and each had to have been negatively impacted financially in some way by the ongoing shutdowns. Each chosen muralist has also exhibited at the Vanderelli Room in the past.

In an email, Vanderelli said it’s been a challenging time to operate as a curator, an art facilitator and a business owner, but that she’s tried to embrace this forced pause as an opportunity to rest and take stock. “I needed a break from the fast-paced environment, and I was physically and mentally exhausted,” she said, describing the break as “nice [but] unnerving, too.” The gallery owner has also utilized the time to reinvest in her own work, which has confronted subjects like plagues and end times in the past, making it a natural fit with this current world order. “So this is actually fueling my creativity, oddly enough,” she said, adding an “LOL.”

Riddle said similarly broad criteria directed his curatorial contribution, which will be installed near OSU Medical East on Friday, May 8, its placement designed to raise the spirits of medical professionals working on the frontlines of the coronavirus. All four artists have exhibited at 934 Gallery, and all mirror the gallery’s larger mission to uplift the greater community. “We were definitely able to create a cube that reflected the feel of 934,” he said. “I just love the fact we were able to create these … points of hope throughout the city.”

Vanderelli said this inspirational urge can be intrinsic in artists, who she said are often tasked with “documenting the guts of humanity.” “I think for many artists, this [time] is a dream,” she said. “It’s an excuse to hide away and experiment, to dump that fear and uncertainty ... [and] at the other end to brighten someone’s day.”