Bridget Earnshaw, the gallery manager at the South Shore Arts Gallery at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, believes graffiti as an art medium gets a bad rap.
It’s one of the reasons she’s pleased so many people of all ages are discovering the new free exhibit titled “Indy Windy: A Love Story,” running now until Jan. 29.
Curated by Ish Muhammad, a self-taught artist from Hammond, more than 70 installed pieces, some small and others filling an entire wall, are dedicated to “public art murals and outdoor art” which are today’s terms for the vibrant and colorful graffiti images which once attracted a negative reputation akin to defacing public property.
“This unique medium of artistic expression, much of it done with spray paint, has grown and evolved throughout the decades and that’s part of the story being told by Ish and his other artist friends from both Indiana and Chicago in this collection,” Earnshaw said.
“Not all of the pieces are just large wall painting displays. There’s also outdoor sculptures and even a very tall carved totem pole which is an example of one of the earliest forms of public art by the Native Americans and representative of sense of community. ”
“Indy Windy: A Love Story” is the first of a two-part art presentation themed with an umbrella tag title “Urban Legends: Bringing New Life to Old Places.” The second half of the art exhibit is called “Urban Ruins: Haunt,” curated by South Shore Arts Executive Director John Cain and running Feb. 8-April 21.
Earnshaw said the second exhibit concentrates on the photographs of “guerilla photographers” who have been lured to Gary, Detroit and other urban cities with distressed neighborhoods to capture with their cameras the decay and ruin. along with the positive possibilities of repurposing blighted addresses as gardens and prized public spaces.
“The link to the graffiti displays in this current exhibit and the subject matter of the second half of the sister exhibit is graffiti art can provide a beautification of an urban wall or abandoned building which would otherwise look uninviting,” Earnshaw explained.
“There’s also a very close camaraderie between all of these artists and photographers as a collaborative force for change and public perception.”
A large section of the current exhibit is dedicated to huge laminated reproductions of newspaper stories preserved as a collage, chronicling reporting from The Post-Tribune and other publications dating back to the 1990s explaining the struggles of graffiti artists and city elected officials critical of public murals and artwork on abandoned buildings.
“The inspiration for this exhibit is tied to the hustle of being an artist in Northwest Indiana, and the relationships built along the way,” Muhammad said.
“What started out with artists building professional networks has evolved into true friendships and artists serving as mentors and mentees.”
One of the favorite fellow artists showcased in the exhibit is muralist Felix “Flex” Maldonado, who hails from East Chicago. He created the now famous Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five four-story black and white mural hailed as a landmark on the brick wall of the building at 561 Broadway Ave. at the corner of 5th St. The mural, commissioned in 2016 by the City and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, is represented as a smaller-scale recreation in the “Indy Windy” exhibit.
Like Muhammad, Maldonado is also a self-taught artist with a special talent for graffiti art. He received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in advertising with a minor in graphic design in 1995 from the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He also created an earlier colorful mural of the Jackson Five in 2015 on Lake Street in downtown Gary. In April 2018, Maldonado included Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five as the center focal point for an expansive interior wall mural on the second floor of the Gary Public Library and Cultural Center highlighting famous faces and identities from Gary’s history.
Among the unique artistic expressions included in the “Indy Windy” gallery showcase, Earnshaw said some of the sculpted art equally draws the eyes and discussion of patrons.
“There’s a large wooden sculpted abstract tree which is a favorite focal point,” Earnshaw said.
“There’s also a wall section dedicated to large, colorful floating prescription pill capsules, which has a special meaning to the artist. He has a child and also other family members with illnesses who depend on medicine as a way of life. He decided to create artwork to symbolize the largescale impact of something as small as a pill.”