The Milwaukee Independent spent two weeks with the artists of Black Cat Alley, From September 5 to 17, documenting the progress of their installations at the two block stretch between Kenilworth Place to Ivanhoe Place on Milwaukee’s Historic East Side.
The location was opened to the public on September 18 and is free to visit 24/7. Each mural expresses a story, filing the alley with a tapestry of messages. Just as the art should speak for itself, this photo essay takes an intimate behind-the-scenes look at what was involved in the production of the transformative art experience. The artists greatest expression is in the result of their work. These images are moments along that journey.
Tia’s primary focus as an artist is to serve as a resource for schools, churches, community organizations and non-profits. She facilitates community-led murals; bookmaking, story-writing and illustration programs. Some of her common themes including building healthy self-esteem; creative community empowerment; the environment and academics. In December 2015 she gave a TEDx UW-Milwaukee talk about how community art reinforces being more empathetic and cooperative with one another.
“My piece is called ‘Milwaukee Gaia Buddha.’ It’s about a collective living spirit that embodies our city that I sense and feel as a motivational force that opens our hearts and helps us heal as a city. She represents creative expression. There’s a wealth of creative resources in our city that are underutilized and that I believe are powerful healing tools for those of us to tell our stories. There’s a Mayan greeting called ‘In Lak’ech,’ which translate to ‘you are another me.’ Milwaukee Gaia Buddha is calling us to see each other as brothers and sisters.”
Jeff Redmon is a Milwaukee-based artist focused on creating abstract paintings and drawings, but also works in printmaking, collage, digital imagery and experimental art with found objects. Redmon explores the depths of his subconscious, creating bold abstractions through the use of expressive line, vibrant color, pattern and composition. His abstract work tests the imagination of the viewer, many having unique interpretations, insights and connections to the art.
“I am a big believer that art in general improves the human condition. For years I’ve been seeing a city of empty walls, so this project has been great to see how much it inspires people. People around the city now want to do a lot more street art, which is encouraging because I felt that we really could use more art on Milwaukee’s blank walls. And I really feel that this project has brightened people up and has sparked their imagination.”
Adam James Stoner
Originally from North Carolina and now an illustrator, painter and opera-stage-set maker in Milwaukee, Adam engages the audience with his mixed medium paintings that capture emotions and spark curiosity. Adam’s proposed mural addresses Milwaukee’s painful legacy of incarcerating a higher percentage of black men than any other city, yet his handling of this sensitive subject is poignant and impactful.
“My piece deals with the history of mass incarceration in Wisconsin. We have the highest rate of black male incarceration in the nation, which is 12.8% currently, which means that 1 out of 8 African-American men in the state of Wisconsin is currently incarcerated. Not ‘will be in their lifetime,’ but currently. This doubles the rates next highest to it and triples the rates of some other states. It’s an issue that we have not solved at all and it’s an issue that we rarely address as a community. And I think we need to open that dialogue up of what’s happening in Milwaukee to a wider audience because it’s beyond time. We need to think about it and we need to create solutions.”
Ian McGibbon, a UWM senior studying art and design, will be painting a contemporary painting consistent with the expressive style he has cultivated in his student portfolio. Recently, Ian worked with seniors at the Eastcastle Place in their Student Artists in Residence program, an unusual partnership that brought students from UWM together with older adults to create art.
“In terms of how we can combat issues of homelessness and gentrification in Milwaukee, let’s start by inviting sculpture artists too. There are artists in New York making livable structures made out of plastic that we could make to provide shelter for homeless men and women. There are so many innovative ways to start taking care of those issues.”
Jenny Jo Kristan
Jenny Jo is an artist, maker and illustrator from Milwaukee. She recently completed a large mural installation at the Sky High Skate Shop and Gallery in Bay View. Her artworks are available on Etsy, as well as in shops like HotPop, Sparrow Collective and the Waxwing.
“Stacey took a chance on me as a local artist without a lot of experience doing murals. I’m sure there’s a lot of different paths to becoming established as a street artist, but for me I just try and keep trying. I’ve watched a lot of artists around me doing beautiful things and I’m motivated by trying to do my hand at it. I think there are a lot of levels of experience and then there’s what you know you can bring to the table to make the world more beautiful and better.”
For the past eighteen years, Jeremy Novy has utilized stenciled street art to explore social and political issues. Novy has two intentions for his stencils: first, he creates public works that make his city a better place to live by bringing a bit of the arts to everyone, regardless of income or background. Seeing problems such as abandoned telephone booths and boarded up buildings, he creates artful solutions by overlaying stenciled posters onto the disused objects giving them new life. His second intention is to bring gay imagery into the homophobic subculture of street artists by covering hateful and distasteful graffiti in our communities. Novy wants the gay street artist community to flourish and not be bullied or afraid to express themselves with their artwork.
MTO is a contemporary French artist who has created some of Europe’s most iconic murals. MTO is best known for his hyperrealistic, larger-than-life portraits. Most are black and white with the odd splash of color incorporated. He has been featured in multiple books, newspapers, magazines, videos and blogs. His only other work in the USA has been in New Orleans, LA and Sarasota. His mural, “Milwaukee’s BUG” was the first-ever piece of art commissioned for the Black Cat Alley.
Extended coverage of Black Cat Alley includes articles, photo essays, video segments, and interactive location mapping:
Black Cat Alley Part 1: Transformative Art
Black Cat Alley Part 2: With Artists Richardson, Redmon, Stoner, McGibbon, Kristan
Black Cat Alley Part 3: With Artists Martinez, CERA, Kowalczyk, Minga, Reiss, Decker
Photo Essay: Black Cat Alley draws huge crowds
Map: East Side Art Destination
360° Video: Walking Among Murals
Video: The Color Orange