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.

Renee Martinez

Renee is a Texas native pursuing her studies in printmaking at MIAD. She has proposed a series of wheat-paste artworks that will be different from the other more traditional murals in that they will be printed in a studio and applied semi-permanently to the walls of the Black Cat Alley. Renee is the only student from MIAD to be juried into the 2016 cohort of artists.

“This is my first time working outside and getting into a community, not just this community of artists, which was great to experience, but also having people walk through while I’m working. I’ve always just worked in my studio and I’ve never had someone come up to me while I’m in the process. This young boy and his mom came by while I was working and the boy just tapped me on my shoulder and started chatting me up about art. It was beautiful because before I could even say goodbye he took me in this big hug and stayed there. It was a real hug. It was a great moment to realize how art really connects people.”


“As a mural artist, I aim to abstract the figure by fragmenting portions of the face and embellishing with pattern work. The piece will consist of multiple faces and figures, highlighting Milwaukee’s racial and cultural diversity. I am very comfortable working at the largest scale available and will execute the painting with Montana’s acrylic spray paint. I primarily grew up in and around Milwaukee, spending 11 years there, and only recently moved to Philadelphia. I’d really look forward to working with this project because I’ve seen a lot of potential for street art and mural arts in Milwaukee over the years.”

“I find that with street art you really can amplify your voice as an artist. There’s something really special about a project like this where we can find something we love to do, create a conversation and then amplify a voice that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I think that’s really, really special.”

John Kowalczyk

A native of Chicago, John was the artist in residence with the Around the Coyote Gallery in 2006. After receiving his BFA in painting from MIAD in 2010, Kowalczyk began his residency with RedLine Milwaukee where he holds a studio. He has participated in exhibitions at the Jackpot Gallery, Borg Ward Collective, American Fantasy Classics, the Sienna Art Institute in Italy, and the Charles Allis Art Museum, among others.

“My background is in painting and I think that kind of naturally translates to wanting to make large work and paint murals. But I think what captivates me the most about street art and public art is its connection to the community. As a painter, I spend a lot of time alone in my studio and it’s boring sometimes and a little lonely. What I’ve realized is that being out there in the community is awesome and working with community members to create beautiful spaces is amazing. It makes what I do as a painter relevant.”

Brandon Minga

A Wisconsin native and a graduate of MIAD, Brandon Minga is a multi-media artist who explores the parallels between technology and the mortal condition. Layering wood, paint, graphite, paper, giclée prints and found objects together into intricate compositions, he melds nature and artifice into surreal worlds of organic automatons and living structure. Currently, he is the artist-in-residence at Flux Design, a design/build firm, and exhibits with their gallery, Gallery326.

“Street art has a multitude of roles in the environment of the neighborhood it’s in. I would think that not only does it have a social and cultural impact in terms of the message the artist brings to their mural, but it also brightens the neighborhood.”

Bunnie Reiss

Bunnie ‘Bonnie’ Reiss creates to bring together. Materials, community, cultures, experiences, the past and the present, are all part of her visual catalog. She wishes to map out unusual lives, find hidden and forgotten places, build a unique visual history, and weave it all together as one. She is a natural storyteller, time-traveler and lover of all that is us, and she lives in a world filled with magic and imagination.

“My family is eastern European and we grew up with a lot of Jewish Mysticism, so my work in general is based off of folklore from Russian and Polish immigrants. And I’ve taken it into its next life and I speak through the way I see things, but all the imagery is representative of what I grew up with. The pieces are pretty much continually telling tales that are meant to protect places. They create magic. They help with growth, which is traditionally what a lot of folklore did. It was about the harvest, it was about the seasons, it was about family, so my pieces continue to do that in every city I go to.”

Tim Decker

Tim Decker has played an important role in children’s entertainment over the past several decades. With extensive experience in game animation, character design and children’s television, Tim has taken on the roles of Animation Supervisor for Disney Interactive, lead animator for Knowledge Adventure, and layout artist/animator for the award winning television series “The Simpson’s!” As well as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Alvin and Chipmunks and the Critic. He has also appeared on many episodes of the “Imagination Station” as a guest artist inspiring children in the art of animation and cartooning. He has extensive experience directing animation in Canada, India, Korea and the United States.

“Art inspires people and art makes change. This alley is one alley. There are other alleys in the city we can do. I’d like the artists to get out into the communities, to inspire some of those young kids who want to be artists, kids who get turned down and told ‘you won’t make it as an artist kid, hang it up.’ I want to inspire young people of all different cultures to get into art. This is one way this project can have tentacles, by inspiring others.”