No one can tell the story of our local artist communities better than the creators themselves. Learn more about the artists who have made greater Cleveland their home, and take your own lessons from their experiences.
Poet, vocalist, journalist, educator, youth mentor, lecturer, youth activist… Daniel Gray-Kontar describes his music-making process as “free dirt,” an organic and free method of creation which seems to mirror his demeanor and general philosophy. “If a track tells me to sing, I’ll sing, if it tells me to rap, I’ll rap, if it tells me to poet, I’ll poet.”
An enormous industrial window pours light into Lauren Herzak-Bauman’s Screw Factory studio, casting shadows over quiet white forms, molds, bagged clay, dusty white tables and chairs. The same alabaster color and translucence found in her installation work, is noticeable in her space. Though it’s her buoyancy that’s striking; asymmetrical hair, infectious laugh; she continuously pops the power button on the teapot (the old building causes the pot to short out before the water will boil). Her lively presence a curious contrast to the labor-intensive, contemplative porcelain installations she creates.
“Being an outsider or a misfit has always been part of my creative psyche and feeling out of place in two places I come from has always given me a powerful inner world where I can work things out creatively.”
From a landscape of sawdust, table saws, and stacks of hard wood, spring pristine and meticulously crafted pieces of furniture: a chair with a satiny smooth seat; a clean-lined credenza. The studio and workshop of Cleveland artist, designer and Creative Workforce Fellow Freddy Hill, is clearly a space used for constructing things, the mark of a craftsmen’s hand here is obvious. Freddy Hill Designs is located in Lakewood’s Birdtown in the Screw Factory building, home to several dozen local artists.
Imposing and sumptuous clay figures of two nude women emerge from piles of nonchalantly tossed party clothes littered at their feet; as though they had removed the shoes and clothing themselves. Their poses and expressions render them calm, unruffled by the surrounding glossy and equally large photo prints of a lavish, brightly colored mansion interior. Kamins Island is the work of Leila Khoury, up and coming visual artist, sculptor and owner-curator of ZAINA Gallery housed in 78th Street Studios.
“What I want people to know out there is that every idea started somewhere. It’s really through trying and failing over and over again and then one day finally succeeding that you get there. There’s no one answer for everybody and there’s no one thing that people know that you don’t. I’d love people to think that they can make it and that their idea deserves to be seen and heard and that it will be such a great part of their own story.” – Stephanie Sheldon
1. Describe briefly the work that you do:
My name is Afi Scruggs and I play bass. That simple sentence describes the work I've been doing for the past six years. It's a complete reinvention for me. Professionally I've been known as a writer since I moved to Cleveland more than 20 years ago. I was a columnist and reporter at the Plain Dealer. I still write for several national and local news outlets including theGuardian.com, Cleveland Magazine and The Real Deal. Now however, I identify as a bass player first.
I'm a staff musician at Antioch Baptist Church, and at Progressive Evangelistic Missionary Baptist Church. Both are in the Fairfax neighborhood. I also play blues, RnB jazz and other secular genres. Just recently, my group "2 + 2" played at the Beachwood library.
I believe you’ve got to have goals. It doesn’t matter if they’re close or far-reaching. You’ve just got to have something to sustain yourself. Something to work towards.
Cornell Calhoun is a playwright and actor who was born and raised in Cleveland, and to this day still calls it his home. We sat down with him to talk about his artistic career and how he got to where he is now. Even as a seasoned playwright, having a career that spans five decades, Calhoun continues to grow as an artist. He strives to meet his goals, his three biggest being: 1) to have a play at the Cleveland Play House, 2) to have a play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and 3) to win a Tony so he can stand on TV and say “this Tony is for Cleveland.”
Excellence. That’s a perfect word to describe Virgie Ezelle Patton's vision for her artwork. Excellence.
Virgie Ezelle Patton was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she discovered a love of art at a young age. When she was only five years old, her school art teacher noticed that her art abilities were beyond those of other children her age, and her mother began encouraging her creative abilities. From that point on and through high school, Patton was in love with creating. She was always chosen to participate in school-wide art projects and contests. And she always won.
“It’s an experience you really can’t capture anywhere else, you know, being up on stage with people listening and talking about what you’re doing. You really don’t encounter that scenario in any other part of your life. Once you experience it, you want more of it.” - “The Sleeps.”
Ever heard of the glossy buckthorn also known as Rhamnus frangula? I hadn’t until researching some of Mimi Kato’s work.
As an artist-in-residence at SPACES Gallery, Mimi Kato spent the summer of 2013 preparing for her installation at the gallery focusing on the runaway growth of the glossy buckthorn. The glossy buckthorn, or Rhamnus frangula, has been identified by the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves as one of the 10 most invasive and difficult to control non-native plant species. Introduced from Eurasia as shrubbery for fences, the plant grows rapidly, reaching heights of 20 feet. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) website, “Once established, these species aggressively invade natural areas and form dense thickets, displacing native species.”
“The whole goal is ‘what do you want to say?’ Ultimately what you’re doing is about you, whether you are aware of it or not.” One of the most well-known local artist activists, Donald Black Jr. discusses his public work as a reflection of himself and his story in the community.
“Music is always all around us. Even our organs are making a sound. Your heart is beating. Sometimes your stomach is growling. Even if it’s irregular, the client is already bringing their own instrument to the session just by being there.”
“These artists are so adept at creating and working together and I think that’s what keeps them alive as performers. The company has been successful in performances because there is that energy. The artists are not just repeating and trying to live inside my idea of perfection.”
We wanted to let you guys know that we (Cleveland-based publishing co-op) have just published Scott Burr (Cleveland born, bred, and still resident)'s debut novel, BUMMED OUT CITY.
Though Valerie Mayén did not use a sewing machine until she started to seriously pursue a fashion career at 26, her interest in fashion and design really started in middle school. Mayén started shopping at thrift stores; she would hand-sew patches on items and soon began making her own garments.
Stephen Yusko’s studio is located on East 41st Street, where he uses a variety of blacksmithing, machining and metal-fabricating techniques to design and make furniture, vessels and sculpture.
As a Cleveland-based sculptor, Meg Matko’s biggest influences were actually performance artists like Marina Abramović and Carolee Schneemann. “When most people think of sculpture, the first thing that comes to mind is clay or marble,” but it doesn't have to be.
Andy Curlowe says that his early work was primarily paintings and some video work. “I think I was working with each painting being a strict narrative.” After graduating from arts school in Beverly, Massachusetts, he and his girlfriend (now wife) decided to move to Cleveland. “I was really excited to make that venture from the Boston area, where there is this very established environment and move to Cleveland where there is this very “do it yourself” attitude and an endless possibility of creation.” It was supposed to be a temporary move, but Cleveland ended up being such a great fit that they decided to stay. “Been here a little over six years. Everybody’s really nice here. The artist community makes me feel welcome. I think you can just hop right into it because it is so approachable.”
“The wood has a story and I have a story and we work together to bring it to reality.” This quote comes from 2013 Creative Workforce Fellow, Gadi Zamir. Gadi Zamir’s medium is wood and he creates works of art by burning it. He does this using a blowtorch, adding color using fabric dyes and oil. “Knowing where to emphasize the grain with the blow torch helps you create the imagery,” says Zamir.