Artist Interview: Larry Booth

“Milwaukee Topo” by Larry Booth at the corner of Sherman Blvd. & North Ave.

What made you start creating topographic art? 

My degree is in architecture. Building three-dimensional models of structures and landscapes was part of our training. While studying topographic maps in class, I became fascinated by the lines of elevation on the maps and the unique abstract designs carved into the landscape by the random forces of Nature (water, wind and tectonic movement). 

The maps inspired me to start making layered, topographic models of actual landforms like mountains and canyons. These were initially made of dozens of layers of poster board. I also made topographic models of human faces and other three-dimensional objects. I called it TopoArt.

I dabbled with my TopoArt for a couple of years but put it aside to focus on illustration and graphic design (how I got from architecture to commercial art is a long, convoluted story). About 2003 I decided to pick up my TopoArt again and started making my three-dimensional pieces out of layered wood. Eventually I also began painting the designs on canvas.

Sierra Nevada Range” by Larry Booth

Have you created any TopoArt designs of other cities?

I’ve done a couple of cities such as San Francisco and Pittsburgh, but cities are not ideal subjects because they are typically situated on flat land and also because the landscape has been so extensively reworked that the natural design of the land has been lost. The best subjects are mountain ranges and valleys. My favorite three-dimensional piece is the TopoArt I did of the Sierra Nevada Range in California (see above). My favorite two-dimensional piece is my TopoArt painting of the Iron Range in Wisconsin (see below).

“Iron Range, WI” by Larry Booth

Are you from Milwaukee? 

No. I was raised and went to college in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve also lived in Columbia SC, Washington DC and Pittsburgh PA.

What brought you to Milwaukee?

Prior to coming here, I was living in Pittsburgh, PA. A former boss, who had moved here, called and offered me a job to run the Creative Services group at his company. Never having been to Milwaukee I was hesitant but agreed to come check out the city. He knew I was an avid sailor so he made sure I saw the harbor and the sail boats on Lake Michigan (I raced Olympic-class sailboats and served as a representative for sailing on the U.S. Olympic Committee.) I was hooked. 

What are your favorite cities you’ve traveled to?

Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City (I love Asian culture), Sydney Australia and Dublin Ireland (for the people). 

What were your first art experiences? What brought you to art?

My dad was a Philadelphia fireman but was also a really talented artist. He would sketch cartoons, human figures and architectural designs for fun. I was fascinated by them and began copying his art, especially his cartoons. My dream job as a kid was to be a Disney artist. 

“Milwaukee Topo” by Larry Booth on the corner of Sherman Blvd. & North Ave.

Who are your favorite Milwaukee artists?

Ah no, that’s not fair. You’re asking me to make enemies (he said with a smile)! Let me put it this way, I appreciate every artist, especially those who make art their livelihood. I know how much thinking, time and talent goes into a piece and it is not for me to judge. Only to admire. And learn from.

What are you currently working on? 

I have been working on some three-dimensional clay-on-wood abstract pieces that grew out of my fascination with the meandering, curvilinear lines of topography. Also working on some new TopoArt paintings of locations specifically in Wisconsin but it’s difficult to find unusual topographic subject matter here because of the geologic nature of our terrain and the minimal changes in elevation.

What would you like to do next?

I would love to do a large three-dimensional TopoArt covering an entire wall. The play of light and shadow would be a really intriguing sculpture in a public space such as a museum, hotel lobby or other commercial business.

Artist Interview: Noel Clark

“One Milwaukee” by Noel Clark at Sherman & Burleigh in Sherman Park

I was creeping on your Instagram this morning and ended up liking a lot of really colorful prints and designs of kittens. I noticed the color palettes change every so often and it made me wonder, what causes the shift in your color palettes and how do you choose them? 

I really like bright colors and playing with different color combinations.  I change colors frequently because finding new colors that work together is part of the fun of being an artist.  I get lost in the flow of just picking colors that harmonize.  But sometimes, lots of color overwhelms my eye, so I simplify everything by working in black and white.  Color choice often follows my mood at the time I’m creating.

You have a very unique and playful style, has it always been that way or is it something that’s been developed with time? 

Thank you.  When I was younger, sometimes my art contained darker themes.  One time, I made a paper mache wall hanging in my college dorm that looked like a dark face being pushed out of the wall.  It was all about expressing something I was going through at the time, but I ultimately decided that I didn’t like looking at art that made me feel sad or afraid, so I didn’t want to create art like that either.  

We really enjoyed the story that went along with your piece. It came to life all by itself and we could really see the connection between the narrative and the design. Does this happen with a lot of your creations? Does each piece have a specific story or memory? 

Typically, images emerge for me somewhat intuitively, so I don’t usually have a story or memory in mind on a conscious level when creating them.  For the bus stop design, I deliberately set out to create work with images that were relatable to everyone.  I wanted the work to be simple enough that a child could look at it and talk about it, but complex enough that it might prompt a story or memory in the mind of an adult.  I wanted to give people a reason to pause and look at it.     

“One Milwaukee” by Noel Clark at Sherman & Burleigh in Sherman Park

I really hope you either write and/or illustrate a book. Have you ever thought of it or any plans on it? 

I have considered book illustration, yes.  I love collaboration and doing illustration in my own style.

Who are a few local artists that you really enjoy? 

I enjoy the work of Todd Mrozinski and Thea Kovak.  

Artist Interview: Matt Juzenas

Matt Juzenas and community member sharing a hug in front of Big, Giant Hugs design at 1st & National

How long have you been doing art? Have you always done it your whole life?

As a kid I was totally into drawing and I had my dad’s briefcase and I’d go down the street door to door and sell my little drawings for a nickel. So I always did like it, but I never did it in school, I never took any art classes until I applied to MIAD. My grandfather was a sign painter in Kenosha and my uncle is a graphic designer, so it was always in the family and my mom’s an artist, so I always loved doing art but I actually went into Elementary Education. I went to the University of Iowa first. I was doing Special Ed and Elementary Ed. I was less than a year away from graduating and I did my student teaching and everything and I decided, I really like it but it wasn’t what I want to wake up and do every morning. So I left Iowa with like 12 credits left to graduate and came to Milwaukee, applied to MIAD and started all over again.

Did you grow up in Iowa?

No, I just went to the University of Iowa. I grew up in Whitefish Bay and a lot of people went to Iowa from there. So when I went to MIAD and they said, alright so what’s in your portfolio? And I’m like, I don’t have one, I’ve never taken an art class. They gave me a list to take: do some photography, do some painting, do these things. I came back with a portfolio that fall and they let me in and so I started all over and did graphic design. So I was 21-22 when I started at MIAD, out of 110 credits (from Iowa), like 12 transferred. It was like I literally started over. So I took a couple of months off and bartended at Fluid, which is why it was fun when it (my design) went in that place. I was like, ‘that’s my neighborhood!’ So I bartended and I was a high school swim coach and I worked at a bank and so I did that in between and then started at MIAD. So I was 27 when I graduated.

Oh, that’s not bad at all!

No, no, it’s perfect! I thought I was letting go of all the teaching and it’s amazing how much that’s come back into my life because I am a mentor at Islands of Brilliance.

I want to hear all about the ‘Big, Giant Hugs’ though, because you said you started signing all of your messages ‘Big, Giant Hugs’ and I’m interested where that came from.

My nieces and nephews called me the BFG, the big, friendly giant, and so that just always stuck. Then many years ago I just started signing my posts “Big, Giant Hugs” and it was a play on giving giant hugs from a giant and they’re big and all of that. I struggled with mental health for a long time of clinical depression and anxiety and with learning how to live and strive with that and embracing it versus fighting that, I’ve just embraced this mindset of always trying to put positivity out into the world. Always assume best intent, always give that person the benefit of the doubt and try to live life as fully and as positively as possible. So when this came about I thought, what a cool opportunity to put that message out in the city. It’s just one more way that in a small way, in a simple way to give people joy. I want to make people happy when they see something. It’s funny I actually wrote a blog post on my site about the piece because ironically, as an out, gay married man I never thought about Pride when I was creating that piece. It was just about simply spreading joy.

I didn’t know you were gay either, I thought you were straight and then after you told me and we were releasing it at Pride I felt bad because I didn’t want you to feel that we were putting you in a box or that this is just how it is.

So it’s funny, when you put art out in the world, you’re kinda writing this contract that I’m releasing anything about it and never, ever did I think, this has to do with Pride or anything. It was just a play off the 80’s like Rainbow Brite, Carebears. I just wanna make this big thing that makes people happy.

I’m such an advocate for the gay community, or the LGBTQ community. I’ve grown up and all my friends, my best friend was bisexual. I don’t know, I feel weird talking about it because I know as an ally it’s weird because you can support but you’re not actually in the community so it’s actually hard to talk about it sometimes because you sound like this type of person talking about it. I want to be able to talk about it though, because all my closest friends around me identify, all the people around me and I’ve built a family around me and I just want to be able to talk about it.

We all bring our experiences to the table, whether you’re gay, straight, ally. I think it’s all our life experiences we bring together and the more we do that, the fewer differences.

I think that’s been the hard part, as time goes on, it feels like things are becoming more boxed up. It’s like things are really opening up but as things open up there seems to be more boxes. I’m like, oh man, I don’t want to be closed off from people, I don’t want to feel awkward to talk to people, like your identity is this, so now I have to talk to you like this. I get social anxiety just talking to people sometimes. I’m like I don’t know how to not offend you anymore so I’m just not going to say anything.

You know what I always say, I’m just going to talk and then I’ll learn if I offended you, like I can apologize and then I’ll learn and I can do better next time, but otherwise I do think we’re in a time of such political correctness where everything has to be perfectly said and you know what? That’s not how we live, that’s not who we are and everything in society, I’m just a big believer in the pendulum theory. For 21 years I was living in the closet and so my pendulum was waaayyy up over here and when I came out it swuuunngg to the other side and I was ouuuuttt! But eventually that pendulum slows down and eventually settles in the middle and I’m just me and that becomes a part of my identity, but a small part of my identity, there’s so much more. I think the same happens in society on everything and while we get more rights and more open to talking about it that pendulum swings to the otherside where everything needs to be perfect and eventually, hopefully it comes to that middle point where it’s like okay, now we’re just people and we can talk. I think right now, especially in the LGBTQ community we keep adding letters ‘Q’, ‘A’ and all these things, I think it does become more difficult, and it does become, even within our community more segmented, more segregated because we have all these more identifications and for a long time the ‘G’ was a really big part of my identity, it was how I identified and then, like I said, yeah, I’m Matt, and I’m gay, but before I’m gay: I’m an artist, I’m a community member, I’m a creative person, I’m a compassionate community member. All of that is who I am inside of me is this little corner piece that’s like oh, and by the way I have a husband and I like guys. I think eventually as things come to the middle, hopefully we can have more conversations. It’s an amazing part of society right now, there’s as many straight people at Pride now as there are gay people. The need for gay bars, you know I worked for 8 years in a gay bar and I loved that community, it was a safe place for us, but I also think it’s awesome that gay bars are becoming less and less necessary, like we can just start going to bars. It’s an interesting time that we’re in, but yeah, I think the less we can worry about all the labels and crap, the more we can just be human beings and community members.

Have you ever seen Broad City?

Yeah, I think we watched the first episode and we realized, ya know, I don’t know if this is for us, but we need to watch more episodes, actually give it a shot.

Well, you know, the one girl though, she says, she’s like, whatever in the future everyone’s going to be queer and brown anyways, and I was like, I love that!! Because it’s true! Because eventually it feels like everything will become completely homogenized and that’s where harmony will just exist because the differences won’t matter anymore and we’ll just be able to experience the energy of a person. Whatever the person is bringing to the table, you can just be with that person.

And there’s such beautiful aspects though, to holding onto what makes us so unique and different, not just having pride in your sexuality, but your heritage and other cultures. So as it becomes more homogenized but hold onto those things that make us unique and different, then we can just get to that point where we start embracing the differences. Everyone is so afraid of the differences but if we start talking and sharing stories, that’s why I’m so open about my mental health and all those things, the more we share the things we’re scared to talk about, the less scary they become and the more we realize we’re not alone. We’re so much more alike than we are different and so just like I put me being gay in a little corner pocket of my identity, I think all those things that we think are differences, if we put those things in with with all the things that make us united and similar it would be a little corner pocket of those differences, but that’s what we focus on and by focusing on those differences, that’s how we keep things being scary and unknown. It’s like holy crap, there’s this world of stuff that makes us all the same.

I think of it as though the light has been broken almost and everything is coming out, but in the way it’s coming out everything is being boxed up but then that only happens for so long because that’s just the first step.

Yeah, because now we have to figure out what to do with it.

Yeah, because now you have a voice and communities are finally having a voice and it’s like, we never had this voice before and so now all the anger that you’ve suppressed over all this time comes out and it becomes all these boxes, but then like you said, the pendulum swings and everything opens up again and it’s all fine.

As you’re saying that I have this picture of, so we put everything in boxes because we’re moving into a new house. So you pack up your house and we’re moving in and we’re in this new house and we have to figure out where to put all the stuff that we put into those boxes, that’s going to come out of boxes.

It’s true though, because there’s always these huge transitions in life and you come out a completely different person, like for me I’ve been through a lot of huge transitions in my life and I feel like I never feel like the same person on the other side, like I don’t feel like I’m the same person but internally I experience things the same way.

It’s really easy, it seems relentless, it’s like okay, when is that…

Yeah, when does it stabilize?

Yeah, but in between all those moments have been beautiful, positive life changing things as well. It’s finding that balance and being able to continue seeing those things. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the negative things that are happening in your life, but if you can just focus on the positive all of a sudden things just become more sustainable and okay. Just like I was saying the differences and similarities of people and how we focus on those differences, there is so much more, usually, you can find more positive things than negative, even when we’re at our lowest. It is unreal, in the darkest lowest times, you can still find something to be grateful for, but those things are really powerful. That bus shelter that I designed is meant as the most simplest thing to give someone a little joy in their day. I mean, when we went to see it I couldn’t believe how vibrant it was, especially when the sun hits it from behind. It’s unbelievable! It’s awesome, in that neighborhood it brings on, I mean, location and timing brought on a whole other meaning to it, but at its core, the most simplest thing was, I want to make someone smile.

That’s what my friend Bob said, he said, Libby, I saw that piece in Walker’s Point lights up, you have to choose pieces that are vibrant like that because when the sun hits them from behind it creates this whole other experience and I was like, yeah, I saw Gloria’s piece and when the sun hit it from behind, I called it rainbow diamonds, it looks like the shelter itself is glowing.

Big, Giant Hugs design by Matt Juzenas on the bus shelter at 1st & National

That’s what was fun when we went down and saw it. People were sitting in the Big, Giant Hugs one and they had color on their faces. It literally was lighting them up, it was really beautiful.

And that gives this whole other realm to your piece then, that it’s en-wrapping them in this hug of color, this warm, colorful hug.

It’s funny, you asked, have you ever been an artist? But I’ve always thought of myself as a designer, but recently, in the last couple of years, embracing art over just design so I’ve been playing around with different explorations of what does it mean to not just always be designing, but to create things just as they are? So professionally, I’m always trying to communicate, there’s always certain guidelines and what are you trying to communicate through a piece, but to create for creations sake is also pretty cool.

I think that’s the rawest form of art, like that’s what it’s supposed to be, to just create and not judge it, like not come from a judging place and for me, in my own art, I’m always critiquing it. I can get lost in it and create but then I hear my friends, like, oh what are you doing getting into art? Isn’t that for people that are actually good at it? And it’s like, how would I get good at it, if I didn’t try?

That’s why that little boy that would go with his dad’s briefcase and sell drawings for five cents, that’s why I stopped. I think it was Brené Brown, she talks about how kids freely create, like as a child you will just draw and do whatever you do, until that first moment that somebody gives you a critique and somebody tells you that it’s good, but what about this, or that shouldn’t look like that and all of a sudden you start questioning yourself and you begin that whole thing of self doubt and personal judgement. That moment when you start to judge your own work is a huge thing to get over. I mean even that piece I submitted to the project, it’s super simple, is it going to be enough? Is it art? Is it design? Does it matter? It’s all those things and that’s why until the last minute I was submitting I was like, you know what, I’m just going to submit it, who cares? I mean, I made it, why not put it out there, but I had a lot of self doubt for it, that’s why when I got that email saying we loved it and it was selected, that to me was a huge change in how I see myself and what I’m doing. It’s an interesting thing in any creative endeavour. I think in the profession of design you learn that you have to be able to critique and you have to be able to receive those critiques and be able to not take it personal, but when it is something that’s more in that line with art, then all of a sudden it does become personal because it comes from a personal place. I would think most creatives struggle with this because it’s such a subjective thing, but when you turn that off and create just to create it, suddenly it becomes such a beautiful thing.

Big, Giant Hugs design by Matt Juzenas

Artist Interview: Dré Black

Dré Black with his piece”Chaos Emerald” on MLK & Clarke

I was really drawn to your art because of the vibrant colors and exciting patterns. How do you choose the color schemes and backgrounds for the women you draw?

The colors depends on a couple of factors. For a woman’s skin and undertones I try to have colors that complement each other. Then there’s times I like a complete contrast. So it pretty much depends on my mood, my vibe with the piece and the look I’m trying to go for. 

You channel this very beautiful divine feminine energy in your art. What makes you feel so connected to the women you draw?

Well, I was raised by an incredible single mother and I have a lot of very strong independent women in my family and life. Most of my art showcases women of color, who I feel are hugely misrepresented in society and media. My art is my tribute to them, their beauty and their wonder. Women are just fantastic human beings! 

I was really glad we got to meet up in person. You have such a positive vibe and good aura around you. How do you maintain that positivity through your own creativity? What inspires you?

Gratitude, is the key to my creativity. To be thankful and appreciate the things and people who are around me. What inspires me? Family, friends, the people of Milwaukee, life, art, change, growth, community, music, culture and balance. 

One of the purposes of art is to reflect the social context of its time. How do you see that happening now? What is it reflecting?

Working in public schools, I see women of color are grossly misrepresented in the news, and social media. This is reflected by my effort to show that brown and black women are beautiful in ways that traditional media overlooks. They are truly magic. #blackgirlmagic

What was the first piece you made that you loved?

“Glory” – It was the first 18×24 I’ve ever done and my first time using with watercolors. 

“Glory” by Dré Black

What has been your biggest struggle as an artist, and how have you dealt with it?

How to find my place in this art world? Where do I fit? Will my art be accepted? What would happen if I changed up my style and tone? Will people still like my art then? I have dealt with it by repeating “it’s going to go the way it’s supposed to go”. I just have to be in tune with my guidance that I’m on the right path. It’s been working out thus far, why quit now. 

Who are a few local artists that you really enjoy?

@Tystarr of course. His style is dope! @artisticabyjc, Josseline Castillo. Their abstract acrylic is amazing! @Xeronie_illustration , Yessica Jimemez. Her art leaves me in wonder.

What’s next for Dré Black??

More public art! My goal is do more murals and installations! I want to start painting with oil more and incorporate that into my mixed media style.

Interview with Nellie Gehrig

Nellie Gehrig’s design outside of Center Street Library

We loved your design as soon as it came through! We really wanted to see it near Washington Park, but the two panel pieces have to be installed on a back facing shelter so the design isn’t broken up by the arm rest. So we kept searching for the perfect shelter location and when we saw the shelter in front of Center Street Library we got so excited to pair your artwork with the library, we felt they belonged together. Have you always had this connection to nature and education? How has nature influenced your art? 

It’s funny you say that- in fact, I’m an art teacher! Education has always been central to my life and I’ve made it my mission to inspire others through art. My mom is also a public school teacher, and she’s moved me to view life through the lens of continuous learning. I’ve always been attracted to nature, and it’s been in the natural world that I’ve always felt the most free. My art-making was heavily influenced when my husband and I moved out of the city and onto a horse farm. It was there that the natural environment became an integral part of my art, and continues to influence me today.

We loved what you said on your website about the interconnectedness of it all, what draws you towards the interconnectivity of the natural world?

I am intrigued by the idea of nature vs. nurture and, as an identical twin, the interconnectedness between the two. Being biologically identical has allowed me to be more aware of the similarities between all living things. I feel there is a common thread that runs through everyone and everything. Nature has a beautiful way of repeating itself, growing from decay, and that circle that humans interact with every day impacts the process. I hope my art reminds us of these fragile connections and the effect the natural world has on us, and that we have on it.

It looks like you work with a lot of various mediums to express this interconnectivity, which is your favorite medium to work with? How do you choose which to work with to express what you want to show?

I love it all; I really do! This is why being an art educator is so fun, because I get to share the many ways of making with others. I would primarily identify as a fibers artist, as this encompasses the larger part of my art making. Even as a painter, I treat the raw canvas as a fabric and the paint and dyes as stains. I love the tactility and malleability of fibers, how it’s shape is always changing and can evolve from 2D to 3D. It’s more of an impulse for me, a feeling I interpret into movement in order to accomplish that into becoming. When I want to work large and gestural, I like to paint; when I want to be detailed and hold the work like an object, I’ll sew or weave. This work is about communication, and how, through drawing, what a visual can reveal.

What do you think would help encourage new artists to engage with the arts?

I believe access to the arts and unfaltering support are the two greatest contributors to art engagement. A new artist experiencing something and feeling that rush of inspiration coupled with constant and eager encouragement for this passion is, I think, the start of a beautiful relationship. My hope is to engage everyone in the arts in some way, which is why showing this public art piece is an incredibly exciting opportunity. It is making art accessible. Looking at and experiencing an artwork may be the beginning of an individual’s engagement in the arts.

What advice would you give to an artist who is starting now?

Continue to make. Even if it’s been years since you did, or even if you have nothing but a napkin to draw on, make time to make. Immerse yourself in art, which is plentiful here in Milwaukee. Connect with people who support you,  take risks. If you are open to the possibilities, they will come. Be authentic to yourself and create what you want for the purpose of fulfilling your vision, even if others question it or you don’t get the response you were hoping for. Continue and enjoy the process! 

Who are a few local artists that you really enjoy?

What I love about Milwaukee’s art scene is how supportive it is. I am amazed at how loving people are here and how much the arts community wants the best for others. I really enjoy Mark Mulhern’s work; there is something so nostalgic about it. Todd Mrozinski has an acute attention to detail and I love how he meditates on the natural world. Renee Bebeau is multifaceted in her approach to making and her art communicates so much. Nirmal Raja has exquisite and ethereal works and her craftsmanship is impeccable. David Najib Kasir touches on emotional topics and pairs it with these ornate patterns, which I adore. My husband, Peter Gehrig, is also an artist and I love his patient and subdued way of perceiving the world through his art. It was from purchasing a drawing from him that we met, so I must say that even if he weren’t my partner I would still name him

What’s next for you?

Well, Peter and I just bought a small hobby farm outside of the city and are working on making that our homestead. I hope to incorporate the natural world into my art making through dried flowers and natural dyes grown and gathered from our garden and land. We aim to additionally build an interactive art space in our woods to welcome those interested in making. I will continue to teach (primarily sculpture, ceramics, and metals) and work on building my studio practice. I’m also in the process of working on a few children’s books, so I’m looking into getting those out to the public as well!

Tyler “Tystarr” Copes Interview

Tyler “Tystarr” Copes with his design “Seasons 414” on 27th & North Ave.

You mentioned you’re a Brooklyn native, so I’m super interested in your experiences. What was it like growing up there? What brought you to Milwaukee?

I was raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Coney Island is a peninsula 3 avenues wide and about 25 streets deep but that relatively small amount of land is filled with large project buildings, town houses, parks, beaches, boardwalk, a gated community and the famous amusement park. Growing up there were tons of kids my age so going outside was always an adventure and I’ve met so many characters. My childhood was amazing, as a young adult it was kind of the opposite. The danger became more serious the older I got and the struggle became real. Then Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast and it was the most devastating natural disaster I have ever experienced. The only home I knew all my life was ruined so for a couple of months I was homeless bouncing from friend’s houses to hotels. When I was told I had the chance to move to any city with all expenses paid I remembered my short visits to Milwaukee and settled here. The rest is history.

You also mentioned that you just left the country, where’d you go? Do you travel often?

I recently went on a week long cruise that stopped in Labadee, Haiti, Falmouth, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. I try to travel outside of Wisconsin at least twice a year.

Favorite places you’ve been?

St. Louis was a pretty cool city (love their pizza) but I LOVED the scenery in Arizona and Utah. The American south west is where you can really experience purple mountains majesty above the fruited plains. It’s actually a real thing. But my number one place would have to be Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The vibe is just so chill. Basically I love any place that has mountains, bodies of water, and most importantly good food (Italian food in Italy is magical!)

What are your biggest influences as an artist?

I think my childhood after-school and Saturday morning cartoon days played a big hand in my art influence. Because cartoons weren’t 24/7 like it is now I had kid books and daily newspaper comics fill in all of the other hours to absorb all the cool illustrations from a plethora of artists. So my biggest influences were animation and comic strips. Also I vividly remember the character based graffiti I would see. For some reason they just really popped out to me.

“Seasons 414” by Tyler “Tystarr” Copes on the corner of 27th & North Ave.

How/why did you become an artist?

I wanted to be an artist as long as I could remember. I think the idea of creating something that brings joy to others was always appealing to me. Expressing ideas through images just works so well. Dr. Seuss books are my earliest memory of being handed something and being entranced by the world the illustrator created. These images didn’t move like cartoons on tv but when the page turned your mind opened up to a world of imagination. I wanted to recreate that feeling.

One of the purposes of art is to reflect the social context of its time. How do you see that happening now? What is it reflecting?

I like how artists are feeling more free than ever to just create what they want. They get to put themselves into the work and it’s instant. It’s all so timely and responsive to the now. It’s more than a mirror to society, it’s an uncut live-stream playing out to the masses and the masses decide what they want to see and what they don’t. It’s interesting.

How do you see the art scene today?

Right now art is accessible in ways we never imagined it could be. The gatekeepers are gone. All you need now is creativity and passion and your art can be seen by everyone, anywhere, any time. We get so many voices now that truly reflect the diversity of the planet. We’re not just looking at a limited scope of creations from certain individuals but everybody and it’s exciting.

What do you think is missing to encourage new artists to engage with the arts?

More art in school. More music in school. I think I had one music class in my whole academic life. I see what learning an instrument does to people. They’re more engaged, creative, appreciative of the arts. We need more of that.

What advice would you give to an artist who is starting now?

CREATE ALL OF THE TIME. And when you’re not creating observe, soak in all the visuals from everywhere. You can’t run out of creativity. The more you use it the better.

What was the first piece you made that you loved?

My comic book, Twisted Comix Vol.1. It was a collection of comic strips I created from high school to college and to see it all in one book made with the help of my friends was one of the first times I felt like I was really making headway in this artist thing.

What has been your biggest struggle as an artist, and how have you dealt with it?

Self-doubt and fear. It’s a struggle every day and social media has not helped. There are so many talented artists online and it feels like those “likes” and “follows” are measurements of self-worth. I had moments where I thought, “why create when there are other artists doing it better than me”. But it’s not a contest, comparison is the theft of joy, and I have to remember why I started to create in the first place. Art is expression and bottling it up serves no one.

Who are few local artists that you really enjoy?

Della Wells, Andre Brown (artbydreblack), Pharoah Black (action figure photographer), Jasmine Wyatt (of the Bronzeville Collective) and I really need to get out more to meet more local artists. So much talent in this city.

What is your dream location that you’d like to create in next?

I don’t have a location in mind but I do know the always wanted to design a billboard or on something that size. I’ve come close a few times. Just something huge where people can see it from afar.

Welcome to the Journey!

I’ve realized upon returning to Milwaukee that it’s not the same city I grew up in its morphed and evolved and taken a new shape like any living system. At the same time upon my return I recognized the quirks of the city that became expressions of my own unique personality and started to understand, “Ahh, this is exactly why I am the way I am!”

And so I return to my roots riding the same routes along those same roads to retrace my steps and learn the city once again. Realizing the ways in which the city and I have changed and embracing all the ways in which we’ve stayed the same, hopefully allowing this project to be a fusion of the two.