As you're heading down West 25th St. toward Detroit Ave., you'll see a cheerful sight painted on a concrete wall: two birds with bodies comprised of horizontal rainbow stripes and wings speckled with multi-colored squares. The creatures are facing one another, and being appropriately lovey-dovey. "I love you very much," says the left bird. "I love you very much also," responds the one on the right.
The mural is the handiwork of two local artists, Erin Guido and Joe Lanzilotta, who designed and painted the scene at the behest of Instagram. The social media giant commissioned the mural as part of a special global campaign around June's Pride month. "They were doing this campaign called #kindcomment," Lanzilotta said, "and they were doing five murals around the world: one in Cleveland, one in Nashville, one in L.A., one somewhere in Spain and then one in London." (For the record, Instagram chose Cleveland thanks to the murals painted as part of the Cleveland Foundation's 2016 Creative Fusion initiative.)
Both Guido and Lanzilotta are project managers at LAND studio, but keep very busy outside of work. Guido co-runs So Fun Studio with artist John Paul Costello, a frequent collaborator. In fact, the pair, which recently had a couple of installation pieces at the Akron Art Museum, is also creating a new piece for September's Ohio City Street Fair.
Lanzilotta, meanwhile, has a striking yellow mural with purple faces in Hingetown near Rising Star Coffee. He and creative partner Ali Forbes are the curators of the Gordon Square Art Space, and also recently did a rebrand for soho chicken + whiskey and Passengers Cafe.
Both Guido and Lanzilotta call the city's supportive nature and tight-knit community an asset to their busy careers. "It's really the people," Guido said. "Everyone's so nice here and really ready to be friends, ready to help you and support you. I really appreciate that about Cleveland."
In fact, Guido laughed that if she had another career, "I would be a Cleveland tour guide, because it's so much fun. Every time someone comes to Cleveland, they're not expecting it to be so awesome, and then they love it."
We chatted with the two artists at a local coffee shop to discuss how they got started in art and landed the chance to paint the striking mural.
How did you guys get started in art?
Joe Lanzilotta: It's something I've been doing my entire life. My style goes back to the cartoon style, and maybe my obsession with cartoons when I was younger. I got into it a little bit more in high school. The high school I went to offered a lot of fine arts classes, so I was fortunate for that. I went to school at Ohio University and studied graphic design and took a lot of fine arts studio classes there.
Upon moving back to Cleveland after college, I started a gallery with some friends of mine. We continued experimenting with art and our gallery work, and got to know the Cleveland arts culture a little bit more. That was how I met Erin--through mutual friends and the Cleveland art scene. And that's also how I found my current position at LAND studio.
Erin Guido: I did art a lot as a kid, and I had a lot of art classes and really supportive teachers, everywhere from kindergarten to high school. I went to college and started as a cognitive science major, but then ended up spending all my time in my art classes. So I switched over to be a printmaking major.
I feel like I might have been more of a hesitant artist, though. When I went to college, I was like, "I'll take art classes, but I probably can't do that as a career." I went to grad school for urban planning, which I really enjoyed too. But I also then started missing art a lot, and also gravitated toward street art, and street art culture. Just on the side, I started doing wheat paste-ups in the city.
I ended up moving back to Cleveland. I feel like I wouldn't have jumped back so much into art if it wasn't for Cleveland, because of how supportive everyone is. That Cleveland culture, and Cleveland scene of artists and people who are really supportive, was really helpful to me, because they're like, "Oh, man, you should have a show," and then that gave me the confidence to keep on making stuff. When I was an art major in school, I thought I had to be really skilled at making realistic art stuff. And then when I moved back to Cleveland, people started responding to my normal style that has a lot of colors and shapes. It was really encouraging in that way.
How did you guys get involved with making the mural?
Lanzilotta: Ashley Shaw from Ohio City Incorporated reached out to me and was asking about artists, and if we knew any artists who would be interested in doing this commission for Instagram. Working with LAND studio, Erin and I typically don't get to be the artists working on our own project, obviously, because the mission of the organization is to help foster that growth of other artists in the community.
When an outside organization came to me and asked if we knew any artists, I was like, "Well, yeah, but Erin and I would love to do it. This is something that seems like a good opportunity." And they were on board with that. They showed our work to Instagram, and they chose us to do the commission.
The point of the murals was to get people to share their kind comments on Instagram, and use Instagram as a platform for positivity — a place to combat some of those other social media platforms where people are sharing more negative things or stuff in the news that tends to be negative. This was meant to be a respite from that.
What kind of direction were you given for the mural? Were you given free rein?
Guido: The stipulation was that we had to use the traditional rainbow colors in some way, and then we had to have the #kindcomments hashtag on the mural somewhere. It was pretty open. We took it as a chance to figure out how we could combine our styles. We both started looking, individually, at some ideas, and then when we got together, it actually fell into place pretty easily. Joe had this idea of these birds, and he had been envisioning maybe two, or maybe multiple birds, and I was working with the idea of two figures talking to each other. It fell into place that that was a really good combination of our styles.
Lanzilotta: We knew we wanted to be able to have both of our styles shown in the mural. We didn't want to just be painters being commissioned to paint something that Instagram designed. We wanted to be able to show our hand in it.
How long did it end up taking you guys to execute and paint the mural?
Guido: We projected it the night before, and then we had two other local artists, John Paul Costello and Mike Sobek. Us four painted from 8 a.m. till like 8:30 p.m., because we had to see the Cavs game. They were in the finals, so we had to rush to get done. [Laughs.]
Lanzilotta: They were doing a dedication for the mural on Friday, so we had to be done.
Guido: And we only had taken one day off of work, too. [Laughs.] We came up with the concept on Sunday night, they approved it on Tuesday. We projected on Wednesday night and then painted on Thursday. So very quick turnaround.
What has working on this project meant to you guys, personally and as artists?
Lanzilotta: The campaign that Instagram was running, and to be able to do something for the LGBTQ community, was really cool. In the past, most of the time, work that we've done is work that we want to do. We can come up with the concept on our own, and it's just art for art's sake, I guess, and less about a movement.
So this project was important for us because it's a special opportunity in a neighborhood that has historically been known as an LGBTQ-friendly space. It was cool to do something like that for the community, locally, and globally, but also for all of our friends who are directly a part of that community. It was a different kind of project with a bigger meaning. Personally, for me, that was a big, important piece of it.
Guido: Yeah. Totally agree. That day we were actually painting, they were dedicating the first LGBTQ historic marker in the state of Ohio right in Hingetown, which is on 29th St. We were bummed we couldn't actually go to the dedication, but it was cool to be painting knowing that was happening.
Joe and I, for LAND studio, we've worked with all these great street artists for a project called Inter|Urban and a couple others. We've learned a lot from them, so it was fun to be able to pull off our own large-scale mural.