Coming to America – Part 1: Peoria

I was 18 years old when I first set foot in the USA as an artist. On my trip I’ve visited many cities in search of my “American Dream”. I thought New York would be the city where it’s at; little did I know my art-career would take off in a whole different city, Peoria, Illinois. In this travel-log I will show you what street-art gem is happening in this Midwestern city, introduce you to some great local artists and show u the things I’m working on while I’m here.
by Ard Doko

Peoria, once known for being the biggest whisky city in the US and the home of the late comedic legend Richard Pryor, is now trying to make a name for itself in the urban-art scene. What started 7 years ago with the man versus wall event in which I got the chance to live paint a billboard in front of an audience has erupted in a general affection of public art. Besides giving the opportunity for mural artists (local, national and international) to paint these billboards, they also help fine-artists with getting their art up in public spaces.

One of the installations of Greg DePauw

After being awake for 24 hours, getting randomly searched three times (It must have been totally random) and getting my gear back I finally arrived in Peoria. The city has produced some great artists over the years that actually are recognized nationwide for their talent. One of those artists is Preston Jackson, a multi-disciplinary artist and teacher that worked on projects like “visions of the 44th president” and was awarded a Regional Emmy for hosting “Legacy in Bronze”, a television show featuring his Julieanne´s Garden sculptures. That night he played a 2-hour jazz set with his friends at the Contemporary Art Centre in Peoria while I had to provide live visuals for the audience. To paint alongside such a legend made me nervous like hell (because of the jetlag) and at the same time really happy to be part of the experience. After the set we spoke briefly about our work and we will probably meet-up later this trip to go more in depth.

3 months prior to my trip to the US I had received the news that an amazing artist and friend had passed away. Greg DePauw suffered a broken neck at the age 18 due to a trampoline accident, which left him paralyzed. Trying to overcome his boredom in the hospital Greg had picked up drawing by use of his mouth. Because of intensive care and luck Greg had relearned to use his arms and hands. With the tools he had left he started a production line of artworks, ranging from sculptures, paintings and even a fully customized wheelchair accessible hot rod. Me and a few of the local artists went by his house and met up with his brother to see Greg’s studio and learn more about his approach to creating art. It humbled me to see an artist producing such an amount of artwork while being disabled that I’d never take a sick day the rest of my life. Besides understanding his symbolism in his work (signs and stories of the hobo culture) and work-etiquette we learned that keeping a positive mind-set in life and in creating art is a choice that opens doors.

Over the course of a week I did another live painting at Cyds and we primed the first wall for a small series of murals I’m doing here. The t.v. show Good company and the Greg and Dan show on the radio asked me to be on there as a guest along with Alec DeJesus and Joe Gabbert, to tell about the importance of public art in the city.

Next up: Part 2 Donk-E-punch, sneakers, local heroes and The Sweettreats