French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat covers the city with four murals

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French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat covers the city with four murals

Every artist wants to be seen. Earlier this month, French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat made sure that one of his most famous works, “The Man Who Walks Through Walls,” reaches everyone who makes their way through Cleveland.

How? He painted it on a Cuyahoga River Viaduct pier, near Merwin’s Wharf in the Flats.

This particular work is Le Rat’s self-portrait, explains Graffiti HeArt founder and president Stamy Paul. It depicts comedian and filmmaker Buster Keaton, one of Le Rat’s favorite actors, carrying a suitcase through different countries around the world—reflecting Le Rat’s nomadic lifestyle and his mission to reach a broad audience.

French graffiti artist Blek Le RatThe Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) and non-profit artist platform Graffiti HeArt partnered to bring Le Rat to Cleveland earlier this month. Although they are two very different organizations, GCRTA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer India Birdsong says that teaming up with Graffiti HeArt in this case made perfect sense.

“This is a great example of community collaboration in motion, as GCRTA and Graffiti HeArt both serve the community spirit in different ways,” she says. “Using our collective talents and resources, we can offer artists the opportunity to showcase [artists’] special skills on unique and challenging canvases throughout the Greater Cleveland area. I am excited that French artist Blek Le Rat—a true pioneer of street art—will create one of his famous works on an RTA bridge pier.”

But Le Rat’s work in Cleveland doesn’t end there. The artist painted four murals during his wanderings around Cleveland, which were placed all over the city, mostly in densely populated areas.

“We want spaces that are public and get a lot of traffic,” says Paul. “We want people to appreciate the artist and their work.”

In the Graffiti HeArt gallery on Superior Avenue in AsiaTown, Le Rat stenciled “Tug-of-War,” which depicts Le Rat and children from different ethnic backgrounds playing tug-of-war. This is his third time painting this particular mural—with the other two versions in Oregon and Dubai.

On Prospect Avenue you can find “The Juggler”. This is his first time ever creating this mural, making it an original for the city of Cleveland. The mural depicts a young man juggling six balls while standing.

Outside the Blue Agave on East 4st Street, Le Rat painted the “Ballerina”. One of his more popular murals, he has repeated this piece on various walls in the United States and around the world.

“We took the time to learn about each mural before deciding where Le Rat should stencil it,” says Paul. “Each work must have synergy with the atmosphere in which it is placed.”

This project has been more than two years in the making. Le Rat was originally supposed to visit Cleveland in April 2020, but COVID-19 put plans on hold.

Stamy says Graffiti HeArt is proud to bring this “pioneer in street art” to our city. When he was in town earlier this month, the organization even introduced Le Rat to one of his inspirations, New York-based Taki 183. The icons in the street art world spent some time in a Q&A with an audience spent at Graffiti HeArt.

When you find yourself walking through the CLE, keep an eye out for Le Rat’s murals. Considering their locations and the fame of the artist, they are worth the visit.

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