SHINING A LIGHT on his Cleveland community and its myriad social and economic challenges, artist Michelangelo Lovelace Sr. (1960-2021), addressed issues of racial injustice, crime, poverty, and unemployment in his work. Lovelace also documented people coming together—for parties, parades, or political rallies—and infused his pictures with wisdom and positive messages. The work reflected what he described as his “urban, inner-city” experience.

A visual storyteller, Lovelace died April 26 after battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year. He was 60. In his studio, the artist focused on what he knew, making work about real life, what he observed, his own experiences and those of the larger low-income community where he grew up.

 


Michael and Shirley Lovelace at Fort Gansevoort in 2018, with “A Night at the Drive-In” (2009) in the background. | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 

A recent painting titled “Social Distancing” (2020), depicts a streetscape nearly void of people with a succession of businesses marked closed. Cast against a deep blue skyline, a stretch of high-rise apartment buildings, no doubt bursting with quarantined residents adversely affected by the COVID shut downs, looms large in the distance looking down on the scene.

“Art allows me to stay human. It allows me to have an opinion. It allows me to express myself and through art I feel alive. I feel like people are listening to me and appreciating what I have to say and what I feel,” Lovelace said in a video he made with the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.

“Art allows me to stay human. It allows me to have an opinion. It allows me to express myself and through art I feel alive. I feel like people are listening to me and appreciating what I have to say and what I feel.”
— Michelangelo Lovelace Sr.

A well-known artist in Cleveland, his work was shown in local galleries and institutions. Then about six years ago, Lovelace began to garner wider attention. He won the 2015 Cleveland Arts Prize, a mid-career recognition in visual art that included a $10,000 award. The same year, he was featured in “How to Remain Human,” a group show at MOCA Cleveland.

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Social Distancing,” 2020 (acrylic on canvas, 63 x 60 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 

In 2018, Lovelace staged his first solo exhibition in New York at Fort Gansevoort. Titled “The Land,” the exhibition featured 16 paintings produced between 1994 and 2016. The presentation received positive reviews from major media outlets.

“The show is an introduction to Mr. Lovelace’s style, which blends the directness of much outsider art with a cogent political awareness and a penchant for allegory. Street scenes dominate,” Jillian Steinhauer wrote in the New York Times. “…He has a distinctive ability to dramatize the intractable social forces that threaten to drown us.”

In The New Yorker, Andrea K. Scott said: “The vibrant and prismatically structured acrylic-on-canvas works…bring to mind Charles Baudelaire’s classic description of a painter of modern life: ‘a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness.’”

Solo exhibitions of Lovelace have also been on view at the Springfield Museum of Art in Ohio, Cleveland School of the Arts, Progressive Insurance corporate headquarters in Cleveland, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has been featured in “Black Heritage Through Visual Rhythms” at the National Afro-American Museum and Culture Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. His work has also been shown at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

LOVELACE LIVED AND WORKED in Cleveland, where he was born Michael Anthony Lovelace. He often said art saved his life. Raised in subsidized housing, he dropped out of high school and started working to pitch in and help support his family.

At 19, he got in trouble with the law and when the judge he appeared before asked what he could do, did he have a particular interest or talent, Lovelace said he could draw. The judge advised him to pursue art because if he saw him in his courtroom again, he was going to sentence him to jail.

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “American Panther,” 2016 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 

Lovelace took the advice, got his GED, and spent the next four decades painting and drawing. After attending the Cleveland Institute of Art briefly, he remained committed to his practice, working mostly in the evenings. During the day, Lovelace made a living working in healthcare. For more than 30 years, he served as a nursing home aide.

Overtime, his hospital work informed his art. Last May, Fort Gansevoort presented a second show. Occurring in the middle of the pandemic, this one was online and curated by artist John Ahearn. “Michaelangelo Lovelace: Night Shift,” focused on his drawings of nursing home residents.

Writing in Artforum, Charity Coleman said Lovelace’s drawings “felt especially resonant when viewed during the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people of color and the elderly. The artist reminds us that our responsibility to one another has never been more urgent. She added that his portraits, “mostly done in either ink or marker on paper, bring warmth and humanity to the fore.”

In the fall, “Michelangelo Lovelace: Brick City” was presented at Harper’s Books | Gallery in East Hampton, N.Y.

The opportunities in New York represented an important milestone. “He was very glad to get his work to that level of success, because that’s what he wanted,” his wife Shirley Lovelace told ideastream, a public media platform. “That’s what he worked all those years for…”

Lovelace is represented in several museum collections, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, Springfield Museum of Art in Ohio, and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo. His work is also in corporate collections and the Artist Archives of the Western Reserve.

In May, Lovelace will be featured in “Next To You,” a group exhibition at the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif., where he is also represented in the collection.

On his website, Lovelace explained the focus of his practice. “The paintings I produce are visual documentations of life in Cleveland and many other American inner cities. I continue to explore concerns of cultural, racial discourse, and economic tensions between the haves and have-nots with the overall theme being the community,” he said in his artist statement.

“My paintings depict what it is like living in a community where anything can happen at any time, and where life can often be fast, poor, and short.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., on his website

FIND MORE about the artist on ideastream, a public media platform, here and here

 


Speaking from his studio, Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., talks about his practice, how he got started, why he is so passionate about making art, and the symbolism of the bricks that appear throughout his work. | Video by MOCA Cleveland

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Trigger Happy,” 1998 (acrylic on canvas, 54 x 58.5 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “A Night at the Drive-In,” 2009 (acrylic on canvas, 35 x 36 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


Installation view of “Michelangelo Lovelace: The Land, Paintings from 1994-2016,” Fort Gansevoort New York (May 3-June 30, 2018). | Courtesy Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Welcome to the Party,” 2014 (acrylic on canvas, 39 x 48 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Who’s House,” 2014 (acrylic on canvas, 22.5 x 21.5 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., The Wheel Of Poverty, 1997 (acrylic on textured canvas, 48 x 66 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


Installation view of “Michelangelo Lovelace: The Land, Paintings from 1994-2016,” Fort Gansevoort New York (May 3-June 30, 2018). | Courtesy Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Life Trapped in the Bottle,” 2004 (acrylic on textured canvas, 63.5 x 44.5 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 


MICHELANGELO LOVELACE SR., “Champagne Dreams,” 2016 (acrylic on canvas, 39 x 36 inches). | © Michelangelo Lovelace Sr., Courtesy the artist and Fort Gansevoort

 

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