I sat down with the Baltimore Love Project’s Michael Owen. We discussed his passion for art, the Baltimore Love Project, and more!
Q: Where were you born, and how did you end up in Charm City?
I was born in Seattle and moved around a bit to Cleveland, and I sorta grew up there. Spent a year in Orlando, then I moved to Baltimore to attend MICA.
Q: Did you always want to be an artist?
I was always in creative fields. I started with music; piano, drums, was in a few bands. I was kind of doing visual art at the same time. It was sort of a flip of a coin on what I wanted in college.I decided to go with art, so in the last 2 years of high school I started to put together my portfolio to get into some colleges.
Q: What was your first piece of art?
My first mural commission was in Orlando, for a friends and a friends mom. The mural was in my friends moms hallway and was an old Tuscan landscape, with old houses, and the sea, and it wrapped around the stairway. It was hard. haha! And it doesn’t look that great. This was back in 2004. I learned a lot actually. She had an interior designer in there, and they were giving me tips on the painting. It was hard to listen to because this was my first job experience and client…so I learned a lot on that first job. As far as what it would be like to do commissions and work someone to make art.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art that you’ve created?
My son! My 8 year old son! As a project, I have a mural in Baltimore on Maryland Avenue and 26th street. It’s a greyish mural; this guy and he’s bent over and branches are coming out of his arm and birds. I did that piece a couple years ago on a half way house. It’s called “One Day At A Time.” It’s a very strong image.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art from another artist?
So many ways I could go with that question. One of them would have to be a painting I studied in college. It’s a Renaissance piece by El Greco, called “The Assumption Of The Virgin.” I went to Chicago a couple weeks ago, and visited their art museum. They have it on display there. I liked a lot of Renaissance work in my early career.
In a lot of those paintings, figures are suspended or floating in midair, and I’ve used that a lot in my work. I saw the real piece, and it’s like 20 feet tall. Wow!
Q: How and Why did you start the Baltimore Love Project?
I started the Love Project in 2007 or so. The project just started with these four hands showing the word LOVE. I guess it turned into a project when I was thinking about where I wanted to put it. I thought one image somewhere would be cool, but turning it into a project, and spreading it evenly around the City in different neighborhoods, so it would connect Baltimore neighborhoods. It took about 5 years to finish.
Q: What does the Baltimore Love Project mean to you?
It’s obviously love, but it’s about connecting people with love. Being here since 2000 I’ve painted in a lot of different neighborhoods. Some of those neighborhoods have brought me in to do specific projects for that neighborhood; showing the individuality of that neighborhood and I think that’s awesome. It’s a universal message..an inclusive message. There are 20 murals in Baltimore City.
Q: What has been the reaction to the Baltimore Love Project?
All different kinds of people have wanted to get involved. That’s the probably the biggest reaction. People ask “How do I help?” “How do I get involved?” Right now the biggest way people can get involved is connect the awesome things they’re doing, to the message of the Love Project.
On Saturday, I worked with a couple other local artists creating work about love..about gun violence, love, peace, art, creativity. Those are all adjectives that circle around the Love Project too. I’m not painting anymore love murals around, but I’m using the images as a tool to kind of promote other great things others are doing around the area.
Q: Do you have any other work in other parts of the country?
I did a Love Project mural in Detroit this past April. I also painted one in Madison, Wisconsin last month. There’s a few other cities I’ll be going to this year as well.
Q: Why did you want to start a communal art space in Highlandtown?
Relationships are very important to me. People getting together, learning together. There’s some really cool shit that can happen in that time. Being together, sharing. I wanted to stay in Baltimore, and I wanted to stay in a creative neighborhood that I could be a part of. Highlandtown was the most receptive to the idea of creating a safe space for international artists to come. I want to live here, and have cool art around me. I’ve been living in Highlandtown for four years and I can tell that this area is ripe for that kind of community engagement. There’s a lot of after school programs or community programs in this area where people want to learn about art.
Highlandtown is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City. You have the IRC which brings in refugees that are artists themselves.
Q: Do you think the art space will benefit the Highlandtown Arts District?
Oh yeah, that’s the point for sure. Get some more color around here, some different kinds of art. Street art in Baltimore isn’t very diverse. They’re mostly murals, which is cool. But, I’m looking to bring in some creative artists who are doing other things. I’m trying to add more art to Eastern Avenue, Conkling Street, and other parts of Highlandtown.
Q: Do you have any upcoming showings?
I always have showings over in Harbor East. I’m flying down to Miami for Art Basil, and have some shows, do some artwork down there. August, September, October, are the craziest months for me. Near Thanksgiving it starts to taper off. I start doing more showings in the winter time.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your inspiring work?
Each piece has…a different individual message to it that comes from a different place. Could be from me, the community, the wall owner..I’m trying to bring people together…and remind people that we’re all in this crazy life together. It’s hard. This is a hard town. There’s a lot of negative things out on the streets..a lot of knocked out blocks, a lot of kids running on the corner, and it can be depressing. Painting a wall with something positive, something that reminds us that there are other people out there who want to make a positive change..showing them that THEY can make positive change. They can make something positive for themselves, someone standing next to me at the bus stop, or my girlfriend at home. These LOVE images are promoting growth, life, community,..things that in the end are all about relationships. This town has changed so much since I’ve been here. Some problems have started to work themselves on their own, in regards to racism, classism, things like that..but there’s a long way to grow. Focusing on the positive things..focusing on building together and growing together will override the negative things.
Visit Michael and the Baltimore Love Project here: