Waiting Room, 2019
Materials: Drawing and latex house paint mural, approx. 10' x 41’
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, first floor, visitors lounge.
Site-specific commission by Summa Health
Darius Steward was commissioned to create this mural for the first floor waiting room in Summa’s new tower on the strength of multiple distinctive public works in the greater Cleveland area over the past several years. His emphasis on the human figure, observed closely and lovingly, takes him in the direction of an expressive naturalism that suits the Summa context well. Steward aims to depict ...
" … friends, families, lovers of all races and ages showing each other love and support. I believe that in tuff times the support of another helps to build courage and confidence to push through whatever is coming their way … I want my mural to create community… (and) want this mural to be a conversation piece that people see themselves in.”
The work was finished just as the new tower was opening to patients and the public in May 2019, so early visitors to the site could witness the artist at work on the site-specific painting as it neared completion. Steward described it as a “mash-up” of images to express his continuing engagement, as an historically-aware artist, with identity, race, and placement within Western culture. Some of the figures are based on family members, others represent friends selected to inhabit a fictional moment in this very space.
Steward created this work by digitizing selected candid photos and arranging them into one cohesive composition which was projected, sketched, and then painted directly onto the waiting room wall, with house paints. The whole is framed by portraits of Steward’s daughter — the largest, if youngest, figure, shown from the shoulders up — and his son, grinning at right and apparently ready to finish painting a sketched-in figure with his dripping paintbrush (a fictive contribution). There are portions of chairs, of legs and shoes of other waiting-room occupants that remain only as sketches, as though the work will continue to exist as a work in progress. We can interpret that the artist has personalized this commissioned mural with these appealing young family members who simultaneously appreciate and personify the creative act…
Others in Steward’s Waiting Room include a man turned in conversation with his wife, who simultaneously checks something on her mobile; a father holding his laughing son on his lap; and a yawning man, whose oversized watch suggests a very long wait. He is studied by a little girl with a serious expression. We witness how the artist excels in rendering ideas and emotions through pose, gesture and expression, concentrating on the figure, its surfaces and movements, sometimes with an identifying attribute — a backpack, a hair decoration, or a piece of jewelry — but without reference to specific settings, which contributes to a sense of timelessness.
Steward works with a limited palette — mostly bright blues, deep pinks, and yellow for highlights — and moves between carefully observed details and others that suggest, via brushstrokes, rather than represent. Such an approach underlines sympathy with the visitors’ experiences in real space: Some figures — for example, the little girl at far left — we see close-up so that we note details, such as her earring. Others we notice more impressionistically and from greater distance, so that we see more of the figure but even then not all: The jeans of the yawning man end in a few broad brush-strokes behind the lounge’s real seating. This range of finish allows Steward to render emotions and ideas through gesture, pose, and expression while details of setting come from the actual environment in which this mural has been created, such as the chairs lined up against the long wall of the mural.
Steward received the Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art and an M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) from the University of Delaware. He now teaches art, film and video at St. Ignatius High School and manages the Scholar Squad at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He was artist in residence at Zygote Press (Cleveland) in 2016, where he added printmaking to his repertoire, and then promptly won the Curator’s Choice Award at the 25th Annual Minneapolis Print and Drawing Fair in 2018. Also in 2018, he was recognized as an emerging artist with a Cleveland Arts Prize, and his paintings were curated into the city-wide visual arts celebration Front International in the summer of 2018.
Most recently, his solo show concentrates on portraits of his children as vehicles for further exploring concerns about race, class and opportunity. This represents Steward’s artistic strategy: While he draws inspiration and ideas from members of his immediate circle of family and friends, his work is always framed by contextual issues, such as loss, social justice, and the transformation of communities. Thus, it is possible for the beholder to engage with the subjects immediately, without reference to larger questions, but it is further enriching, upon learning more about the artist, his life, and his philosophy, to re-visit the images within their biographical and historical frameworks. In this way, Steward demonstrates that art can heal because it raises the possibility of making connections between and among people.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Steward has recently had solo exhibitions in Terre Haute, Ind., and in Canton, Cleveland, and Kent. His work can also be found in the collections of MetroHealth Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, and the Federal Reserve Bank, ArtNEO, all in Cleveland; the Akron Art Museum, the Canton Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Davis Art Museum at Wellesley College, and the University of Delaware Art Collections.
Steward’s many recognizable public works can be found in and around Cleveland: