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Cleveland Artist Darius Steward Lets Go Of Baggage With New Works

Artist Darius Steward at his new mural at the Lee-Harvard branch of the Cleveland Public Library [Cleveland Public Library]
Artist Darius Steward at his new mural at the Lee-Harvard branch of the Cleveland Public Library [Cleveland Public Library]

Known for featuring close friends and family in his work, recently watercolorist Darius Steward unveiled a new mural at the Lee-Harvard branch of the Cleveland Public Library. The mural at 16918 Harvard Ave. is part of a new series he’s working on called, “Baggage Claim.” The painting of his daughter, son and nephew explores letting go of the burdens that disrupt our everyday lives.

The idea is to let loose of the baggage, Steward said.

“We had COVID, we had Trump, the killings of unarmed black people, all the injustices, all this stuff. I think it's time we try to find a way to move past it, you know, so it's kind of like a metaphor for everyone, you know, to unpack what we've been dealing with so we can proceed and move forward,” he said.

Artist Darius Steward in front of his mural at the Lee-Harved branch of the Cleveland Public Library [Cleveland Public Library]

Steward knows the strain of harboring his emotions. He grew up in East Cleveland, which has one of the lowest household median incomes in the state and a crime rate above the national average. At a young age, Darius almost become a crime statistic when he and a friend were nearly shot. His mother Rhonda, his biggest supporter, died in 2016. Darius said that he still grieves to this day.

“I still think about the baggage I carry with my mom. It's this idea of coming to terms with it,” he said. “And I use the kids a lot because the kids are, I mean, they let me know more than anything that life is still going on.” 

The 25 x 10 foot mural that hangs on the front of the building began as a portrait painted on high-grade white paper that provides a stark contrast between the painting's negative space and the pastel colored images of his family. The finished painting was scanned into Photoshop, printed onto a vinyl canvas and stretched onto an aluminum frame. The installation is permanent, but the content will change throughout the year. Later this month, Steward continues the conversation about letting go of baggage using a different media for the first time: sculpture. The installation is slated for the Eastman Reading Garden at the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

"It was something that I've always dreamed of doing, so I've always wanted to do sculpture. I know a little bit about sculpting,” Steward explained. “They're fiberglass, they have a spray coating that makes real like, white, like similar to a canvas that I can paint.”

The exhibit will feature six figures of his son and daughter.

Artist Darius Steward poses with his daughter and son in front of his new mural [Cleveland Public Library]

“In order for me and my family to make it to the next space, I have to concern myself more so with just me and my family. And the more I can let go of other things that's weighing down and helping to hold things down in my life, the better my overall situation,” he said.