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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

Akron Art Museum spotlights Michelangelo Lovelace and his Cleveland paintings

A cityscape painting showing people, cars and buildings
Michelangelo Lovelace
A partial view of "Streetology," painted by Michelangelo Lovelace in 1999, on view at the Akron Art Museum.

Artworks of Cleveland often highlight the skyline or landmarks like the Terminal Tower and the popular Guardians of Traffic from the Hope Memorial Bridge. Michelangelo Lovelace’s paintings of Cleveland offer a different view.

His cityscapes show the joys and struggles of living in Cleveland, influenced by his own experiences growing up in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood in the King Kennedy public housing complex.

In recent years, Lovelace has received national exposure and acclaim, but his life was cut short due to pancreatic cancer at age 60 in 2021. In addition to local tributes, the New York Times ran an obituary.

I never had the chance to meet Lovelace, but he seemed like a friendly, hopeful and hardworking artist, based on my experience editing the work of Ideastream arts and culture reporters and producers who did have the chance to get to know him.

Three years after his death, the Akron Art Museum honors Lovelace with a retrospective, “Michelangelo Lovelace: Art Saved My Life.” The exhibit includes 30 years of his paintings, and many of them respond to social issues still topical today.

A 3-D blue and red car in front of a painted cityscape of Cleveland
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
A three-dimensional version of "Hood Life" by Michelangelo Lovelace is on view at the Akron Art Museum in the exhibit "Michelangelo Lovelace: Art Saved My Life."

When looking at Lovelace's work, it's possible to have the negative side stand out. There is a fair amount that has to do with violence or crime or oppression, poverty,” said Jeff Katzin, senior curator at the Akron Art Museum. “I think it's also important to be aware of the positive side. There's a lot that has to do with community and salvation and progress.”

Within the exhibit, viewers can watch Lovelace discuss his art in a video from Ideastream’s longtime arts and culture show, “Applause.” The video will also air in this week’s episode on WVIZ-PBS on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Former “Applause” Producer Dennis Knowles interviewed Lovelace about how his environment affected his art.

Self portrait of Michelangelo Lovelace in front of a window with city outside
Michelangelo Lovelace Estate and Fort Gansevoort
"Self Portrait," 1996, by Michelangelo Lovelace on view in the exhibit at the Akron Art Museum.

“Everything I do is from experience,” Lovelace told Knowles, adding that through his work he aimed to “tell that urban inner-city story of what it’s like growing up dealing with poverty, dealing with crime, dealing with drugs, having so much of this to overcome to keep your dream alive.”

Lovelace worked as a nursing assistant to pay the bills and support a family. After his day job, he worked on his painting. He received two major grant awards in Cleveland in 2013 and 2015, which helped him to buy a home. In 2019, Ideastream featured Lovelace in a series about how artists support their work.

One instrumental person in his life was the noted folk artist and East Clevelander Rev. Albert Wagner. He supported Lovelace with encouragement.

“He would always say to me that ‘your time will come,’” Lovelace told Ideastream in 2019. “You want to express yourself and be appreciated. I think that's one of the blessings we have in our community here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, is that we have a strong support system.”

Lovelace shared his art with the people he worked with as a nursing assistant, helping them make art at times and drawing pictures of them. It’s a part of his body of work I wasn’t familiar with before the Akron exhibition.

Drawings of senior citizens by Michelangelo Lovelace
Carrie Wise
Ideastream Public Media
Michelangelo Lovelace drew pictures of people he cared for as a nursing assistant, and there is a series of these drawings on view in the Akron Art Museum exhibit.

“It's really interesting to see how he expanded his style of drawing, his style of image making in this different context and just to see the connections that he forged with the people that he was caring for,” Katzin said.

Another series within the exhibit that people might not be familiar with was done in response to the 1992 acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers who brutally beat Rodney King. Lovelace happened to be in Los Angeles at the time working on his art career. He witnessed the uprising after the verdict. He returned to Cleveland and reflected on what he saw with mixed-media pieces, layering paint, newspaper clippings and photos.

“He made paintings on faux brick panels that he found at a home improvement store and treated those as if they were city walls extracted into an art gallery setting,” Katzin said. “He covered them with lots of energy — with graffiti, with collage, with abstract painting, with text, occasionally with images.”

With the Akron exhibit, the community has a fresh opportunity to examine the range of Lovelace’s work. For some, it might be a first opportunity to learn about an artist who called Cleveland home and demonstrated his care for the community through his art. The exhibit is on view through August 18.

A sea of people below highway and skyscrapers
Michelangelo Lovelace
"My Home Town" by Michelangelo Lovelace is on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art for the exhibit at the Akron Art Museum.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.