Rust Belt Monster Collective really knows how to flex their art muscles
By Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer
on July 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM, updated July 15, 2013 at 7:48 AM
The best analogy Erin Schechtman has ever heard for the Rust Belt Monster Collective, a group of six artists and illustrators who create impromptu murals for fun and sometimes profit, is that they are a “visual jam band.”
“That really describes what we do very well,” she said. “We each improvise our parts and try and complement each other’s skills. Hopefully we end up with something that entertains people.”
The artists originally met when they individually participated in a national drawing group called Dr. Sketchy, which used to convene at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. Once they became acquainted, they created a blog to encourage each other to keep up with their skills. They called it rustbeltmonster.blogspot.com
Then in 2012, the Cleveland IngenuityFest came calling.
“They asked us to do a piece of ‘live art’ — a mural — at one of their fundraisers,” said Schechtman, 27. “At first we planned out this complicated theme like we were going to create an original comic. People were assigned different characters. But as soon as we arrived on site that went right out the window. Then we all just began drawing what we draw best.”
The murals have a fantastical, pop-art quality. Monsters are clearly in evidence as are other creatures more commonly found between the pages of comic books, such as superheroes and robots from distant planets.
“We’re all a bunch of art nerds,” said Schechtman, who was an art major at Syracuse University and works as a product designer at Darice, the company that owns the art-supply chain Pat Catan’s.
James Krouse, artistic director at IngenuityFest, was an early supporter of the RBMC.
“They are a special group of artists,” he said. “There’s a performance aspect to their work. Each one of them is extraordinarily talented. A lot of people prefer a controlled environment when they’re making art. Not everybody likes to work in a fishbowl like these guys. This year at Ingenuity I’d like to see them painting right next to the main stage.”
RBMC member Randy Crider credits his colleagues for their workmanlike attitude toward their craft.
“We work hard in this town, and that’s something to be proud of,” Crider said. “I come from a blue-collar family, and my earliest memories are being told ‘You’ve gotta do what you gotta do.’ Work ethic was a value held above all others. So, when we started doing live events it was important to paint in work shirts.”
So far, the RBMC has completed nine murals. They get a fair amount of love from the Cleveland community. Another supporter is Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop at Kamm’s Corners. The business let the collective use its space for art events and signings. The Lava Lounge in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood hosts a Drink and Draw event the third Thursday of every month where the artists gather to hone their skills while wetting their whistles.
Next on the RBMC agenda is the IngenuityFest at the Port of Cleveland on Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 22. It’s kind of a return to the scene of the crime for the group. Crider is looking forward to it.
“All of us sacrifice for this,” he said. “We lose sleep, we miss time with our families, and put harsh miles on our bodies. Art is hard work, but it’s what we gotta do.”
Best Local Artist 2013
RUST BELT MONSTER COLLECTIVE
Technically not a single artist, but we're nonetheless thrilled to anoint the Rust Belt Monster Collective this year's winner. The Collective is a group of six insanely awesome visual artists—Tim Switalski, Randy Crider, Erin Schechtman, Craig Worrell, Ben Hale and Jim Giar—who just sort of discovered that they work really well together and now work as a group creating art around town. They also do bi-weekly sketch challenges and host events. For last year's Ingenuity Festival, the Rust Belt Monster team spent 12 hours painting a mural across 16 Scene distribution boxes which were then placed around the city to promote the festival. It was one of their "Live Art" projects. The whole team gathers and creates murals live with zero planning beforehand—improv art. It's masterful stuff.
Issue Date: July 2013
A group of local artists band together to bring live art to the city.
Three inches of snow has already fallen as six bundled-up artists work feverishly with layers of multicolored paint on an 8-foot-long wooden canvas. It's 19 degrees, their fingers are numb and a serious chunk of their five-hour time limit has already elapsed.
Obstacles? Maybe for some. But for the Rust Belt Monster Collective, this passes as inspiration for their February Brite Winter Festival live art mural performance.
Randy Crider, wearing a navy fur-lined coat and two layers of gloves, uses a small brush to add a huge white Yeti with a gap-toothed expression to the left side. In the top right corner, Jim Giar paints an icy woman glaring coolly past her popped fur collar. The other artists follow, filling in the gaps with spray paint, completing what others began. The finished product blends comic illustration, graffiti street art, dark overtones and a dose of whimsy (including a cartoon creature with two large white eyes named "the watcher").
"With all of [the murals] there's a little bit of rolling with the punches and adapting and changing," says artist Erin Schechtman.
It's this improvisational, collaborative approach that has earned Schechtman, Crider and Giar along with artists Tim Switalski, Craig Worrell and Ben Hale a following for their live art mural installations.
"When we paint together, it becomes its own distinct style," Schechtman says. "It's something neither of us can replicate without the group."
The members of Rust Belt Monster Collective, all professional or freelance illustrators, bring their own styles — comic book for Giar, Switalski tends toward fantasy, Schechtman has a children's book flair — that comes together in the murals with no preplanning.
Members refine their skills during monthly Drink and Draw events hosted at the Lava Lounge, where other artists or art supporters can join them for the boozy art session. Their next live art mural performance takes place at Angela Oster's Gallery show at Arts Collinwood July 5.
"We really just wanted to build as much of an artist community as we could in Cleveland," Crider says. "We were just kind of frustrated drawing at home."
MORE INFO: rustbeltmonster.com
The artist's creative process is no longer an isolated venture. Rust Belt Monster Collective allows onlookers to see their every sketch and brushstroke with its whimsical live murals — improvised by its six members — forging a palpable connection between the artist and the viewer. "We are pleasantly surprised people enjoy watching," says member Erin Schechtman. "Usually you're alone in your studio wondering if something is good or not." She feeds off the crowd's energy at events such as IngenuityFest, where in 2012 the group created a 24-foot mural that melds graffiti-, comic- and storybook-styles in less than 16 hours. "We are hoping to get other people to draw," Schechtman says. Do just that — while throwing back a few — at the group's Drink and Draws, held monthly on the third Thursday at Lava Lounge and starting this month, also the first Wednesday at Great Lakes Brewing Co. Chill, there's no audience — just some potential drinking buddies. rustbeltmonster.com