Artists Christopher Cropper and Chad Kessler collaborate on new Short North mural
The two friends recently joined forces for a large mural on the patio of Oddfellows and Mikey's Late Night Slice, which once housed a gallery the pair remember fondly
Artists Christopher Cropper and Chad Kessler are used to collaborating. They paint together during Scrawl, and often they’ll hang out at Kessler’s distillery, 451 Spirits, and pass small wood panels back and forth, adding paint and found objects until they both agree the piece is complete.
But the pair’s newest collaboration, which spans the length of a brick wall on the shared patio of Oddfellows Liquor Bar and Mikey’s Late Night Slice in the Short North, is the largest, most involved art project to date for the two friends.
Cropper and Kessler also have a shared history at the site of the mural: The building that houses Oddfellows used to be home to 83 Gallery, where the two artists previously showed their work and built friendships with others in the Columbus arts community. In that way, when Cropper and Kessler met up in the mornings a couple of weeks ago to begin covering the wall with paint, their journeys as artist came full circle.
The mural started with a tropical theme — toucan, bird of paradise plants — then grew to incorporate woodland creatures (fox, squirrel, owl), text (“Later,” “Today,” “83”) and a number of Cropper’s signature faces, which are partially inspired by tribal art from Papua New Guinea and by Cropper’s heritage. “I'm Hawaiian, and if you look at the Tiki gods, they're similar,” he said.
Cropper’s characters often have sullen, world-weary expressions that feel appropriate given the past year. “They're just everyday people trying to make it through life. They're worn out. They're tired from life in general. Some of them are smiling, some are sad, some are angry — like the red one right there under the cloud,” Cropper said, pointing to the mural. “The main thing is, no matter how hard life gets, there's always hope. There's going to be a silver lining. The sun's going to come up the next day.”
While Kessler said his art often has a more direct message, when working with Cropper, the pieces tend to incorporate whatever Cropper is feeling at the moment, which can take the work in unexpected directions. (Cropper said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 14.) Normally, the two collaborators use found objects as they work, incorporating everything from shopping receipts to clothing tags and other bits of ephemera.
While collage elements weren’t possible in this mural, the overall effect is the same, with layers and layers of colors and shapes and figures. (In one corner, for instance, Kessler painted an alien spaceship above a group of faces – a reference to the occasional desire to be beamed up and away.) The artists envision people mingling on the patio and discovering something new in the mural, something they hadn’t noticed before, each time they visit.
It's a place for people in Columbus to stop and look at art, which brings to mind the days of 83 Gallery. The mural allows the space to be what it once was.