First Friday series to feature artist behind Dubuque Street parking ramp mural


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Every day, hundreds of Iowa City residents walk past Solidarity — the mural on the north wall of the Linn Street parking ramp that depicts a black and white, graffiti-style web of grasping hands — but only a few know the story behind the five-story masterpiece.

The University of Iowa Museum of Art hopes to change this by featuring mural artist Eliezer Antonio Sotillo Rodriguez for the kickoff to its First Friday series, “Come Together,” at 5 p.m. Friday at the hotelVetro, 210 S. Linn St.

Along with live music by the Steve Grismore Jazz Trio and hors d’oeuvres from Formosa, the event will showcase some of Sotillo’s other artwork and offer people the chance to talk informally with the painter.

“It’s always nice to meet the artist, especially when it’s a work of art that you’re very familiar with,” said Museum of Art public-relations coordinator Elizabeth Wallace. “We’re connecting [Sotillo] to the community, who experiences his very large artwork on a daily basis. It’s always very interesting for the public to see the process of making art.”

This process is documented in a five-minute time-lapse video on the making of Solidarity, which will be featured at the event. Sotillo said the mural, which was commissioned by hotelVetro owner Marc Moen and took around a year to complete, was an exciting artistic challenge.

“I like exploring different ways to express myself,” Sotillo said. “What I tried doing was using the hands to make structure. I was trying to use the wall and the hands as a way to express a certain amount of unity among people.”

He said uncovering new concepts and techniques in art is his passion. He was studying nursing when he transferred to a B.F.A. degree and teaching certificate.

“I just missed doing art a lot,” he said. “It’s just a good way to release stress. It’s something that a majority of artists will say is kind of like a hand: If you cut that off, you’re cutting off your ability to create. It’s just a part of who we are, I guess.”

Wallace said she hopes she can replicate Sotillo’s model of unity through the “Come Together” event.

“The goal is to have a fun, publicly accessible event — that’s inexpensive and brings people who are enthusiastic about art in our community,” she said. “We call it a ‘friend-raising’ event — it’s really about connecting community artists and musicians with people in the community who may not be aware of them.

“The common thread here is that everyone enjoys art.”

Along with numerous community-outreach programs, such as its education program, which reached 48 Iowa schools last year and a senior living facility tour, Wallace said, the First Friday series is one of the many ways the museum hopes to stay connected with the public, despite having lost its permanent location in the flood of 2008.

“We can’t invite them into our museum, so we’re basically taking the party to the people, just as we’re taking the art to the people,” she said. “We continue to strive to keep our presence felt in the community and throughout state and to find a way to take that thrill of walking in a museum and connecting with artwork and bring that to the people.”

Guitarist Grismore said he hopes to add to the First Friday’s engaging atmosphere with music. Grismore, the director and founder of the Jazz Fest and part of the UI School of Music jazz faculty, said he and his trio of guitar, bass, and drums are looking forward to playing for the museum for the first time outside the old facility.

“It’s always fun to play when it’s honoring an artist or opening a new art show,” he said. “People who are interested in art are usually people who love music, so it’s a good environment.”

For his first museum event, Sotillo said, he appreciates the chance to spread the message of his work, not only to art experts but to the average person who takes notice of his eye-catching mural.

“I’m really excited, and I’m very, very honored,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people out there who are quite curious to know what it’s about. I guess the thing I’m looking forward to the most is getting my work out there.”

Wallace said “eclectic” artists such as Sotillo continue to draw new and old art fans to the museum’s First Fridays.

“The goal is to keep the museum warmly in people’s hearts,” she said. “We’re going strong, and we hope continue that for many years to come.”

Who: UI Museum of Art, with artist Eliezer Antonio Sotillo Rodriguez and the Steve Grismore Trio
What: Museum of Art First Friday, Come Together
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn
Admission: $5

The Daily Iowan reported in June that plans to replace or renovate the flood-damaged museum building are not final. FEMA granted more than $112 million in renovation funds earlier this year but did not fund building a replacement for the Art Museum. The art from the museum is currently housed in a variety of locations, including the third floor of the IMU and other museums in the state.

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