A recent transplant from San Francisco, Michelle Muldrow has already established herself as one of Cleveland's most outstanding painters. Earlier this summer, she was chosen by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture as one of only 20 local artists to receive a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship.
She works in her Cleveland Heights home, where a breezy, light-filled sun porch serves as her painting studio. Her paintings from years past, both large and small, adorn walls throughout the house as newer and still-in-progress works spill out of her studio into an adjoining hallway.
At 40, Muldrow is a professionally accomplished artist with a nearly 20-year exhibition record. She is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles, where she will hold a solo exhibition later this year. Locally, she has signed on with Bonfoey Gallery.
Her first solo show in Northeast Ohio will open on Friday, Sept. 11, at Heights Arts Gallery in Cleveland Heights.
Muldrow lived in San Francisco for 15 years before moving to Cleveland Heights in 2006.
She studied painting in both high school and college, and was already showing in commercial galleries when, some years ago, she decided to make a career switch from art to music.
"I always thought you couldn't make a living as an artist," she says, "then, eventually, I realized you can't make a living as a musician."
While living in San Francisco, Muldrow spent a decade as a member of various rock bands (including Blood Roses and Moth Macabre), until she became "burnt-out on the whole music scene."
She says she also realized she was more of an introvert -- and that painting was more suited to her personality.
When Muldrow first arrived in Cleveland, she set up a studio at Hodge School (a former elementary school converted to artist live-work spaces in the 1980s) in Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. But she soon began to feel the neighborhood was unsafe.
She has less space to paint at home, but she has compensated by making smaller paintings.
Muldrow's current work is done in gouache -- a traditional water-based paint that's more opaque than watercolor -- on extremely heavyweight paper, which she stretches temporarily on hardwood panels.
Her highly skilled paintings of barren, unadorned structures, such as highway overpasses and commercial office towers, are often infused with dramatic flourishes of unexpected color, lending urgency to otherwise ordinary views of everyday scenes.
She is interested in questioning the possibility that landscape painting is a historically obsolete art form. At the same time, she uses the conventions of her medium and format to consider aspects of the post-industrial landscape that have clearly become dated and potentially outmoded.
Completely devoid of people, Muldrow's paintings often suggest that the structures they depict have become ruins. Still fascinating and often colorful, they pepper the landscape like trees or wildflowers. Their original function is all but lost as they become integrated into their surroundings.
While Muldrow is still getting used to the light in Cleveland, which she says is "more purple" than it is in San Francisco, it seems that her move to Cleveland was fortuitous.
As she gains recognition in the region, Northeast Ohio's peculiar post-industrial landscape appears to be serving her equally well as both subject and inspiration.
by Dan Tranberg / Special to The Plain Dealer
Saturday August 08, 2009, 12:01 AM