Michigan Avenue bridge begins transformation this summer

Some say the prep work can be the hardest part of painting. Lansing-based artist Brian Whitfield totally gets that as he readies four giant canvases made of concrete for the highly-anticipated Under the Bridge Project this spring.

About a year ago, Whitfield was commissioned by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership to create four murals on the slope-pavings underneath the US-127 overpass on Michigan Avenue near Frandor. His murals, he says, will draw connections between Lansing and East Lansing, with his "canvas" being the actual physical divide between the two cities.

"It's exciting to have been selected for such a big project," says Whitfield. "It's a little intimidating because it's so big, but I feel honored to be entrusted with something so visible."

Now, with permits, weather, and campaign funds in place, Whitfield is securing paint brushes, dozens of gallons of paint, and a few assistants to bring his vision to light. He also has his sketches in hand which he presented and modified during the selection process nearly two years ago. Those sketches depict a vision for colorful illustrated panels that celebrate the history, future and strength of the regional community.

Each of Whitfield's murals will be 50 feet by 25 feet, and keyed to a particular theme. The first, called "Work," will depict automotive scenes reflective of Lansing's history. The second, called "Play," will show people participating in sports or other forms or R&R within familiar Lansing settings. Whitfield's third panel, "Discover," will feature images that evoke the area's rich educational culture. The fourth panel, "Create," will showcase painters, musicians and other artists engaged in creative pursuits.

"My style ranges from everything," says Whitfield as he lists influences that include Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustave Klimt, William De Kooning and Pablo Picasso. "This mural will be a combination of stylized figures, abstractions and bright colors. It's not so much realistic. I want to use shapes and stylized movement in the piece."

Whitfield's murals will be illuminated by 24 decorative LED lights installed by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. Funds for the project were raised through the Detroit-based online fundraising site Patronicity, which raised $107,000 between individual, corporate and matching donations by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Whitfield is a graphic artist with the Michigan Department of Transportation, and an award-winning fine artist. A graduate of Lansing Sexton High School, Whitfield studied illustration at Kendall School of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, and received his master's in fine arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He returned to his hometown after working at Alma College, Kalamazoo College, and meeting his wife who lived in Lansing.

"It feels really good to be a part of this," says Whitfield. "It's getting so much attention and it's a gateway. I live over in that area, and with all the things happening on the East Side, it's nice to participate and not be just an observer."

Source: Brian Whitfield, Artist, Under the Bridge Project
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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