When eight of the world’s finest graffiti artists arrived in Baton Rouge a few days ago, Tony Leverett offered to help out any way he could.
“Buffing walls, buying spray paint, picking them up from the airport,” the Baton Rouge tattoo artist said. “Anything.”
Leverett’s efforts helped set the stage for a new street mural on the city’s north side, a five-day collaboration by artists from eight different countries.
Kevin Harris, director of the Baton Rouge Museum of Public Art, led the $25,000 project after coming up with the idea several years ago.
“These were the guys I wanted,” he said. “This wasn’t just something open to the graffiti public.”
Harris pitched the project to Baton Rouge metal artist Dave Cano, who agreed to host the mural on the outer north wall of his studio, Iron Design LLC, at 521 N. 19th St.
“We gave them free rein,” Cano said, wearing a pair of work boots and paint-splattered jeans. “I told them to do whatever they want, because that’s what I ask when I do my work.”
Harris called the project “Egoless,” an ode to the easy-going nature of the artists.
The biggest challenge, Harris said, was finding a date that worked for everyone. But even that proved easier than expected.
“We’re all self-employed artists, so we can all be pretty flexible,” said Sam Bates, a Scotland-based artist also known as Smug.
The seven other artists, Bonzai, Beun, Does, Odeth, Antonello Macs, Sofles and Koka, hail from England, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Italy and Mexico, respectively.
Their work has landed them commercial deals and notoriety in art circles around the globe.
Harris hopes the mural will unite a community peppered with violence and blight.
He also is looking to raise money to paint murals on the walls of abandoned Baton Rouge houses, in a push to revitalize battered neighborhoods.
“We wanted to make something that people can relate to and take pride in,” he said.
On Saturday afternoon, the artists plowed through more than 200 cans of spray paint, as early 2000s hip-hop played softly over portable speakers.
They joked, swigged beer and talked shop and strategy.
The mural features cartoonish portraits of the artists, bridged by stylized lettering of their names.
Australian filmmaker Selina Miles was on hand to record the process. Her past work includes a short with Sofles, with more than 120,000 views on YouTube.
Cano and his wife, Kathryn Hunter, were pleased with the results by the end of the day Saturday.
“It brings people out. Even if you don’t like it, you can’t help but be in awe,” said Hunter, also an artist.
For Leverett, the mural provided a learning experience and inspiration in his own work. He moved to Baton Rouge from Texas 10 years ago and has found himself hooked on the local art scene.
“People say, ‘Why are you still in Baton Rouge?’ ” he said, eyes fixed on the mural. “Because of stuff like this.”