DayGlo creatures, googly-eyed and grinning, creep down Fleet Avenue, screwed to vacant buildings. Painted on boards where once windows let light through.
In a vacant storefront across the way, they also linger: cut-out characters painted on corrugated board with faces for hands, hearts worn outside also seeing, gaping mouths, some masks —unmistakably Scott Pickering’s work.
Scott stands toward the back of the storefront, next to Saucisson butcher shop, taping neon polka dots to canvas sheets hung to hide the bones of the 114-year-old building once home to Divoky Hardware and Furniture and, in the 1930s, Jaworski Meats.
“It’s sort of like a big frickin’ puppet show in the window,” he says proudly, tweaking artworks propped up by odd materials here and there, rigged, “like the Wizard of Oz,” he says.
The space is being lent to him by the building’s owner Anthony Trzaska, founder of Sonny Day Development, which works to revitalize Slavic Village.
Scott accesses the storefront through the back alley, climbs a flight of stairs, walks through the demolished second floor apartments — debris all around, an old bathtub and wires — and then goes down another flight of stairs that splits off in two different directions. He chooses the same one each time, clearly finding the inconvenience charming.
Just another odd detail in the life of a screwball artist, he says, setting down some supplies and unlocking the front door to check out the window display.
A neighbor driving by in a pickup truck honks his horn and gives him a thumbs up.
“Hey!” Scott shouts, waving, always a huge smile on his face.
“Energy is energy,” he says. “You can be this big dewy rain cloud, and you’re gonna get negative. Good energy then, in turn, pulls in good energy.”
He paints every day, draws every day, makes music every day. He’s been in every band ever formed in Cleveland.
Right now, he’s in Mike St. Jude & the Valentines, Public Squares, “and I forget the other band,” he says.
There’s Terminal Lovers, Rainy Day Saints and Blind Spring. There could be more.
He says, “It’s an ongoing thing.”
Wearing a DayGlo-splattered black blazer he pulled out of his car stuffed with freshly-painted creatures, also painted on his T-shirt, he stands on the sidewalk, pointing to another vacant building about a block down, on East 55th Street. Soon, his artwork will go up there too. He also painted a character on 65th Street, and a floral collaboration just around the corner on Gold Plumb framing.
“Slowly but surely, I’m taking over the neighborhood!” he growls, proud to be such a vibrant part of a community he’s called home for more than 20 years.
“I’ve seen it when it was real pretty. Saw it when it kinda got really gnarly. And now it’s poppin up again slowly but surely.”
This is thanks to engaged residents, regional collaboration and SVD’s relentless, sometimes outside-the-box efforts to jump start the historic neighborhood.
In 2016, Fleet underwent a $9 million streetscape makeover, which also included East 55th and Broadway Avenue. Scott proudly points out new benches, new businesses and the Northeast Ohio Regional Water green infrastructure project, which, on a lot once occupied by two vacant homes, includes a bioretention basin that treats and conveys stormwater. Just beyond the basin sits another vacant house that looks like its second floor might fall out.
It is houses like these — daily reminders of the devastating housing crisis, as well as the hope that comes with an opportunity for growth — that Scott has helped transform the past four years for Rooms to Let, which turns houses into temporary art installations. This year, Scott is curating a house. And, with grants available through Neighborhood Connections, he’s also collaborating with SVD on a growing list of new public art projects.
Saucisson, founded by Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend, will celebrate its year anniversary March 16.
The building across the street from their shop — now Scott’s evolving public art piece — had busted out windows and “just didn’t look very good,” Khoury remembers, standing in the alley while Scott shuffles about, rifling through random littered materials to use in his art.
“The last thing we wanted to do was draw up the blinds on opening day, and that’s what you see.”
So Khoury and Barend worked out a plan with Scott, SVD got involved, someone lent a lift to reach the top of the massive building, and the murals went up about a week before opening day.
People recognize Scott’s art but don’t know he lives here. Khoury says. “Scott’s a great guy,” she always tells people. “He’s a champion of this neighborhood.”
Some of the paintings get stolen. Some don’t. “I never understood why they take some and not others,” Scott says. “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”
He spray painted a body under a decapitated creature recently, thinking, “Oh my god, it was one of my favorite paintings!!! What the fuck!”
“I don’t care,” he laughs. “It’s not an issue. It’s only an issue for me to get some energy and make the goofy characters.”
His artwork is meant to beautify and make the community fun. And the cut-outs are adding a whole new dimension. Scott says his art generates chaos, but it’s bright. There’s no heavy message.
“We’re going through all of this negativity politically. There’s always bad news. I want to be a little lighter,” he says.
“I’m trying to be positive. There’s a certain self-deprecating analysis, where it’s like ‘WHY?!,’” he reaches toward the sky, letting out howling laughter that ripples down the street.
It’s a quiet afternoon on Fleet.
Scott grabs his new pieces and heads over to put them up on his building. A woman sits out front, enjoying the warm February day punctuating weeks of numbing wind and snow.
Scott starts hanging the bright cut-out characters. Quietly. Just as it starts to rain.
[Written by Nicole Hennessy]