ISH (Ismael Muhammad Nieves) has been a muralist and graffiti writer in northern Indiana for more than thirty years. When ISH was paired with two artist apprentices, Jamahl Crouch and Matthew Cooper, and learned that this Jiffy Lube location was the third one opened in Indiana, he wanted to create three of something. The idea of three kings was born.
When applying for the mural project, ISH simply thought this would be a nice addition to his portfolio and a fun project to work on. It quickly became a chance for him to lead and lift up younger artists when he was offered the opportunity of an apprenticeship.
“As the leader, the biggest lift for me was ensuring Jamahl Crouch and Matthew Cooper had a platform for their professional aspirations,” said ISH. “While I’ve been blessed to have some work in the city, Jamahl and Matthew are the Indianapolis residents. They deserve the attention and recognition for their contribution to the production and their voices heard. This was their first time painting that large.”
ISH is a self-taught artist that was exposed to graffiti, hip hop, and street culture at a very young age. He is known locally for his involvement with a solo exhibition at iMOCA in 2009 in addition to a commissioned mural for Eskenazi Hospital (2012), the Subsurface Graffiti Exhibition (2015), and 2016’s 219 Meets 317. He is also a founding member of Crazy Indiana Style Artists (CISA), Indiana’s first and oldest active Latino Artist Collective.
Three Kings with Three Meanings:
This mural is the interpretation of what a king looks like to each individual artist. The idea stems from the need to view and hold themselves accountable as kings of their own destiny.
“In the African American community, friends often refer to each other as “kings” and “queens” in order to convey appreciation, pride, and support,” said Julia Moore, the Director of Public Arts for the Arts Council of Indianapolis. “As a mentorship project, the love and support is directed towards the new artists who deserve to have the confidence and stature of a king.”
Left King by Jamahl Crouch:
Jamahl is very proud of his Cherokee heritage and loves creating fantasy characters. His perception of a king goes beyond ruling and dominance. When he thought of a king he imagined a chief because they stand amongst their people and keep all that they love in their minds and hearts. This king is created in a street-art-style and holds a lot of disguised meanings within the design. The head-piece is decorated with road signs with the two area codes Jamahl calls home, 317 and 614. The heart-shaped pendant with speakers is a message that a king listens and speaks with his heart, keeps his people on his mind, and values time (the reason the king is wearing a watch) more than any martial things.
Center King by Ish Muhammad Nieves: This king is part of a series by ISH called Frequencies. It’s made up of imperfect symmetric forms and shapes that build a figure. It represents how we receive and process our experiences and how those experiences create forms and colors around us that others can see and feel.
Right King by Matthew Cooper: Inspired by black royalty and black history, Matthew wanted his king to have a royal feel while still making him look as if he could be from the surrounding community.
“A lot of my work focuses on the hidden history of black culture,” said Matthew. “I feel there is a lack of positive representation of us in art and it’s important for the youth to see this which was another key point in developing the mural.”
His king is sitting on a rhino which represents the competitive spirit in the “call for artists”. The bright blue feathers in the rhinoceros’ mouth are meant to represent the bird in the mural across town that was painted in 2018 by Carl Leck. In the tradition of friendly rivalry (and actual admiration) between street artists, the rhinoceros has eaten Leck’s bird!
Creating A Pathway to More Public Art
Our mural project is giving artists new opportunities. What we have learned from ISH is that young artists of color sometimes feel insecure about promoting their work.
“They find it challenging to find a straight path into a more established art organization, activities, and events,” said ISH. “I chose to counteract the belief of ‘I can’t get in’ with ‘It’s all yours’.”
We have been blown away by the support and interest in this project. We received an impressive 65 applications for the last round of murals. ISH was given the opportunity to share his talent as well as lift up local artists Jamahl and Matthew as his apprentices.
“We all come from different parts but we all have the same destination,” said Matthew. “We’re trying to get our art out and trying to speak to a higher level.”
You can learn more about the three artists here:
Studio – 1125 Brookside Avenue, #43, Indianapolis, IN 46202