The project is packed with local historical significance, but for many in the neighborhood, it’s extremely personal, too.
Louisville native Eddie Donaldson, also known as the artist GuerillaOne, spearheaded the project with the help of the nonprofit Artists for Trauma. Donaldson’s longtime friendship with Fairey, his family ties to Ali’s relatives, and his experiences growing up near downtown Louisville all come together to bring the internationally known boxer to life on the east wall of the 100-year-old building.
“Knowing that someone in our community could become the Heavyweight Champion of the World was inspiring to me as a kid,” Donaldson said. “I wasn’t much for boxing, but to know that anything was possible based on his accomplishments gave me a lot of confidence growing up.”
The rendering for the mural includes the famous Ali quote “Impossible is not a fact!”
That’s what Donaldson wants people to see when they stare up at Ali — their potential.
“Obama referred to Shepard Fairey as ‘my artist,’ and now the community, the city of Louisville, the community of Russell, and Ali’s spirit can fall back and say, ‘Shepard Fairey is my artist,'” Donaldson said. “Because Fairey came to my city in my neighborhood and painted a picture of one of Louisville’s most prized heroes.”
Fairey will begin working on the YMCA on Saturday, April 22. The internationally known artist has been a fan of Ali since he was a child.
Initially, Fairey was drawn to his boxing, but as an adult he was drawn to his activism, his civil rights work, his steadfastness in upholding his principles regarding Vietnam War, his work with the United Nations, and his philanthropy.
“He’s much more than an athlete,” Fairey told the Courier Journal. “He’s a noble public citizen and somebody, who used his platforms for good and to try to do good things in the world.”
Fairey, who has painted more than 120 large-scale murals across six continents, considers this project high on his list of achievements. Between the scale of the mural, the buy-in from groups in the community, and the authentic connection between Ali’s neighborhood, Fairey says there’s a lot to be excited about.
“Everyone knows his tenacity in the ring and his charisma,” Fairey said. “But he was also thoughtful and had vision … that thoughtful, visionary side was something I hoped I could convey in a mural.”
The building where the mural is being painted is more than 100 years old, and a project this vibrant on the outside helps the larger community get a sense of all the good things happening within, said Freddie Brown, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for Greater Louisville YMCA.
“I’m hoping it’s a source of inspiration to kind of serve as a ‘let me remember that greatness is found within,’ and this is a reminder of that,” Brown said.
Some of Fairey’s work will be on display in a show called “Outside Influence” at 1512 Portland Ave. beginning April 26. While he’s in Louisville to paint the mural, Fairey will also host a public workshop at Louisville Visual Art at 1538 Lytle St., so that he can interact with the community directly. Artists for Trauma, too, has arranged to distribute 40 different gift bags packed with supplies, so that budding artists of all ages can explore their own talents.
“I really hope it’s an inspiration for people using their voice and using their skills and doing everything they can to be who they want to be in the world and be self-determined,” Fairey said.
Features columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, Southern Indiana and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and occasionally, a little weird. If you’ve got something in your family, your town or even your closet that fits that description — she wants to hear from you. Say hello at [email protected] or 502-582-4053.
Want to go?
WHAT: Community workshop with Shepard Fairey, an internationally known street artist.
WHAT: “Outside Influence” showcases the work of Shepard Fairey, the collaboration between RalphSteadman and Hunter S. Thompson, and many other artists. The art show will also feature photography of pivotal moments in American history from Bingham and Earnest C. Withers, whose subjects include Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement, the Emmett Till murder trail, Stax Records and Negro League baseball.
WHERE: Common Art Gallery at PORTAL,1512 Portland Ave