2018 EMERGING ARTIST AWARD IN VISUAL ARTS
By the time he was five or six and drawing his first Ninja Turtle comic book, Darius knew with great certainty that he would be an artist.
“Where I grew up in East Cleveland, I didn’t have a lot of options,” says the visual artist and educator. “So my objective was to find a career that was interesting, regardless of pay, that I could sustain and progress with, and the art was what I liked, so I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life.”
He took a big step forward by “finding a way to get out of public schools and into” Cleveland School of the Arts, and then taking a lot of drawing classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art while there, partially just to learn his way around and get comfortable in the building. During that time, his experiences at Interlochen Arts Camp influenced him deeply, too.
“That exposed me to a whole lot of people doing art,” he recalls. “I realized I might not always be or may never be the best technician, but what I have that’s unique is where I come from, what I deal with, my story, the way I view things helped me think about how I can say things and communicate with art.”
Knowing he needed to stay at home, CIA was the only college he applied to. Darius completed his undergraduate degree with concentrations in drawing and painting before moving on to the University of Delaware, completing his Master of Fine Arts in 2010.
“I went to Delaware because there were some teachers there that I know, and one in particular, Troy Richards,” he says. “And they actually paid me to teach, so I was able to get that background, as well. He adds that while he’s not a fan of grading or the paperwork involved, he loves interacting with students and giving them knowledge of and experience with art whether or not they go on to become artists themselves.
This fall, as Program Manager at the Cleveland Museum of Art, he’s co-directing an exciting new educational initiative at CMA, “Currently Under Curation.” The innovative program instructs children from the Cleveland Municipal School District on how to create an art show from start to finish. “They will consider works from local artists and different collections and galleries around Cleveland and put together a show using that work,” Darius explains. “So, it gives them an eye for art, teaching them how to see things differently, put content and meaning into objects, and curate a show.”
For Darius, visual communication can serve as an agent for change with the power to break racial barriers. His paintings offer a metaphor to express both the connection and disconnection of African Americans in our society
In May, for the Inter-Urban Art Project and Midtown Cleveland, he unveiled his largest work to date: a 200-foot-long, 6-foot-high mural with a 40-foot long companion piece. Mounted on the Euclid Avenue bridge over the Inner Belt, the murals depict children and adults representing the diversity of the student body at CSU and the surrounding neighborhood and the idea of tearing down the barriers that disconnect people.
Scratching the Surface, a recent exhibition of ink drawings and prints at Zygote Press, presented a powerful collection of intimate portraits exclusively featuring Steward’s four-year-old son. He’s been painting Darius Jr., 6, since he was born and plans to paint him for a long time.
“I do a ton of images with my son,” Darius says. “He’s a stand-in for me in some ways. I get to see him grow and see things in him that remind me of things I had to deal with, and that sparks a lot of the image making.”
Darius has exhibited artwork at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Tregoning & Co., William Busta Gallery, FORUM Artspace, Kent State University, the University of Delaware, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, The Presidents Council of Cleveland, and the Cleveland Clinic. He is working on a number of new projects for next year, including shows at a gallery in Terre Haute, IN, and Tregoning & Co. gallery, and a mural for Cuyahoga Community College. In 2016, he was a recipient of the Creative Workforce Fellowship..
“When it’s all said and done, I now have a clear understanding of what type of things to put into my image to get what I want to say out there and start a conversation,” he concludes. “I’ve just keep pushing that.”