Artist Spotlight- Van Taylor Monroe

Van Taylor Monroe, one of Cleveland’s most unique multidisciplinary artists, is now setting his sights on improving community health in North Collinwood.

Monroe is perhaps best known for his socially conscious paintings on an unexpected canvas: sneakers. The young artist rose to fame in 2008 after painting a pair of sneakers adorned with images of up-and-coming Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. Monroe was inspired by the message of then-Senator Obama: overcoming adversity against all odds.

After leaving his well-paid position at a logistics firm in Cincinnati in 2007, Monroe struggled to follow his dream of being a fulltime artist and make ends meet. It was the powerful message of Obama on the campaign trail that kept Monroe going and spurred him to paint a pair of shoes dedicated to the iconic political figure.

Following a post of the sneakers to his Myspace page, Monroe said the image spread like wildfire across the Internet. “It went viral before anyone knew what viral was,” he explained. Everywhere from popular sites like BET.com to tiny blogs carried the image of Monroe’s work.

Eventually the President and the Smithsonian Institution both wanted a pair, all within a year and half of Monroe leaving his corporate job.

Sneaker art – a talent Monroe developed as a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio by painting his football teammates’ worn shoes to save them some money – was suddenly something everyone wanted. Spike Lee, Will.I.Am, Kirk Franklin, Hill Harper, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Ray Romano, Jennifer Lopez, John Leguizamo, Joy Behar and numerous others all have a piece of Monroe’s work.

The celebrity buzz about his work kept Monroe busy for years, but at its core, his personal work continued to embody social consciousness and that echoing message of resilience and creativity in the face of adversity. Monroe is a storyteller at heart; it’s this passion that drives his art.

As his stories have grown and changed, so have the canvases. Film, painting, illustration and even writing are all mediums that Monroe utilizes today.

Monroe is also focusing on teaching art to the next generation in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.

As part of Collinwood 2015 (Northeast Shores Development Corporation’s program to engage with artists to improve community health), Monroe will pass on his sneaker painting techniques to North Collinwood community members, especially younger kids and teens who face difficult decisions every day.

On October 7, 8 and 9, Monroe will teach participants of the Shoe Art Walk how to paint a variety of sneaker types. Each participant will bring a pair of shoes to paint and complete a project of their own design over the three-day session. The actual painting and creative process will support mental health, participants will be encouraged to incorporate health messages in their designs and the project will also encourage physical health when all participants come together on October 10 in their newly painted shoes for a lakefront walk.

Monroe also hopes that the project will inspire the artistic and entrepreneurial spirit in other young people, so that they too can persevere during difficult times.

Registration for the Shoe Art Walk is available online. Space is limited for this first series, but Monroe hopes to extend the workshop if there is enough interest.

To keep up to date on all of Van Taylor Monroe’s work, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. Keep an eye out for his new children’s book and other projects coming soon.