Midtown Raleigh News

Wiggins: Stalking celebrities on canvas

When Raleigh artist Keith McLaurin reinvests in his business SwiftCream Factory Images and his space at Pitch Media Gallery, the result is a mirror image – on canvas.

It’s an unconventional marketing strategy that finds McLaurin painting images on canvas of celebrities of both local and worldwide acclaim. He then ventures out, leaving his palette behind to maneuver worlds of stardom at music concerts, casting calls, radio interviews and other events where he presents his work – in person. Sometimes, the painting is a gift; at others, McLaurin asks for a value-boosting autograph on the canvas itself.

“I’m just trying to gain exposure for my art and my art gallery,” said McLaurin, 32, a native of Clinton who took over at Pitch in July. “I plan to be one of the best art galleries in Raleigh.”

By today, McLaurin expects to complete a set of paintings he produced of local television news and sports anchors and reporters. Using photos of them we’ve probably all seen before on billboards, websites, TV and in ads, McLaurin has produced an amazing library of images on canvas.

McLaurin invites broadcasters he painted to email him or stop by the gallery, take a look around and pick up their painted portrait. “They’ll be a Christmas gift to them from Pitch Media Gallery,” he said.

One of the first portrait paintings McLaurin completed this year was of Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown. He presented the painting to her soon after she was sworn in as the city’s first African-American woman to hold the post. The portrait now hangs in her office.

McLaurin also already presented a portrait to WTVD’s Anthony Wilson. The remaining paintings have been underway for the past couple of weeks, right along with paintings of hip-hop gurus 50 Cent and Jay Z.

“I feel like I should always go and do what I’ve never seen others do,” McLaurin said.

So far, McLaurin has made his way into the presence of musicians Janelle Monae, Tank, French Montana, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, Flava Flav, Mary J. Blige, 9th Wonder, Tyrese, Fantasia, Rakim, Pete Rock, Lords of the Underground, TI, Sevyn Streeter, K. Michelle, Maino, and so on. There’s also Draya from Basketball Wives – LA, Def Jam poet Sunni Patterson, K-97.5 radio personalities Shena J and Wade Banner, and actor Jermaine Hopkins from “Juice” and “Lean on Me,” who visited Pitch himself. Several were autographed, and some kudos hit Twitter.

So far, McLaurin said he hasn’t asked anybody to pay for the portraits. If and when someone does pay, he’ll reinvest in the gallery and community outreach.

Delivering the gifts hasn’t been easy. McLaurin has befriended security guards when promises of backstage passes were unkept. And he’s paid as much as $100 per ticket to see his plan through.

“It’s worth it,” said McLaurin, who hopes to return to college one day to study business marketing. “It’s my job. I have to invest in it, sacrifice sometimes, and hopefully it will all come back to me someday.”

Meanwhile, McLaurin expects to travel to the Congo to capture life and strife there in pieces that will be auctioned in New York to raise money for the region.

You may remember my first introduction of McLaurin to you in September 2012 as a featured artist at the inaugural Raleigh Art Festival, the brainchild of McLaurin’s friend and fellow visual artist, Christopher Terrell.

Since then, McLaurin has taken over at Pitch Media, where he manages a co-op of about eight local artists. Pitch also showcases McLaurin’s signature, bigger-than-life vibe art, identified by his use of bright colors and rhythms, and his stroke of circular patterns, lots of lines and shapes. In his paintings, all characters’ eyes are closed – symbolic of the imagination of artwork – and ladders are prominent – symbolic of “all the steps I’ve been through in life: the ups, the down, the bumps, the bruises,” McLaurin said.

Pitch also features live paintings, commissioned artwork for album/CD and book covers, body painting, custom-designed T-shirts, sneakers, key holders and other custom painting services.

“I want people to know they’re going to come see something different every time,” McLaurin said.

McLaurin also launched Pitch Media Gallery’s Summer Youth Art Program to mentor and teach art to budding artists, and he’s asking families to submit drawings and sketches from artists behind prison walls to hang in the gallery. Family members then will be invited to take a picture, “so they can see their work inside an art gallery instead of stuck on the wall of a jail cell all the time,” McLaurin said. “We gotta give each other hope!”