Mike Lroy’s artwork brightens Monona and Madison businesses

"Intergalactic" is one of his newest pieces

A ladder and more cans of paint than you’d care to count is all Mike Lroy needs to create a stunning work of art in an otherwise ordinary place. When you see Lroy’s mural “Intergalactic” on an exterior wall of Handel Automotive on Monona Drive in Monona it’s hard to imagine how desolate the wall looked before he transformed it. Over several hours during the weekend of Aug. 24, Lroy carefully layered and blended colors to create a breathtaking mural of a woman with a galaxy-shaded Afro.

Throughout the weekend, dozens of other muralists and street artists painted an array of murals on the sides of businesses in Monona as part of the first annual Momentum Urban Arts Fest.

Because of festivals like Momentum and a growing dialogue surrounding public art in the Monona community, muralists like Lroy now have new, highly visible spaces to share their art.

Incredibly vibrant and mystifying, the murals created by some of these artists are bringing a new sense of brightness to their communities.

Lroy has created many murals throughout Madison, too. His work can be found at StartingBlock Madison, Rocket Repair and Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, to name a few.

No matter the subject, there’s a bright, hopeful sense of levity in his most recent work. At the end of the day, it’s art that will make you marvel at the level of detail and stare in amazement at the sheer scale. The colors are vibrant, the brush strokes – or spray lines – are precise, and the passion behind the work is unquestionable.

“This is just the beginning,” Lroy says. “I want to do really cool things.”

Growing up in Racine, Lroy says he would often sketch on his friends’ notebooks in school. For each cover he charged a quarter. After he turned 17, he started working at a tattoo shop in his hometown. Mike Lroy’s artwork brightens Monona and Madison businesses

“As soon as I got my first [tattoo] I was like, ‘Yup this is what I want to do,’ ” Lroy says. “I got completely covered in one summer.”

When he moved to Madison in 2011 as a University of Wisconsin-Madison student and a track and field athlete, he also searched for a local tattoo shop where he could continue pursuing his art. When he wasn’t able to find a good fit, he decided to focus on painting instead of tattoo art.

Then, two years into his time as an art student at UW-Madison, he decided to drop out.

“I wasn’t really learning anything, especially for the price that I was paying,” Lroy says. “I found a little show, put a painting up and just kept riding the wave.”

In 2015, just two months after the death of Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old unarmed biracial man who was shot and killed by a Madison police officer, Lroy sold his first painting to the Madison Central Library. “Don’t Shoot,” which depicts police officers aiming their guns at a young black boy holding a toy gun, faced criticism from local law enforcement.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and Dan Frei, then president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, responded with a joint statement in 2015.

“The library’s decision to showcase this piece in such a one-sided manner is a disturbing endorsement of an inflammatory perspective,” the statement read in part. Palmer and Frei recognized Lroy’s right to free expression and did not seek the removal of the painting from the library.

While Lroy says he doesn’t create art with political messages in mind, he does aim to make his audience feel a certain way, and that rang true with “Don’t Shoot.”

“I’m just expressing how it is to be a person of color in this environment,” Lroy says.

Logan Rude is a former Madison Magazine editorial intern and current News 3 Now digital content producer.