BirminghamJune 25, 2012
Local artist takes his talent to the streets — er, driveway
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM — It happens a few times each day. First, one person stops. Then another. Before long, a group has gathered in front of Steve Zirwes’ Birmingham home. They all come to see it for themselves: his driveway.
It was just over a month ago that 34-year-old Zirwes got the idea to create a large mural on the pavement in the driveway and walkway in front of his home in the 1600 block of Lincoln. The design depicts legendary reggae singer Bob Marley, along with the titles of many of his hit songs. There was no paint involved in this piece of art, though. The image was created via a power washer.
“For a little extra cash, (my boss) paid me to power wash his driveway,” said Zirwes, who works as an endodontic assistant by day. “It got boring, so I did a little design with the power washer, and then I cleaned it all up. But I thought, ‘Wow. This is artsy — it’s like graffiti, but you’re not defacing anything.”
To create the Bob Marley tribute, Zirwes sketched out images on pieces of plywood, then cut his designs out, placed them on the cement and power washed over the stencils. The powerful stream of water cleaned parts of the pavement while leaving others tinged with dirt. The result is a two-toned mural that many spectators say looks as though it’s embedded in the concrete.
“It’s just so cool,” said David Perkins, Zirwes’ roommate. “We have people who stop and look and scratch their heads. They can’t even figure out how it got there.”
Of course, this isn’t Zirwes’ first time trying his hand at creating art. The Michigan native has lived in several places around the country, but it was while he was staying in Oregon seven years ago that he first discovered headstone rubbings. The process involves transferring text from a grave memorial onto wax paper by placing the paper on a grave and coloring over it with a crayon or pencil. The first grave he ever “rubbed” was that of musician Jimi Hendrix, and since then, he’s made it a point to plan his vacations in accordance with the different graves he’d like to get rubbings from. Over the years, he’s collected rubbings from the graves of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, among others.
Once he has the grave transfer in hand, he incorporates the rubbing onto a portrait of the deceased. Perkins said the pieces are not just emotionally moving, but really interesting to see.
“We have a portrait of Malcolm X in the house that looks like a photograph with the grave rubbing underneath. The guy is just amazing, the stuff he comes up with.”
When Zirwes isn’t assisting in root canals and other oral surgeries, he’s creating art works for sale though his business, R.I.P., or Resurrected In Paint. The grave rubbing portraits are always popular with customers, but in recent weeks, his power washing work has sparked interest from buyers as well. He’ll complete a design on the pavement outside of Ann Arbor’s Vinology restaurant in a few weeks, just in time for the city’s big art fair.
“I just did it to have fun,” he said of the mural in his driveway. “There’s all sorts of people walking their dogs and jogging, and you see them slowing down (as they pass). I saw a bunch of Seaholm runners gathered around one time. And then there was this little boy on a bike, and I heard him yelling ‘Hey! It’s over here!’ And then I see a bunch of kids gathered around looking at it.’”
As to why he chose Bob Marley’s likeness for the mural, he said the artist has always been something of an idol of his.
“I used to live in Hawaii, and they’re all into reggae there. He’s just one of my favorites. He’s a great role model, if you actually learn about the man. He did a lot of great things politically. Worldwide, his music is still loved, and he’s been gone 30 years.”
Zirwes said he expects that the design will last the summer, until the weather eventually wears it away. He said next summer he’ll create a new image for his driveway, and hopes to eventually take his idea to other streets.
“I think it would be really cool to maybe do some things in downtown Birmingham on the sidewalks. I’ve thought about going into Detroit and Pontiac and doing some stencils. It’s adding art, but it’s not defacing. It’s cleaning.”
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