The Face Of A Movement

by | Jul 27, 2020 | ART

Loose Screw Tattoo owner Jesse Smith painted an iconic mural of George Floyd on his boarded-up storefront. Now the tattoo artist is using his work to support local charities. 

Since the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests saw an outpouring of support in Richmond in June, many businesses have reacted to the movement in different ways. Some have boarded up storefronts in response to damage and theft, and some have left signs and other messages showing support for the protesters.

Loose Screw Tattoo owner Jesse Smith saw this difficult situation as an opportunity. Smith took advantage of his boarded-up storefront to make a statement with his art. In the newfound free space, he painted a detailed mural of George Floyd to show Loose Screw’s support for the movement. Now, after positive feedback, Smith has auctioned his art to raise money for local charities helping communities in need. 

Originally hesitant to board up his shop, Smith eventually relented at the urging of his employees and brought out the plywood. 

“I didn’t really want to board up,” Smith said. “I felt like it sent the wrong message. I didn’t want to present that front to the protesters that were coming through… [But] a couple of people in my shop were feeling uncomfortable not boarding up. They were afraid some people would come in and steal or destroy some of their artwork.” 

PHOTO: George Floyd Mural at Loose Screw Tattoo by Jesse Smith

The blank canvas of plywood motivated Smith’s artistic instincts. He was compelled to cover the empty space, and as a graffiti artist for 10 years during the 90s and 2000s before opening his tattoo shop, he had an idea. With a few spare hours and a couple of loose spray paint cans, Smith created a mural of Floyd, the infamous victim of police brutality, on his storefront.

“George Floyd, to me, was a symbol of a time when people were ready for change,” Smith said. “I felt the need to paint his face there to show support for that movement.” 

In the shop’s statement about the mural, Loose Screw Tattoo said, “As part of the richly diverse community of Richmond VA, Loose Screw Tattoo stands in full support of those protesting against police brutality, systemic racism, and the unfair treatment of the black community in our country and across the world.” They continued, “Now more than ever, it is critical to listen to black voices, educate yourself and others, and be an advocate for human rights. We encourage you to vote in the primaries this month and to donate and show support to local/nationwide organizations that are doing incredible work for the cause. In order to incite change, we must unite and put in the work necessary to make a difference.” 

Unexpectedly for Smith, the mural garnered much attention from the public. Locals took photos, created vigils, and left flowers in front of the artwork. To further support the cause, Smith has auctioned off the mural to the highest bidder to donate the money to a local charity.

“At this point in my career… I don’t really make art to keep it,” Smith said. “I do it to sell it. When I started thinking about what to do with [the mural], selling it and keeping the money was super distasteful. I wanted to use that money to support a community that’s been suffering.”

PHOTO: Portrait of George Floyd by Loose Screw Artist Anna Wolff

Smith’s auction ran for ten days, from July 7 through 17. All proceeds from the auction will go to Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Richmond, a branch of the larger MADR network that provides communities affected by disaster with food, medicine, and other much needed supplies. 

This auction is the most recent charitable endeavor from Smith. It is being presented by the Giving Arts Foundation, a charity organization formed as a collaboration between Loose Screw Tattoo and the Richmond Tattoo, Art and Music Festival. Over the years, the foundation has done a number of tattoo benefit events. Unfortunately, many of their events have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19, another global issue which the Giving Arts Foundation is working to organize a charity event for. 

“It’s always been a plan in the back of my mind, as I got older, to start giving back,” Smith said. “It feels really good to be able to use your talent to do something other than put money in your pocket.”

As the movement pushes forward, local artists and organizations will continue to show their support in creative ways. The Giving Arts Foundation is planning a Live Art For Charity event in September, which will aid the nonprofit in its mission to “empower artists in localities around the country to positively impact the community at large.” To find out more about Loose Screw Tattoo, visit their website and see their work on Instagram

Top Photo via Loose Screw Tattoo

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart is a Senior Broadcast Journalism Student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Jonah hopes to use his work to spread goodwill and a positive message. Despite this healthy outlook, he survives solely on a destructive diet of Japanese action games and Cheetos.

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