Mural hunting inspired me to pick up the paint brush again

Artist Matthew Lee Rosen (aka Matthew Rosen) at a mural in Rogers Park
Artist Matthew Lee Rosen at a mural in Rogers Park

A couple years back, I randomly found myself driving through my old stomping grounds of Wicker Park. I lived there in my early 20's… in a tiny studio apartment above an out-of-place French restaurant with a methadone clinic across the street. As terrible as that sounds, it was quite the dream location for a young aspiring artist. A grungy, graffiti-filled stretch of road with a ton of creatives living in low rent. That afternoon, I was in complete awe from how the neighborhood changed. All the grunge has been replaced by women pushing baby strollers down the sidewalk with a cup of Starbucks in their hand.

My first #MuralMap post: The Greetings Tour wall on Milwaukee Avenue.

As I approached my old hood, cruising down Milwaukee Avenue, I pulled over on a whim to take a picture of a mural in a random parking lot.

A giant, billboard-sized vacation postcard had grabbed my attention. I snapped a few pics, got back in the car, and thought to myself… there’s so much art around me that deserves my eyeballs. Yet, I move past it all with such ease on an everyday basis. I really need to stop an appreciate it.

When I got back home later that afternoon, an idea popped. I immediately created an Instagram account and began my own personal #MuralMap project. The Greetings Tour postcard by Victor Ving and Lisa Beggs was officially map entry number one.

Baseball card artist Matthew Lee Rosen posing in front of the Cubs Honey Bear by San Francisco-based artist Fnnch.

There’s an incredible amount of art all over the city and especially within my current neighborhood of Rogers Park. I hopped on my longboard and began skating the surrounding blocks on a mission to photograph and map them. After collecting just about every wall in RP, I started to plan afternoon drives out to other neighborhoods known for good street art: Wicker Park, Pilsen, West Town, the West Loop, Humbolt Park, etc.

Close-up shot in front of Fnnch’s Honey Bears in West Town (it was later repaired from graffiti damage).

I covered a lot of ground… photographed a ton of paint… discovered fantastic artists… and stumbled across some fun eating spots.

This new hobby had me re-exploring my own town and learning new things. Since I travel so frequently for work, I expanded my mural hunting to other cities. Days before each flight, I’d start planning a walking tour of locations to visit. As soon as I landed and checked into the hotel, I was rushing out the lobby door on a new hunt. New York, Detroit, Boston, Salem, Orlando, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Seattle, Austin, San Antonio, Bangkok, Dublin. I’ve mapped hundreds of painted brick walls.

My list of favorite cities and artists began to grow simultaneously. Popular muralists like Shepard Fairey, Tristan Eaton, Jerkface and Fnnch got my own creative juices flowing.

Matthew Lee Rosen at the Bacardi Art Motel by muralist Kate Lynn Lewis in Las Vegas

I was itching to paint again… something I hadn’t done since living across the street from that methadone clinic over 15 years ago.

I went digging through the condo and found all my old art supplies… then started painting some anti-Trump political cartoons. What can I say… it was heavy on my mind, and it felt great to get out of my head.

As I continued my mural map, I became fascinated with the idea of painting my own. It was a dream that seemed far out of reach, but I came up with a temporary solution.

I created my own mini murals by painting small-scale model buildings that were intended for train sets.

After painting them in detail… I put together my own special tripod setup, stuck it all in my trunk, and drove around the city looking for ideal locations to photograph them in real settings. Suddenly, just like that… I painted my own giant murals!

An Andy Warhol-inspired mini mural by Matthew Lee Rosen, photographed in the same parking lot as the Greetings Tour mural.

As fun as the mini murals were to make, I wasn’t entirely in love with the project as a whole. It just wasn’t something I really wanted to dedicate a lot of time to, and build a large body of work.

So… I kept hunting for murals, waiting for the right brainstorm to arrive. It finally landed when I flew down to South Florida to visit my folks.

Baseball card artist Matthew Lee Rosen goofing around with his Giant Gum Stick portraits of junk wax-era Topps cards.

For years, my mom and dad were nudging me to take the boxes of old baseball cards out of their house.

They’d been sitting in a closet, collecting dust, since I left the house for college. As I sifted through the boxes, flipping past card after card, I fell in love with them all over again. The smell of cardboard and bubble gum brought me back to a happy place… childhood memories of my grandfather spoiling me every day with wax packs of Topps in the summer of 1985.

The cards themselves were so iconic. The hockey stick stripes on the ’82 Topps… the large, colorful Napoli Serial font on the ’86 set… the waving red, white and blue stripes on the ’89 All-Star cards. That moment, I knew what I wanted to create. I would repurpose old baseball cards to celebrate the pop culture of the hobby… and America’s pastime.

I’ve since created an expansive, growing collection of baseball card art, and I wonder if any of it would’ve happened without that random drive down Milwaukee avenue.

Thank you for reading an original thought by baseball card artist Matthew Lee Rosen. You can may also follow my #MuralMap on my Instagram. Learn more about me by visiting my other sites: fortheartofit. & Matthew Lee Rosen.

I’m a baseball card artist… repurposing vintage cards to celebrate the pop culture of America’s pastime. Friends just call me “Rosen.”

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