Leaving his mark: French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat covers the city with four murals

Every artist wants to feel seen. French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat earlier this month made sure one of his most famous works, “The Man Who Walks Through Walls,” reaches everyone making their way through Cleveland.

How? He painted it on a Cuyahoga River Viaduct pier, near Merwin’s Wharf in the Flats.

This particular work is Le Rat’s self-portrait, explains Graffiti HeArt founder and president Stamy Paul. It portrays comedian and filmmaker Buster Keaton, one of Le Rat’s favorite actors, carrying a suitcase through different countries across the globe—reflecting Le Rat’s nomadic lifestyle and his mission to reach a broad audience.

French graffiti artist Blek Le RatNonprofit artists’ platform Graffiti HeArt brought Le Rat to Cleveland earlier this month to paint five murals around the city, including "The Man Who Walks Through Walls" as a gift to The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA). 

GCRTA general manager and CEO Chief India Birdsong says pairing with Graffiti HeArt in this case made perfect sense.

“This is an awesome example of community collaboration in motion, as GCRTA and Graffiti HeArt both serve the community spirit in different ways,” she says. “Using our collective talents and resources, we can provide artists the opportunity to display [artists’] special skills on unique and challenging canvases throughout the Greater Cleveland area. I’m excited to have French artist Blek Le Rat—a true pioneer of street art—create one of his famous works on an RTA bridge pier.”

But Le Rat’s work in Cleveland doesn’t end there. Le Rat's four murals painted during his stray in Cleveland are placed throughout the city, mostly in densely populated areas.

“We want spaces that are public and get a lot of traffic,” says Paul. “We want people to appreciate the artist and their work.”

In the Graffiti HeArt Gallery on Superior Avenue in AsiaTown, Le Rat stenciled “Tug-of-War,” depicting Le Rat and children from different ethnic backgrounds playing tug-of-war. It’s his third time painting this particular mural—with the other two renditions in Oregon and Dubai.

On Prospect Avenue, you can find “The Juggler.” It’s his first time ever creating this mural, making it an original for the city of Cleveland. The mural depicts a young man juggling six balls while standing.

Outside the Blue Agave on East 4th Street, Le Rat painted the “Ballerina.” One of his more popular murals, he’s replicated this piece on several walls in the United States and around the world.

“We took the time to learn about each mural before deciding where Le Rat should stencil it,” says Paul. “Each work should have synergy with the atmosphere it’s placed in.”

This project has been more than two years in the making. Le Rat was originally supposed to visit Cleveland in April of 2020, but COVID-19 put plans on hold.

Stamy says Graffiti HeArt is proud to bring this “pioneer in street art,” to our city. When he was in town earlier this month, the organization even introduced Le Rat to one of his inspirations, New York-based Taki 183. The icons in the street art world spent some time in a Q&A with an audience at Graffiti HeArt.

The two then worked on a mural in the Graffiti HeArt gallery, "Le Sacre Du Graffiti."

When you find yourself strolling through the CLE, keep an eye out for Le Rat’s murals. Considering their locations and the fame of the artist, they’re worth the visits.

Editor's note: This article has been edited to clarify Graffiti HeArt brought Le Rat to Cleveland and offered "The Man Who Walks Through Walls" to GCRTA as a gift.

Read more articles by Dana Shugrue.

Dana Shugrue is a graduate of John Carroll University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media and Professional Writing. She is a full-time Content Specialist at Budget Dumpster, and part-time freelance writer for FreshWater Cleveland. When she’s not writing, you can catch Dana taking a run through the metros or sipping a latte at her favorite local coffee shop.