Artist Dirk Rozich creates LeBron James mural at Akron museum
- Stark County artist Dirk Rozich created the paintings used for the murals displayed at the new LeBron James museum in Akron.
- Artist painted 14 portraits of NBA superstar for three-piece mural.
- Mural tells the story of LeBron’s life, from childhood to Cleveland championship to community work.
Stark County artist Dirk Rozich caught himself in a moment of awe while painting images of global sports icon LeBron James.
Working on a trio of 28-by-20 inch paintings, each one would be enlarged into murals at the LeBron James’ Home Court museum at House Three Thirty in Akron.
“It was very emotional when I finished the first painting,” he recalled. “I think that’s when it dawned on me what I was doing. I thought, ‘Wow.'”
“There was a little bit of intimidation because it is LeBron James,” Rozich said of the pressure to create a mural worthy of the celebrity and his museum. “I can’t think of a professional athlete in the world bigger than LeBron.”
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How Dirk Rozich came to paint LeBron James
The 43-year-old North Canton area resident was originally asked to create a mural on the facility’s parking deck. But the LeBron James Foundation was so impressed with Rozich’s previous artwork — which included a commissioned portrait of former President George W. Bush — that it asked him to produce an elaborate mural inside.
Rozich was so moved by the community-driven mission of the organization that he voluntarily created the artwork.
“Sometimes the work is more important than the paycheck,” he said. “And this was definitely one of those projects.”
House Three Thirty is a multi-use facility featuring entertainment and community programs such as job training and family financial planning. The complex is affiliated with the I Promise School, which James created as part of Akron Public Schools.
Opening in late November and described as an immersive multimedia experience, the LeBron James’ Home Court museum is on the lower level of the renovated building, formerly Tangier.
“It turned out absolutely great,” Rozich said of the murals. “And I’m very honored to have had a small part of the building of this institution (House Three Thirty and the museum).”
Nicholas Lopez, creative director for the LeBron James Family Foundation, said House Three Thirty reflects James’ commitment to the city of Akron and Northeast Ohio while drawing people to his hometown both from inside and outside the area.
“He continues to chase that dream of making Akron a place where everyone should come,” he said.
“This is a place to be inspired and dream big and reimagine how you can do things not only in your home but in your business (and) in your community,” Lopez said of the House Three Thirty complex, which also features family movie days and performers like comedian and University of Akron alum George Wallace on Jan. 12-13.
Rozich has created NFL-themed artwork in downtown Canton
Specializing in realistic illustration, Rozich has been a full-time artist since 2014.
An Alliance area native and 1999 West Branch High School graduate, Rozich has created murals for the ArtsinStark NFL-themed outdoor installation “The ELEVEN” in downtown Canton.
Canton pieces include a mural of Joe Namath outside the Canton Museum of Art and a mural depicting NFL founders Ralph Hay and Jim Thorpe. Rozich also has created football-focused artwork for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Bush painting was in honor of the 43rd president receiving the 2021 Ambassador of Golf Award at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship.
Rozich also was selected by the city of Canton in a competitive process to create art on utility boxes at around a dozen sites in downtown Canton and for a mural project on Court Avenue. Local themes on the utility pole project will include celebrities with ties to Canton, including musical artists Macy Gray, The O’Jays and hip-hop and rap artist Trippie Redd.
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Rozich also created a digital wrap of Stark County native and PGA Hall of Fame member Renee Powell. The work was digitally created before being enlarged and printed on vinyl and installed at Canton Central Catholic High School.
The LeBron mural was an evolution of Rozich’s work.
“Primarily, I am an athletic illustrator,” said Rozich, a graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design with a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration. “It just sort of happened organically.”
Rozich titled the LeBron mural: “The Kid. The King. The One.”
“It was kind of cool,” said the artist. “I got to show more sides of an athlete other than just what he does with a ball in his hand.”
How did Rozich create the LeBron masterpiece?
Rozich’s three-piece mural at the LeBron museum was based on photographs representing different eras and achievements in James’ life and career.
Rozich and foundation staff sifted through more than 100 photographs before deciding which ones would be recreated for the collective mural. Moments include the night James was drafted in 2003 as the No. 1 overall NBA selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers; his first slam dunk as a professional basketball player; James’ Olympic gold medals; and James standing outside the I Promise School.
“It truly represents what the (museum symbolizes),” Lopez said. “And that’s a journey through LeBron’s life.”
LeBron’s championship with the Cavaliers had special meaning for Rozich.
“When LeBron broke down (emotionally), we all broke down,” he said of Cleveland sports fans. “I was up yelling along with everyone else in Northeast Ohio. That was probably the most I’ve felt connected to a sports championship.”
Drawing and then painting each collage of images, Rozich said the individual panels of the mural went through three to four iterations before completion. A total of 14 portraits of LeBron were painted for the mural − the most Rozich has ever done of the same person.
Each of the three original paintings was made using watercolor wash with acrylic paint overtop, he explained. The intense chroma was derived from applying multiple layers of thinned paint, Rozich noted.
The paintings were professionally photographed before being digitally scanned at a high resolution, enlarged and then printed on vinyl and installed as a wrap onto three walls surrounding the steps leading down to the LeBron museum.
That led to uncertainty and a bit of nervousness over how the smaller artwork would reproduce at such a magnified scale, Rozich acknowledged.
Another challenge was basing some of the painted imagery on early photos of LeBron when he was a toddler and young child. Older photos lacked the resolution and clarity of digital photography, so depicting the images with realism and detail was a concern, he noted.
Painting the murals on-site using scaffolding was not possible because the museum steps were being demolished and rebuilt to accommodate an elevator, Rozich said.
LeBron James loved the murals
A feeling of relief washed over Rozich when he saw the murals unveiled at an early preview of the LeBron James’ Home Court museum, which features never-before-seen items from the athlete’s life and career.
Vibrant, vivid and popping with color, the massive murals are stunning, both at first glance and when visitors study the detail of the artwork. Prints of the original LeBron-themed paintings are for sale at House Three Thirty’s gift shop.
“We wanted something to stand out to let you know you’re about to begin a different experience,” Lopez said of entering the museum. “… Dirk’s artwork sets the stage for what you are about to see and leave with.”
Lopez said both James and his mother, Gloria James, were pleased with the finished art. He noted that the mother and son both provided input for the murals and gave final approval.
“For (LeBron) to see that for the first time, it was exciting,” said Lopez, who described the four-time NBA champion as an art connoisseur who decorates his home with artwork.
Last month, James brought his Los Angeles Lakers teammates to House Three Thirty and the museum when they were in Cleveland to face the Cavaliers. Several teammates wanted prints of the mural to take home, Lopez said.
Creating artwork of James is about as cool as it gets, Rozich admitted.
“My (10-year-old) son is a LeBron fan,” the artist said. “He’s very proud of dad.”
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First appeared on www.cantonrep.com