Spreading awareness through art

A mural, done by Langston Allston, a local artist and former cartoonist for The Daily Illini, is featured on a C-U based house. 

Hidden gems are scattered throughout Champaign-Urbana. With several located throughout the community, one is hidden in the back of Shatterglass Studios; another is in the “biker alley” between Courier Café and Cafeteria & Company. Each of these captures local history and stories.

Langston Allston, University alumnus in FAA, is behind these gems, creating murals that bring forth a colorful, one-frame snapshot to tell a story that holds close to the community.

At 23, Allston is still exploring his creative opportunities, being pulled city-after-city to fill empty walls and create a meaningful message that balances and combines both his artistic measure and political views.

For as long as he can remember, Allston has drawn everyday, but he found his love for painting murals when he finished his first in 2013 — one of the hidden gems that lies in Downtown Urbana’s “biker alley.” He learned the ins-and-out of mural painting, grasping the technique that stayed true to his artistic style yet caught the public eye.

Brett Hays is one public eye that became enamored with Allston’s technique. He had the muralist recreate a scene from “Back To The Future” to go on the back of Shatterglass Studios, a film company in downtown Champaign.

Hays, who is co-owner and producer of Shatterglass, hired Allston because Allston strives for constant perfection in his work. Hays said he feels that this quality is something that isn’t seen in artists very often, only in ones who become successful.

“There’s something unique about Langston because he continually gets better. Many young artists want to be successful without putting hours upon hours upon hours into their work, and the thing about Langston is he’s painting even if no one is buying it,” Hays said. “It’s something that you don’t see very often, and I think that he will become very successful. All the great artists, they weren’t born great artists. They had to work hard to get to (where they are).”

Allston paints on whatever surface he can find — metal, brick, cement. If there’s an open wall up for grabs, he wants it. Public painting is a chance for him to express a message that is often untold, a message that resonates and identifies with its audience.

“I’m from (C-U), and I love this community, but I want to talk about things that are much wider,” Allston said. “There are issues that are pervasive throughout the country, issues of injustice and social justice, like racism.”

With the help of the Internet, he feels that these topics have spread quickly, but there needs to be more conversations about these injustices that are frank and earnest, especially issues that can be swept under the rug in this community.

“I like to talk about these issues with broader strokes or about other areas that I’ve visited to feel that I can present something that is more dynamic to paint about,” Allston said.

His most recent work was inspired by a visit to Ferguson back in October. He witnessed 500 people in front of the police department during the Ferguson National Day Against Police Brutality. Arrests were being made; police were in riot gear; tear gas was being set off. Being apart of such an intense situation, Allston said he felt inspiration to paint a message that he feels is essential to spreading awareness of the injustices that have been going on across the country.

While working on a piece in New York City, the Michael Brown trial decision was released. Allston was exposed to the riots and chaos that filled the streets.

Both trips to Ferguson and New York left him with an overload of inspiration.

“Seeing that many people mobilized in the street and energized about that topic gave me a lot of imagery to work with and a lot of energy to keep making and producing. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said. “Seeing that first hand, then not seeing those situations being reflected anywhere on national news was frustrating in a new way but energizing in a new way, that this message has to get out, and this many people are mobilizing the situation to spread awareness.”

Up until his recent visits to both Ferguson and New York, Allston said he had never seen so much support for bringing awareness and finding some kind of solution.

“Its cool to see (the support and awareness) growing, and I try to pull some of that into my artwork. I don’t know how much you can necessarily do with a painting, especially with a painting that’s on canvas. They have a really limited audience,” Allston said. “But I’m a painter, and I have to communicate what I can communicate.”

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