Storm Print City turns printmaking into a public act of art, at once preserving history, making art, and serving as a beacon of curiosity for any passerby. Once a dear-friend clued me in to the work of Russell Muits, it resonated with so clearly.
Accessible, beautiful, simple, concise. His vision is clear and the world is fuel as he hads locations to his roster, making relief prints in public and adapting technique in a way that turns the art into a vehicle for dialogue and engagement, because he’s printing out on the street, but also shows us that art is lurking around every corner just waiting to be envisioned.
As IPaintMyMind earmarks Storm Print City’s prolific relief print output for our permanent collection, we’re thrilled to look behind the curtain into Russell’s trajectory, process, and inspiration.
We also find out if the cops have ever put the kibosh on his public art making.
Evan La Ruffa: I’m so glad to have connected, Russell! A friend clued me in to your Instagram account and as soon as I saw the work, I was like, “This is sooooo up my alley!”
Russell Muits aka Storm Print City: Hey Evan – I’m glad we connected as well. Love the work you’re doing and honored for a chance to be a part of it. It’s funny you said “alley” as I’ve spent a lot of time in those over the years.
EL: Lol… Ok, so first things first. How did you come up with this idea?! I love it so much. Such a fun way to print! Tell us the story of how you came to making this work.
RM: In the Fall of 2007, I was working in downtown Seattle as the Art Director for a digital curriculum provider. There was a hatch cover outside my office with a map of downtown molded into it. I kept stopping, admiring, and thinking how cool it was. One day (after happy hour), I was showing someone from my team and I thought, “we should print this.”
We grabbed some crude materials from Blick, made two prints of it, then sat there for 3 hours waiting for it to dry cause we had no real plan on how we were gonna carry the 3×3 foot pieces back home. I ended up taking it back to my place and stared at it all night. The next morning and over the next couple of days, I started to notice little things I had not seen on the actual cover. After that, I became obsessed. Storm Print City was born.
EL: I love that story, dude. Sometimes you just need to follow your attention! Where are you from and where do you live now?
RM: I grew up in South Jersey outside of Philly, spent a number of years in Seattle, and currently live in Chicago (Ravenswood).
My Dad was born in Atlantic City and my mother on South Street in Philly. I’m pretty sure they looked at a map and chose a piece of land directly in the middle. That gave me access to the city, some country, and the ocean. I would go and visit my great grandmother in Philly almost every week and it was always exciting. We would wonder inside of Zipperhead, witnessed Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens grow from a few bottles to what it is today, and we also watched her rag rug collection take over her 1830 rowhome. People in the neighborhood would bring my great grandmother their old clothes. She would then rip them to rags and crochet circular rugs that she would sell on South Street. She was known as the rug lady and now that I thnk about it… they were almost the exact size of the covers I print today. Maybe one day I’ll design a “rug cover”. I always loved going to the city and ended up there for college. In the early 2000s, I created a portal for local Philly artists where I offered them free websites to promote their work. In the first two years I created over 200 websites and connected with so many inspiring people. thought I’d never leave the city of Brotherly Love. My design career started to take shape, I became Art Director for a company based in Seattle, and I got to visit for a company meeting. Before that, I had never been west of Harrisburg or north of NYC. I got off the plane that day and it opened a whole new world. The white capped mountains on a summer day, lots of green spaces, and a completely different cultural vibe. It’s almost the same feeling I get today when hunting for iron in new places. I spent the next 7 years living and working in downtown Seattle, exploring the Pacific Northwest, and building new relationships with strangers. Seattle is where the project started. It’s where I created the Overlooked Art Tour and it’s where I got that first excitement of exploration. I did miss the grit, the people, the food, and family on the East Coast. In 2010, a late night Craigs’s List job search had me looking in Chicago. I applied for one job – the owner happened to be from Seattle, he saw my current address, and said come on over for an interview. 10 years later he’s a friend, a client, and I’m running my design business from a workspace inside their building. I love Chicago and have made some great friends over the years. Plus, it’s kinda in the middle as I travel to both Coasts a few times a year.
That was long. Philly made me curious and gave me a passion. Seattle gave me the excitement of travel, and Chicago brought it all together 🙂
EL: How many cities have you visited to make these urban relief prints? What have you noticed as far as the various designs for these manhole covers?
RM: Honestly, I kinda lost count a couple of years ago. It was over 50 at that time so I’m guessing somewhere around 75 different cities or towns. My initial goal as Storm Print City was to make at least one print for all 52 states – I’m getting close along with a handful of international cities.
The designs often vary in each city and they also use the same designs or very similar elements. Many cities have designs and symbols unique to the specific region for instance: Memphis has a Steamboat, Nashville has a record, New Orleans has a pelican, Philly has a keystone, and so on. In the more modern designs, you’ll see messages like “Drains to Waterways” and cons of fish. This tells you it’s a drain that goes directly to a water source. If you ask me, those messages should be bigger (and painted brightly).
I’m more drawn to the history, stories, and local markings rather than the details of the actual design. 150 years ago, most cities had multiple foundries pouring and casting iron products almost exclusively for their neighborhoods. Today, there are less than 5 total that I know still producing covers in the U.S. Most modern cities are using the same design produced in the same foundry just with a different name or function written on it.
I look for the oldest or most unique pieces I can find. Iron that has the foundry’s name on it, maybe an address, and if I’m really lucky – a date. There’s nothing cooler than printing an antique piece of iron on the same block it was made over a century ago.
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