Hot off his “Bel Air” mural (and a million other amazing projects), the acclaimed painter unveils his new work – and first NFTs.
by Jennifer Lynn Robinson
Larger than life and bursting with color, Alloyius Mcilwaine’s murals have made him one of the hottest artists in Philadelphia. Since he launched on the art scene with a painting in a hair salon, Mcilwaine has done collaborations with Maker’s Mark, the Philadelphia Eagles and SEPTA. His murals have emblazoned the walls of Comcast Technology Center, Villanova University and Philadelphia International Airport, where he just completed a mural inspired by “Bel Air,” the new reboot of Will Smith’s signature TV series.
That wasn’t Mcilwaine’s first brush with Hollywood; one of his pieces was highlighted in “True Story,” Kevin Hart’s recent Netflix series set in Philadelphia. The two projects have geographical connections to Mcilwaine. “I grew up in Kevin Hart’s neighborhood and moved out to Will Smith’s neighborhood,” he said with a laugh.
Center City is where Mcilwaine’s new exhibit is on display. From Feb. 19 – March 6, “Styles Clash,” Mcilwaine’s solo show will be at Morton Contemporary Gallery. Light, unity and positivity are Mcilwaine’s themes, communicated through still lifes as well as portraits similar to those in Mcilwaine’s Muses Vol 1 book . “I like to diversify and work with different mediums and styles,” Mcilwaine says. “The clash is what I’m trying to do in my brain. But I tend to paint from my heart and however it comes out is what it is. You’re seeing the different sides of my brain, the more structured side and the side that is about explosions of color all over the place.”
Many pieces feature “kudoglyphs,” the linguistic symbols Mcilwaine created. “It stands for positive affirmations in symbol form,” he explained. “There’s so much negativity in the world that I wanted to hide positive, encouraging messages in all of my paintings.”
Those kudoglyphs are the subject of Mcilwaine’s first NFT collection. Titled “Return of the Kudoglyphs” and created in collaboration with CultureVerse, the NFTs are being launched in conjunction with the Morton Gallery exhibit.
While the metaverse and Hollywood seem within Mcilwaine’s reach, his beginnings are quite analog. Comic books were his first inspiration.
“I was a very, very hyper child,” Mcilwaine said. “For my mom to have a break, she’d sit me down and ask me to draw my favorite comic book character. That’s how I fell in love with art.”
But Mcilwaine was headed into a career in the sciences. After a high school internship at GlaxoSmithKline, he enrolled at Neumann University to study biochemistry. “I thought that I wanted to cure diseases,” he said. “I got to college and I was good at that, but in all of my notebooks I was sketching and doodling in the borders of every textbook that I had. I was like: This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Even though Mcilwaine comes from a creative background (his family is packed with musicians, including sister Kharisma Mcilwaine) making a living as a painter seemed farfetched. “Then there was a paradigm shift when we saw Banksy, Shepard Fairey and their street art becoming commercially successful,” he said. “That opened a lot of doors for me, because it was what I wanted to do.”
He’s doing it. Mcilwaine has painted murals in 22 states (he wants to hit all 50) and Paris, London, Tokyo, Costa Rica, Casablanca and Ontario. Meantime, he’s relaunching his Cultures Clothing Co. apparel line and working on documentaries. Up next: Mcilwaine has an art showcase in April at Neiman Marcus in King of Prussia and a Juneteenth project with the Philadelphia Union.