A new artistic movement attracts natives of Youngstown | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo Submitted / Brendan T. McNally …. Youngstown native Brendan T. McNally, right, and Amir Diop stand next to their collaborative painting by legendary artist, painter and cultural leader Jean Michel Basquiat. Basquiat was one of the central figures of the neo-expressionist movement.

While recording “Kind of Blue”, Miles Davis brought some notes to the studio sessions.

Instead, its fast-paced improvisational harmonies and melodies painted a picture; his legendary sextet featuring John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley, accompanied by an equally talented rhythm section, has been added to the canvas.

This marriage of different styles creates a sensory experience like no other. That’s exactly what artist and Youngstown native Brendan T. McNally, 40, is trying to conjure up with his collaboration partner, artist Amir Diop, in their Neo Savage movement.

“It’s an idea of ​​putting art between multiple artists – the idea is like jazz where you paint on a common canvas the same way you have a bass, a soloist, a pianist in a band and they play against each other to complement each other’s style,” McNally said.

The two met at the height of the pandemic in 2020, with both artists riding on what McNally described as a “Mad Max-esque” post-apocalyptic SoHo, where businesses had been boarded up with plywood, partly to because of the lockdowns, in large part because of the societal unrest sparked by the police shooting of George Floyd creating space for an artistic revolution marred by protests.

“It is poetic that this artistic movement began as a sign of protest and turned into a project of revitalization. Not a financial revitalization, but a spiritual one. NYC heart grows, I showed up and it came to fruition. The paint was as much from the street as it was from me,” McNally said.

Combining the styles of several artists creates something new.

Prior to this point, McNally had no experience in the field of street art.

The transition was born out of desperation after he lost his online teaching job at Ohio State University, where he taught foreign scientists who were later to become research professors at OSU to work on their English skills. and in teaching.

Recalling that time, McNally said: “It was a surreal experience where I got to listen to the highest level of scientists who conducted million dollar research projects, as they simulated interviews in several fields of study.”

When the pandemic hit, the opportunity faded as researchers returned home to their countries, just as McNally returned to New York in late 2019 with her 5-year-old daughter.

“We had become temporarily homeless for a while at the time and crashed into another artist’s studio in SoHo,” McNally said. “A close friend saw the condemned buildings, called me and said I should go there and paint a mural.”

The Canfield High School graduate used to paint unsung heroes in the 1990s.

During his formative years, he attended the Columbus College of Arts, where McNally developed his style based on drawing civil rights figures, describing it as his way of paying homage to the unsung heroes left behind in the story.

“My original artistic influences came from researching the Old Masters, as most of the artwork I had access to in the pre-internet area of ​​Youngstown was in history books,” McNally said.

McNally described the experience of painting on the streets of SoHo as a “spiritual experience” that gave him the chance to live out a childhood fantasy of painting in the infamous neighborhood known as a hub for artists in the 70s and 80s.

As the marchers descended Broadway Avenue, letting their voices be heard, McNally let his paintbrush channel his feelings onto a piece of plywood; creating ‘River Unknown’, a mural of the late Floyd and a first look at the Neo Savage style.

“Neo started out as a convenient way for me and Diop to get around the fact that we had no money, we just had the paint provided to us. We took turns using the paint for our street murals. and the idea came to me to collaborate,” McNally said.

Their movement merges their contrasting styles, with McNally’s work adding classical elements to the portraits, and Diop adding street and jazz elements, with heavy use of bright colors and cartoons.

With increased media coverage and a growing interest from local businesses in using the work of street artists to beautify the city, McNally, Diop and several other artists formed the Soho Renaissance Factory, an artists’ collective and a group of community outreach that strengthened their working relationship.

“We were trying to help the community and the community helped us; we were bringing people back to the area, so that was a positive thing and the business community latched onto it,” McNally said.

Catching the attention of the NoMo Hotel, the hotel hosted SRF artists, giving them the opportunity to live there while giving them carte blanche to paint murals inside the hotel. For a time McNally’s Nina Simone mural hung in the hotel lobby, preserving his work which originated in the street.

Meanwhile, McNally’s work was showcased all over town – a huge feat for a Youngstown kid who had never considered going this far.


McNally often stayed with his grandparents on Orlo Lane near Midlothian Boulevard and the first years in a flat with his parents on Southern Boulevard opposite St. Dominic’s Church.

Looking back, he remembers that it was a time when mafia crimes were commonplace.

Even if you weren’t directly part of that lifestyle, McNally said living in the area meant there was bound to be some overlap.

“I grew up at the Mickey bar. My father was a bartender there, I had been there since I was 4 years old. It was allegedly a mafia bar,” he said.

Around this time, McNally said it was not uncommon to see sections of streets shut down as gunfights broke out between Mafia and gang members.

“Everyone thought there was more to every story, everyone had lips of steel, nobody talked about it but everyone knew it,” McNally said. “When I left it was tough in the city, I was worried about my grandparents.”

Despite the rough edges, the area still remains close to it – the memories of nights spent cruising downtown for punk rock shows at the Draft House.

“There was another place too,” McNally said happily, reminiscing; the place that escaped him for a moment was Nyabinghi.

A time capsule of Youngstown, McNally described it as the pinnacle of the city’s strange underground side.

“It looked like something out of the movie 8-mile. They had rap battles one night and moved on to hardcore heavy death metal the next,” he said. “Youngstown is a very unique place that has that old world feel. There are small enclaves where people there have lived so much.

McNally eventually left the area for a time after losing his passion for art and dropping out of CCAD.

“After that I had a loss of identity, all my life I thought I was going to be an artist,” McNally said. “Almost relative to this life, I joined the Air Force in 2003 at the start of the Iraq war and they trained me as an intelligence analyst.”


For six years, McNally served in the Air Force, and between 2006 and 2008 he had three deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany.

“Meanwhile, I started painting again as a means of self-therapy toward the end of the deployment,” McNally said. “I was struggling mentally. I was painting things I saw there, drawing and selling paintings for officers who wanted work done for them while being in a combat zone.

After the army, McNally found it difficult to accept his time in service.

“When I came back, I felt pretty guilty because I didn’t have this idea that ‘ignorance is a happiness factor,’ so I was kind of torn about how I felt,” McNally said. To cure his nerves, he turns again to art.

McNally worked a series of jobs before moving to New York for the first time from 2009 to 2012, crashing on the floor of a brownstone among 11 skaters, including Matt Lilly, a native of Youngstown, who organized events skating using a backyard halfpipe they had built in the backyard.

These events were infamous in the neighborhood, becoming known as “Shred-stuy” drawing crowds of hundreds, accompanied by five rock bands playing on the rooftops.

Lilly is someone McNally credits with saving his life. Before moving to New York, he was on the verge of becoming homeless.

Making a bit of a name for himself on Brooklyn’s avant-garde scene, McNally said years of partying, drug use and the Army’s realization of his PTSD left him looking for more. stability.

“I didn’t like his competitiveness, so I stopped painting for a few years. It happens a lot with artists where they start having artist blocks and they start relying on substances to do it for them,” McNally said.

He returned to Ohio from 2012 to 2013 to use his GI bill to pursue ESL studies at Kent State University, where he met the future mother of his child and his wife (they later divorced ). During this time, he taught English at a German high school for four months.

In 2014, McNally taught English to business executives in Mexico until her daughter was born in September. McNally was at a crossroads where he had to admit he couldn’t raise a child while traveling.

He pursued a master’s degree at Columbia University in Applied Linguistics in 2016. Subsequently, he obtained a teaching position at Auburn University which turned into his eventual position at OSU.

In his current life, McNally overlooks the Empire State Building from his studio on the corner of Bowery and Spring Street as he and Diop work developing art for a startup app, which provides painting space and business connections for both.

The couple hope the movement will turn into a school.

“I want people to learn how to do a job and then figure out how to monetize it. Almost like an artist incubator,” McNally said.

To suggest a Saturday profile, contact Editor-in-Chief Burton Cole at [email protected] or Metro Editor-in-Chief Marly Reichert at [email protected]

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Christopher S. Washington