There among the 12×19 portraits of gay icons hanging in the MIZE Gallery is a colorful rendering of Keith Haring, the innovative pop artist of the 1980s. The portrait is covered by a thin layer of plexiglass, upon which Chad Mize – creator of the piece – has drawn a series of distinctive cartoonish doodles.
Like all the work in the exhibition LGBTQ+ Icons, the Haring portrait is significant on several levels.
“When I was a kid,” explains Mize, artist, gallery owner and entrepreneur, “I went to the Pop Shop in New York City, where he sold his T-shirts and prints. I was so inspired by seeing that, and I thought ‘That’s what I want to do!’ And here I am in my city, selling my shirts and doing those types of things.”
Mize uses Haring’s own phrase, “accessible art,” to describe the shirts, hats and coffee mugs decorated with his colorful, idiosyncratic work.
LGBTQ+ Icons is Mize Gallery’s annual Pride show. Consisting of 50 12×19 wood-block canvases, each depicting a different artist, activist or celebrity who either identifies as LGBTQ or as an ally, it was intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary, this summer, of the groundbreaking Stonewall Riots.
Mize personally asked 50 artists – he has more than 600 in his database – to choose a name from a master list he created. There was, he reports, no squabbling over who-got-what. As far as he knows, every artist – the majority of them local – created a portrait of the icon they wanted.
The only mandate: The art had to be a portrait, and to fit on the provided canvas.
“I didn’t want them to be all paintings,” Mize says, and that’s how one of the exhibit’s charms came to be: Included are computer-altered photographs, mixed media, spray paint, charcoal, a woodcut and even a portrait made of Legos, alongside oils, acrylics and watercolors.
“Once I started getting all the pieces in, I decided I wanted them all hung side by side,” he explains. “That’s to symbolize equality, and that no one’s competing against each other. So it has that undertone of gay rights, we all just want to be like everybody else.”
Mize Gallery opened just over a year ago at 689 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., in what the City calls the Historic Uptown District.
“The gallery serves many purposes for me,” Mize reflects. “I have my office in the back, so I work here every day on the computer. It’s a great place to have meetings, to invite clients. I can sell my products here.
“And I just love having these group shows. I think it’s really helped the block a lot. A lot of people come in for my openings here. And I love this old building; it’s got character and charm.”
In 2015, Mize’s previous gallery, Blue Lucy, closed after five successful years showcasing new artists. “When I left Blue Lucy, when I broke up with my partner, I had to start over,” he explains.
He started over by getting busy.
Although he grew up in Bradenton, Mize thinks of St. Petersburg as his hometown. As an artist, graphic designer and muralist, his “Chizzy”-branded works are now ubiquitous in St. Pete, in both public and corporate platforms. He created the iconic PARIS LONDON TOYKO ST. PETE shirt, and was commissioned by the Tampa Bay Rays to design the bill of a cap given out to kids when the New York Yankees visited over Mother’s Day Weekend. Approximately 6,000 were made and distributed.
“I’ve been working for myself since 2001,” he says. “It takes a while to get established. Brand recognition.
“But I feel good. St. Pete’s been good to me. I’m on the SHINE Mural Festival committee, I helped start the St. Pete Shuffle back in the day … I’m very civic. I love that. I love doing projects and being involved that way. Helping the city grow and establish.”
Part of that civic pride, for Mize, is turning over his gallery walls to a different artist – or a different artistic concept – every month.
“I always say, well, I don’t have children, so for me it’s kind of that ‘nurture’ aspect,” he laughs. “I get a lot of satisfaction from writing checks to artists and promoting their work. It seems like St. Pete needs that. And I’m not doing it because of that – it’s a passion. I have to do it.
“It also makes it fresh, you know? Like if it was just my art in here … you can only tap into that so much throughout the months. So I feel like this revolving aspect keeps it fresh.
“And that’s what I really love, too. I like changing. By the time the month rolls around, I’ll be ready for the new one. And I just have so much excitement changing it up.”
Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment (727) 251-8529.