It came as a happy surprise to most residents of the borough when a once-bland block wall suddenly came to life during a hot and dry July. The wall is owned by ID Labs, a recording studio at 363 Butler Street where native Pittsburgh artists like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller have recorded their beloved albums. The adjacent building was demolished in 2021 and replaced with a parking lot for the new Rear End Gastropub and Garage - leaving what was essentially a blank canvas.
What started to take shape was a beautiful and moving tribute of to the late rapper Mac Miller. The mural depicts Miller at various stages of his life and career with subtle references to his hometown of Pittsburgh throughout. The rapper is painted in seven images that span the entire building: a joyful little boy, a diehard Steelers fan, a songwriter at work, and various portrayals of a young artist coping with fame and success.
Eric Dan, owner of ID Labs, joined with Miller's family to work with the California-based artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. As a major fan of Mac Miller, Zermeño drove across the country with his friend, Nick Flax, to pay tribute to the late artist who's music meant so much to them. As Zermeño worked throughout the sun-filled afternoons, he was greeted by many community members who expressed their admiration of his work. Carl Funtal of Cop Out Pierogies supplied Zermeño and Nick with his famous pierogies and Polish food through out the weeks, showing these two LA artists some Etna hospitality. As the mural was finishing, Carl shared his gratitude for the business district's newest addition and the artists:
"We had four sets of customers today that were only in Etna to see the mural, and found us because of this mural. Many businesses in Etna are going to benefit because of your work."
Like Carl reflected, residents and out-of-towners have been flocking to the site of the mural to see the progress. One such admirer, local business owner Tom Underiner, commented on his impression of the artwork.
"What a celebration! Such superb artistry, both in the mural and in the work of the man depicted in it. The mural really centers some good attention here. I've seen folks from all over the city coming to photograph themselves with the work. Fantastic energy. And from what I've heard it has already started some important conversations."
Etna residents are fortunate indeed to have such a stunning work of public art in our community. Weather you're familiar with the subject of the mural or not, everyone can appreciate the artistry, the vibrancy, and celebration of a life that touched so many and was lost far too soon.