When you walk into

Walter Lobyn Hamilton's fireplace room, in his modest half of a double on

Indy's near-northside, you'll notice right away that there's something out of

the ordinary. Displayed on the walls are icons of the past 50 years of popular

music, across wide varieties of genres on unusual looking canvases. These are

Lobyn's portraits of musicians he listens to and plays as a deejay; a number of

these portraits are currently being featured at Art & Soul 2011 at the

Indianapolis Artsgarden.

A portrait of Bob

Dylan rests on the floor, leaning against the wall. Dylan's gaze seems fixed

across the room at a portrait of Erykah Badu placed on a shelf. There's a

canvas portraying Bob Marley in the corner. Marley looks exactly like Marley

and Dylan looks exactly like Dylan (of the BlondeonBlonde-era), but it's the medium that Lobyn uses, when combined

with his amazing technical precision, that lets you know you've stepped into

the dwelling of a unique and gifted artist.

You see, these are

no ordinary portraits.

Lobyn uses broken

shards of vinyl LP records — a product that once supported the entire

music industry in its grooves — as his medium. But his portraits are

built on a firm foundation of realistic portraiture and a confident line. Take,

for example, the portrait of Erykah Badu. He uses vinyl — often thin

little shards, each piece painstakingly glued to the canvas — to

delineate Badu's features from the shoulders up to the hairline. Where the

shards are used to precisely portray her shoulder and the curve of her neck, they

have the fluidity of a well-executed line drawing.

Her hair is where

the vinyl really comes alive, and largely departs from realistic portraiture.

Her hair is everywhere; it's a huge Afro composed of jagged and curved pieces

of vinyl of varying sizes stacked one on top of the other as well as LP

centerpieces bearing her name. And there's another centerpiece with the logo

"Motown," denoting a certain Detroit-based record label, which brings to mind a

whole era of African-American music. Badu's hair is rich and thick and seems to

have infinite depth while, at the same time, reflecting light. Such are the

properties of this new medium of repurposed vinyl. You might describe these

properties, if you're an art critic, as both "sculptural" and "painterly."

You can also find in

the fireplace room a self-portrait that Lobyn finished recently. In it you see

the image of a lean African-American man in profile with his hair in long dreadlocks

on a white canvas. If you're so

inclined to describe this portrait as "painterly," you should note that the

only paint in the work is the white house paint he used to prepare the canvas.

The delineation of his own facial features is, again, more akin to a line

drawing (in shards of vinyl) than a painting.

As in the Badu

portrait, Lobyn's portrayal of his own dreadlocks is a collage of numerous LP centerpieces

including one of an Isaac Hayes record; there's also an eight-track cassette

tape of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely

Hearts' Club Band and a cartridge from a Super Mario Bros. video game. All of these items represent

influences in Lobyn's life as a man, an artist, and a deejay.

In his self-portrait,

the 25-year-old Lobyn is calm and serene, looking forward at a point beyond the

canvas. In person, he is approachable and laughs easily. After inviting you in,

he might talk to you in the fireplace room while the TV is playing a concert

film, say, an Exodus-era Bob Marley

live from London or a new movie release. (The 2001 film Waking Life

by Richard Linklater is one of his favorites.) He might offer you a glass

of wine. And if you ask him, he'll tell you about his search to find his

artistic bearings — a search that hasn't always been easy.

The eureka moment

It was an act of

destruction, about two years ago, that led to Lobyn's eureka moment. During

that time, he was in chronic pain because of a twisted ankle and related foot

problems. His mobility was limited and so was his ability to earn a living and

provide for himself. Alone in his basement, in an act of frustration bordering

on despair, he slammed down a bunch of LP records on the cement floor.

These records were

not just bygone artifacts of another era for Lobyn, a freelance deejay, who got

gigs at college parties, working with his turntables, mixer, and laptop. And

now, a bunch of his prized LPs were shattered on the floor — what could

he do besides clean the mess up? But he didn't; he left it all there. It wasn't

until he came back to the mess of broken records several months later that he

had his big idea. "And I was like, I wonder if I could make them into

something," he says. "Because before then I just paid attention to drawings. I

just drew."

What he made them

into was a portrait of Jimi Hendrix — his first portrait in this new

medium. Using his considerable skill as a sketch artist, he drew the outline of

Hendrix's face in pencil on a wood board, working from a photograph. Soon he

had a dead-on resemblance. He then glued small shards of vinyl, using epoxy, to

follow the pencil lines on the wood. ("I draw first then put them on, and I

like letting the pencil lines show so that you don't take the drawing aspect

for granted," he says about his artistic style.)

He used larger

jagged pieces of vinyl, glued one next to another, to represent Hendrix's hair

(in more recent portraits he uses much larger quantities of vinyl, as well as

LP centerpieces for the hair). He painted the background red, but left

Hendrix's face unpainted, unvarnished, so you can see the cross-section of tree

rings in the particular cut of wood that the portrait is placed on. And,

amazingly enough, it wasn't that much of a struggle to do all this; it came

quite naturally to him.

Lobyn hadn't only

found a use for the LPs that he had so impulsively destroyed. He had also,

quite possibly, created a new genre. And vinyl is a medium with enormous visual

appeal when it comes to representing hair — African-American as well as

Caucasian.

"I've seen some

people who've worked with vinyl records as a medium," says Ryan Hickey,

co-founder of ORANJE, billed as "Indiana's Premier Art & Music Exhibition,"

to which Lobyn was invited by a juried panel in 2010 to showcase his work.

"It's clear that it's an image of Bob Dylan or of Kanye West or Run DMC or

Lauryn Hill," he continues. "It's obvious that he's trying to create a very

clear image. At the same time, to use vinyl record to create that, I think

that's incredible. Incredibly creative and incredibly original."

And, one might add,

incredibly gifted; aside from some art classes here and there, Lobyn is essentially

self-taught. "I took a painting class at Herron once," he says. "Pretty much

the only thing I found out about that is I'm a pretty bad painter. But I

already knew how to draw. Just from that I tried to progress."

The Arts Council of

Indianapolis' Shannon Linker, who organized the Art & Soul Festival,

describes his artistic presence as a great asset to the city. "Lobyn has an

innate ability to recreate these images in an amazing way and I think the fact

that he's touching on his love of music and performers, that really draws

people to his work. The quality is amazing, what he's able to do technically.

But you get more than that from it. He's been a deejay. He's been spinning

these records a very long time and that's been a really big part of his life as

well."

The DJ, his father's son

Before Lobyn became a vinyl record artist, he was actively spinning;

freelance deejaying was his primary creative activity outside his day job (he

currently works in an accounts-payable position at a residential center). He

continues to deejay, although he hasn't yet spun at an opening of his own art.

It's a prospect he dreads, he says somewhat jokingly, because it's impossible

to deejay and keep your eye on your artwork at the same time. But he did reach

a milestone recently; he worked the Fashion Show at the 2010 Black Expo,

setting up a vendor's booth there for his art as well.

His father, Clayton

Hamilton, can claim some credit for influencing his son in this direction

– he gave him a deejay kit when he was in the ninth grade. But his father

has been influential in many more ways than that. The elder Hamilton was the

one who introduced his son to musicians like Bob Marley as well as to some a

little closer to home.

"I kind of grew up

listening to John Mellencamp," says Lobyn, who includes a Scarecrow-era Mellencamp among his past vinyl-on-canvas portrait

subjects. "My father and I, we'd just ride around, you know; we were able to

get a lot of different influences from him."

Clayton also had an

influence on his son's life as a visual artist. Lobyn recalls as a child his

father taking a brush to the wall of the bedroom he shared with his three brothers.

"He painted this huge Pac-Man about eight feet wide, eight feet tall, that had

a blue ghost in his mouth and he was chomping it. He painted it with house

paint."

His father also had

a unique art project of his own. His canvas, as it were, is on a cement wall

that you might catch a glimpse of if you're driving north on College Avenue. It

used to be adjacent to his property, but he's since moved. You can see it at

the intersection of 38th Street, across from Church's Fried Chicken.

The wall, measuring four feet tall and around a hundred feet wide is currently painted

with the logo, in three foot-high letters, "Technology on the rise. Humanity?

OMG! WGH! LOL! HMM?" It's a commentary on technology and text messaging by a

former employee of AT&T, who's been retired now for two years.

The first slogan

Clayton Hamilton ever painted on the wall was one that read, "Be strong. Be

proud. Don't fall pray." TheIndianapolisStar published a photo of a teenager walking past the "Don't Fall

Pray" part of the wall back in 1988 — under the caption, "Message Flashes

out a Warning." But the warning, according to the elder Hamilton, was as much

about religion as it was about gang violence or the like — a message that

was lost on The Star.

"They're just

humanistic insights that everybody probably has," says Clayton about his work.

"I have a big tapestry. I could say things that maybe people would be

interested in, maybe they won't."

"We would always be

there, watching him do it, me and my brothers," Lobyn says. "We didn't help him

out though. It was like his Jaguar."

"When you have

children around you, they'll pick up on something," says Clayton. "You always

hope your children will take up and run with it. And find out their abilities.

It seems like that's happened with my children. They picked up on what they

were exposed to and took it up and ran with it."

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Pop culture inspiration; born-again

influences

Lobyn grew up with his

three brothers and sister in Indianapolis, and attended Franklin Central High

School. Like many boys growing up in the '90s, he was influenced by comics and

video games. He first learned that he could draw by copying such items.

"I would draw a lot

of things already drawn," Lobyn explains. "When you're younger, you do a lot of

things that are already drawn, you know, your anime, your video game, shoes,

black guys with shades."

When his mom became

a born-again Christian, certain materials suddenly became off-limits like, say,

anything relating to the X-Men. But his mother hadn't completely turned against

popular culture; she did let him watch Batman

on TV. As if in recognition of this fact, his repurposed take on the Bat-signal

rests on the floor of fireplace room. It's composed entirely of broken vinyl,

on a yellow canvas, measuring 52 by 28 inches — wider than the

flat-screen TV above it.

Lobyn never took to

the religious belief and practice that his mother tried to instill in her

children, and he left his mom's house to live with his dad when he was 16 years

old.But his mom, Kontente Meade, is still an

influence in his life; Lobyn credits her with helping him through some low

moments in the recent past.

Says Kontente Meade

about this time in his life, "He was looking for jobs, looking for direction in

life. I said, if the Lord has given you a gift, pursue that.... We would go out

to eat and we would just talk. I was so imploring him... I praise the Lord that

he did it."

Looking to the future

2010 was a great

year for Lobyn and 2011 is getting off to a promising start with the invitation

to Art & Soul, which showcases African-American artists, musicians and

performers at the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Timing was key to this good fortune;

as he was just emerging in his new art form, the Arts Council of Indianapolis

was reevaluating this annual event.

Says Shannon Linker

of the Arts Council, "Initially we would pull together kind of a group show and

ask more prominent artists to submit one or two pieces for the Art & Soul

exhibition for that year. And then we realized that we were missing an

opportunity to let our audience know about new artists.... So we decided to start

trying to find emerging artists perhaps who might not have had a big show in

town and try to bump up their careers a little bit if we could. So over the

past two years we've been using emerging artists."

When Lobyn's

portrait of Lauryn Hill started attracting the attention of patrons at the Artsgarden's

July 2010 Flava Fresh exhibit like nothing else on display, Linker saw an

opportunity to follow through on this new direction. "So he contacted me at

about the same time that I was trying to reach him," she says.

Art lovers from

outside Indy are starting to take notice. He exhibited his work at the African

Festival of the Arts 2010 and the Gallery Guichard, both in Chicago, Ill.

ORANJE co-founder

Ryan Hickey has an observation about people who encountered Lobyn's vinyl art

at ORANJE last September, but it applies elsewhere as well: "They might

not be a fan of the artist he portrays...they might not buy his work... but they appreciate

it and acknowledge it. Someone in his late 20s will say, I really like that Run

DMC while the parent in his 50s will say, yeah that Bob Dylan is really cool.

It crosses racial boundaries as well. My hat's off to him for being able to

accomplish that."

Another great

admirer of Lobyn's art just so happens to be his better half, Natasha. Born in

Zimbabwe, but having spent much of her life in England, she speaks three

languages (French and Shona in addition to English). She shares the same

musical languages and tastes as her somewhat more provincial husband and she

may in fact be the biggest fan of his art. "I think it's phenomenal, edgy and

funky," she says. "It combines the two things he likes most, art and deejaying,

and it's a great way to recycle."

But there's

something even more important than art on both their minds. Natasha is pregnant

with their first child. Lobyn calls his in utero child, "the chosen one."

Already, he's had to make certain adjustments, giving up epoxy for fixing vinyl

to canvases (because of the fumes) and using a glue gun instead. More

adjustments are coming no doubt, but he seems as happy with the prospect of

being a father as Natasha is happy to be with her uniquely gifted husband.

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Arts Editor

Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.