A dilapidated brick building, right off the 74 bridge on Moline’s riverfront, is all about possibility. And Brandon Nees is thrilled about bringing that surging potential to colorful life.

Brandon Nees

The 25-year-old Davenport artist, who graduated from Moline High School, has been chosen to create a $10,000 public mural on nine panels of the boarded-up ground floor of the Spiegel Building, 200 20th St., just north of River Drive.

Renew Moline partnered with the City of Moline and Quad City Arts to issue a call for entries, resulting in 28 submissions from artists around the Midwest. Renew’s Public Art Steering Committee evaluated 20 of the proposals and chose three for further consideration.

On Sept. 8, Nees’ proposed concept was endorsed by the Project Management Team (PMT), a public/private partnership between Renew Moline and the city to offer guidance and input on downtown projects. Ald. David Parker, a member of the PMT, said that he thought the street-art style proposal was “perfect” for the building and expressed his excitement to see the project complete.

“This proposal is unique,” said Kevin Maynard, Quad City Arts executive director and Public Art Steering Committee member. “There really isn’t another public art project like it in the Quad-Cities. We are excited to see how art can elevate this building aesthetically and economically.”

Gaye Shannon Burnett, executive director of the Azibuike African American Council for the Arts, another committee member, described the art as “refreshing and new.”

The purpose of the Spiegel mural project is to beautify and draw attention to the building, a city-owned asset and important piece of the historic fabric of downtown. The four-story Spiegel building is also at the center of the redevelopment area created by the $1.2 billion I-74 bridge project.

Kevin Maynard

The public art project is designed to both encourage dialogue about the future development of the area and create curiosity and interest in the building.

It is one of the few remaining factory buildings in downtown Moline from the industrial era – originally built between 1928 and 1930 as the Eagle Signal Building, according to Renew Moline, a nonprofit organization and public-private partnership.

“I think that building has a lot of potential as well,” Nees said on Monday. “It’s in a really main spot of town. The best way is to put some art on it and get people’s attention looking at it. I definitely think they have big plans for that building and hopefully, they come to fruition.”

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Among the rules for the public art contest were to use the word “possibility” and to symbolize growth.

“I am always fascinated when I see new projects or renovations,” Nees said. “The Spiegel building specifically gets to see a majority of the most impactful improvements to the QC, like the new I-74 bridge. This urged me to add an architectural aspect to my design. It fits right in with the area, and my own personal style of work — using basic shapes around contemporary typography to show mass and volume.”

The 70-foot-long mural (to be created on nine panels in Nees’ home studio) will be a creative riff on the word “Possibility,” giving it an airy feel, the artist said.

The Spiegel building in Moline.

“I chose to make the letters blocky, sort of like big structures and I intertwined shapes in the foreground and background which gives it a weightless feeling,” he said. “These shapes are also the basic shapes to art and the basic building blocks we use to build our society. This floating man I added to give a really nice artistic touch, I centered the concept around a sort of magic shaman type character using forces to move the blocks around. The floral headdress on him is a floral piece to represent growth, leadership, and peace.”

Nees describes his style as “an abstract taste of contemporary typography using mixed media.”

Art with an emotional charge

“My art is internally driven and emotionally charged,” he said. “My original abstract art and mixed media paintings come from the heart just as much as they do from the brain, I represent that in some of my work. I started taking art seriously soon after high school when I enrolled for art classes at Black Hawk College. I eventually realized most of the skills I was learning could be self-taught and compiled to create a lane, and that lane became my signature style as ‘Matar Tronos’.”

“Since I’ve grown up surrounded by Hispanic culture, it has always had an influence in some of my art, so I chose the Spanish translation for ‘Kill Thrones, which is ‘Matar Tronos,’” Nees explained. “To kill thrones is to defeat the egotistical dictator in us that can sit on this metaphorical throne and shift life into a negative direction.

“There was a point in my life where I had to realize that I was not the artist I thought I was,” he said. “I was lost, confused, and stuck in a yearlong artist block. After overcoming some struggles in my personal life and settling myself down as a father while practicing hard at my craft, I realized that I just need to enjoy the journey and never put myself on a throne because the tentacles of negativity are always around to drag us down when we swim too high up.”

The artist is bi-racial (the son of a white mother and Black father), and was raised in Moline and East Moline, exposed to the growing Hispanic community.

“The Hispanic community in the Quad-Cities is just huge; it’s just awesome,” Nees said. “I feel they got really good family vibes. My fiancée is Hispanic, so her family is my family. Over the course of the past seven years, I’ve been trying to learn Spanish. I’m always with the Hispanic community, so it’s always influenced my art kind of unconsciously.”

A lot of his art influence, in use of color, also is Spanish, he said.

“I believe my work commands the attention of passers-by, rewards art collectors, and transforms a plain surface into beauty made to last for generations,” Nees said. “My goal for every painting is to make a lasting impression and provoke self-reflection. I find motivation in my own journey towards being a better person and relaying that through my art to help guide others down a path of self-care and consciousness to

Brandon Nees with the mural he did for Golden Royal Barbershop, 1318 4th Ave., Moline.

the world around us.

“Compared to where I aspire to be, I am still early in my art career, I plan on spreading my message to the community through a collection of amazing murals throughout the Quad-Cities and beyond,” he said. “I hope that I may have the ability to spark creativity in others during the process.”

“I’ve done art ever since elementary. High school was the spark in my brain to actually start taking it seriously once I started taking advanced art classes,” Nees said. “I realized that I had some kind of talent at that age.”

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He took art classes at Black Hawk, but mainly considers himself self-taught.

“Art is such, you don’t need a master’s degree to be an artist, so I kind of took what I learned and applied it to my own stuff,” he said. “I was also trying to work at the same time as I went to school.”

“Everything I paint, I love it to be big,” Nees said. “So murals is ultimately where I plan on going. Right now, I don’t know where opportunity might take me.”

He did a big mural at the Golden Royal barbershop (1318 4th Ave., Moline) a year ago, where he’s a regular.

“Definitely in the future, I have a lot of plans on doing more public murals,” Nees said. “Every day, I’m driving and I see a blank wall and you know, I imagine what kind of art I can put up on it, so hopefully in the next couple years, the Quad-Cities will be seeing a lot more outdoor murals like this, which is really exciting.”

Nees has eyed the Moline building that’s to be renovated into the Mercado on Fifth community center as a place for future art.

He has a three-year-old son, Maxwell, and has worked in construction for six years.

Nees’ concept of “Possibility” for the Spiegel building.

“He’ll be in the studio when I’m working on this mural, so it’s nice he’ll get to see kind of what his dad’s doing,” Nees said of his boy. “It’ll be cool five, 10 years down the road, for him to look at big murals around town and say, ‘Yeah, my dad did that.’”

He’s mainly been in residential construction around the Q-C. “It’s a fun job, I like working with my hands,” Nees said. “It’s definitely time to clear up more time for art.”

Renewing the downtown with art

The Spiegel project is part a comprehensive downtown public-art master plan that Renew Moline has proposed. They’re working with the consulting firm Designing Local, based in Columbus, Ohio, which has done public art master plans for cities nationwide, including Atlanta.

“There are possibilities for public art all over downtown and our plan covers all of downtown,” Renew CEO Alexandra Elias said of Moline.

Alexandra Elias

Designing Local was picked last November by a steering committee of business and community leaders passionate about the value of public art in the community.

Of the firm, committee member Lori Roderick said, “I like that they identify, promote and implement specific, appropriate, fun, education and fact-finding activities and don’t rely on boilerplate interactions.”

This approach is important in engaging the community in the development of Moline’s first public art master plan. The project was funded by the Moline Foundation.

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The Downtown Public Art Master Plan will be developed in a public, transparent and collaborative process and will apply to the Moline Centre Plan area and select “special areas” in adjacent neighborhoods. Designing Local will engage the public in the planning process over a period of several months. The final product will be a detailed and illustrative document to be considered for adoption by the Moline City Council.

The Public Art Steering Committee evaluated the Spiegel project based on criteria such as responsiveness of concept to the project goals and

Another mural painted by Nees.

concept (beautify/draw attention to the building, encourage dialogue about the future development of the area and create curiosity/interest in the building).

The group also considered the creativity and quality of proposed concept and the artist’s ability to execute the project based on experience/proposal.

“That was the first time kind of hearing about the Renew committee, what their mission was on improving the new infrastructure we got being built,” Nees said. “Putting money into neighborhoods. I’m more excited to able to work with them and have my foot kind of in the door. Just for them to even know my name is really it for me, because hopefully future endeavors will come from that.”

The contract will award the artist with a $10,000 stipend. The project is anticipated to be complete and installed by the city in mid-October.

In 2018, two developers submitted formal proposals to purchase and renovate the brick structure located off River Drive. The city sought $327,500 for the building and hoped to close on the property by July 31. In January 2016, prior owner Tom Spiegel sold it to Moline for $303,000.

Heart of America Group was one of the proposed developers, and with more than 8,000 square feet per floor, had planned to renovate the building with retail on the first floor, and residential living on the second, third and fourth floors.

Elias said this week there were no development proposals currently on the table for Spiegel, and Heart of America devoted significant time and resources completing last fall’s opening of its new Axis Hotel and Fifth Avenue Syndicate Bistro & Bar at 1630 5th Ave., in the historic Fifth Avenue Building.

Since 1989, Renew Moline has facilitated over $400 million of public and private investments that significantly eliminated blight and substantially revitalized Moline Centre, becoming a national model as a place to live, work, and play.

To see more of Nees’ artwork, visit his Instagram.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.