Higher Level Art…you hear chatter about this artist collaborative echo through social media, you see their work all over the city, you’ve read about them. Higher Level Art founders Danny Babcock and Matthew Dayler are busy guys, and they work really hard. They seem to have infinite amounts of creative energy, coupled with good business sense, which is a pretty rare combination. Their projects have included the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Fringe Festival murals. They have done commercial work with Hoist, interior work in establishments like Mainstay Rock Bar, various office spaces and even some identity work for skate shops, tattoo parlors, and others. Their client list is long, but one in particular stands out: Covington Independent Schools.
In 2010, Dayler and Babcock were contracted to go into the Holmes Elementary, Middle and High Schools to paint murals in a number of classroom spaces. They collaborated with teachers to develop concepts for each room, and the outcomes are fantastic. The first round of classrooms was done last summer, and the second round was done over the holidays. The response has been incredibly positive. Rick Ross, Executive Director of Learning Support for Covington Independent Schools says, “Traditional teaching practices really haven’t changed much in the past 100 years and they simply aren’t effective with 21st-century learners, especially those from an urban environment.” So what are those traditional teaching practices? Well it has to do with teaching methods and curriculum, but also with environment. For the mural projects the district took cues from a school in Georgia, and from a man who has become somewhat of a rock star in contemporary education, Ron Clark and The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. The Ron Clark Academy describes their school as “a magical place where children enjoy the pure job that comes with learning.” When walking into some of the Holmes classroom spaces that is what it feels like.
With each school year teachers try their best to personalize classrooms with cutouts and bulletin boards—they post student projects and decorate with the resources they have available to them. But what Higher Level Art has been able to do with the murals is really transform these spaces. And that is perhaps what they are best at. They take a space and transform it into something else—something magical.
Dayler and Babcock come from different backgrounds. For a number of years before founding Higher Level Art, Babcock focused mainly on scenic work—which means that he was painting sets, stages and interiors. He also grew out of graffiti and sign making.
Dayler originated from Ontario where he earned his undergraduate degree in printmaking before going on to a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from the Memphis College of Art. Before attending graduate school he spent some time in Cincinnati. Having come from Toronto he says he found Cincinnati “totally refreshing.” He says the connections he made and the support he felt for his work drew him back after he finished his education. The two met in 2007 around the Fringe Festival, and Higher Level Art was born later that year.
So what do Babcock’s scenic background and Dayler’s more figurative style create? Something totally new, they say. The ways they are able to collaborate, and the different styles they bring to the table, provide a perfect balance. This is even reflected in their personal artistic interests. Babcock looks at everything: the ways that light changes an environment, architecture, smaller details and illustrations. Dayler is interested in video art and contemporary photography. As a team, they look out for each other’s best interests and strive to maintain the utmost integrity with their clients, and in their work. This is evident in some of the classrooms at Holmes.
In one of the science classrooms you see a double helix sprawling across the wall, flanked by Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. In another classroom, the English teacher wanted it to look like a cafè, with faux exposed brick and the warm ambience you might find in a coffee house. In another, students are inspired by blues greats Dizzie Gillespie and B.B. King. They are each unique and the contributions of each artist are seen on the walls, in perfect harmony.
So, what’s next for Higher Level Art? Some of their upcoming projects include an exhibition at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, new billboard and video projects with Hoist, murals at Coney Island, Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, and Powerhouse Factories. They’ll also be working on their annual Fringe Festival mural and new projects at Holmes. Look for Higher Level Art apparel this year also. The volume of the Higher Level Art chatter will only increase as they continue to expand their reach, and their level of exposure.
Expect additional personal projects from Dayler and Babcock as well.
– Laura Partridge