• The story behind this Arizona artist's striking mashup painting of MLK, Notorious B.I.G.

    It was all a dream,” were the Notorious B.I.G. lyrics that paced through Jared Aubel’s mind as he sat in front of a blank canvas in his Phoenix studio. Brushstroke after brushstroke of acrylic and oil paints, Aubel heard those five words from the rapper's 1994 hit, "Juicy," and painted a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It was a trigger hearing that song, and then thinking of Martin Luther King’s speech, ‘I Have a Dream,'” he said. “It’s a powerful piece because they were both speaking about the same struggles and oppressions and, unfortunately, this is all still happening, it keeps rearing its ugly head.”
    The painting depicts King in a brightly colored Coogi sweater, and gold crown sitting against a sky blue background with spray painted clouds, a nod to iconic photos of the late New York rapper taken by Barron Claiborne and Dana Lixenberg.

    Coogi, an Austrian clothing company, was popular in the 1990s and known for its colorful abstract designs. “I didn't want to get too deep with it and that's how a lot of my artwork is. I try to make it a little bit fun and have a clever wittiness to it and when people see it, they get a little bit of a smile or start a conversation on the topic,” Aubel said.

    The piece is titled “It was all a Dream (Dream Big)” and you can see it as part of the virtual exhibition “Imagine: What Keeps us from Unity” at the Millet House art gallery in Mesa. The show begins Jan. 18, which is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and runs until Jan. 23.

    In addition to Aubel’s work, other artists in the exhibition include Tiesha Harrison, Therosia Reynolds, Nik Ridley, Andrea Rogers and Skye Day Rockett.

    "Being open to everybody's background, where they're from, their history and their upbringing it broadens your acceptance of people," Aubel said.

    “You have to have empathy for people, that's something that's very important. (Martin Luther King Jr.) wanted equality for everybody and that's not asking a lot which is the sad part.”