CINCINNATI — Greater Cincinnati is ready to shine brightly this weekend with the return of the BLINK art and light festival. While more than a million people are expected over the course of the four-day event, some of the most excited participants are the artists themselves.

BLINK begins Thursday, Oct. 13 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 16.

“The city has come alive,” said multidisciplinary artist Jason Snell. “It started twinkling a few months ago, and the energy around the city is just so crazy. I can’t be more excited to be not only involved in it, but just to experience being a fan of Cincinnati.”

What You Need To Know

  • BLINK takes over downtown Cincinnati and Covington, Ky. from Oct. 13 to Oct. 16

  • The event features work from dozens of local and international artists, many of whom will be in Cincinnati for BLINK

  • Jason Snell believes BLINK has helped change the "energy" in Cincinnati and put the city on more of a global stage

  • British artist Vince Fraser plans to explore 'all the city has to offer' all four nights 

BLINK will light up buildings, alleyways and businesses with more than 100 art pieces spread across 30 city blocks between downtown Cincinnati and Covington, Ky.

Works include installations, murals, interactive sculptures, music, projection mapping and light displays.

Snell has been hard at work for the past few months working on activations for three different murals. He’s also handling the light show for a Black Signal concert at Washington Park on Saturday night.

His works include lighting up “The Cincinnati Cobra” mural at Liberty and Main streets that he designed for ArtWorks in 2015. The piece honors the life of former heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles.

A rendering of the animation of the 'I Am Ezz' display for BLINK 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jason Snell)
A rendering of the animation of the 'I Am Ezz' display for BLINK 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jason Snell)

He described his animation concepts for BLINK as “visual jazz.”

“The last few months have been crazy but amazing,” said Snell, who goes by the artist name of SnellBeast. “It’s just really hard to say ‘no’ to BLINK. I really love working with other artists and collaborating, so it’s been so much fun.”

Snell has been involved in the local creative scene since his days as a student at the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).

At one time. the art scene in Cincinnati wasn’t all thriving, Snell said. He noted a time in the early 2000s following riots and economic hardships that sucked out a “lot of the creative energy” and positivity in the city. He moved to Seattle for a year to pursue new opportunities before returning home about 12 years ago.

The buzz around Cincinnati started changing a few years ago — and BLINK and the city’s investment in public art has a lot to do with it, Snell said. 

“Back then, if you were a creative in this city, you had to do things punk rock style,” he said. “We learned that if you wanted to be an artist and a designer, you had to create your own opportunities. We had to think about how you can turn your creative endeavors into making a living. And that’s what we did.”

Snell helped create the now-defunct Lumenocity. The multi-day festival at Washington Park featured a light display on the face of Music Hall as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed.

But BLINK “ramped things up,” he said, through its engagement of businesses. The festival is supported by a partnership between the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the nonprofits ArtsWave and ArtWorks, and AGAR, a creative firm that specializes in experiences.

“We’re really building a lot of steam in this city and events like BLINK are helping people note the incredible things taking place here,” said Snell. “Artists and creators around the world want to be here in Cincinnati, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Returning to his creative roots

BLINK is a homecoming for muralist Jonathan Lamb. He was born in Atlanta, but moved to Cincinnati when he was 9. He spent his formative years in the Queen City — cultivating his passion for art and discovery. 

After high school, he moved to Colorado to study fine art at Fort Lewis College in Durango before moving to Denver in 2004. He still works there today with his wife, Lindsey. 

The couple make up the creative team Lindz and Lamb.

Artist Jonathan Lamb. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)
Artist Jonathan Lamb. (Casey Weldon/Spectrum News 1)

“It’s such an honor to be a part of BLINK and this incredible collection of artists,” said Lamb, whose parents, family and friends plan to come and take part in the show — along with about 1.3 million other people who plan to attend over the course of the festival.

“To come back to Cincinnati, 20 years later, and still contribute to the creative fabric of the community, it’s absolutely heartwarming,” he said. “We are lucky enough to travel around the world and paint, but to do it on my home turf is a very special feeling that I hold dear.”

Lindz and Lamb started collaborating with ArtWorks about four years ago, creating murals such as the “It’s Your Thing, Do What You Want To Do” mural in Pendleton. It’s a tribute to Cincinnati's hometown favorites, the Isley Brothers.

That partnership led Lindz and Lamb to a commission for a mural at 1728 Elm St. for BLINK in 2019. They’re back this year to update the piece.

The artwork is based on naval camouflage used during World War I called “razzle dazzle.” It uses complex patterns and geometric shapes in contrasting colors.

Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle wasn’t to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and the direction it was moving.

“[The piece is] hard edge, geometric abstraction design work,” Lamb said. “In the past, there seemed to be a larger emphasis on figurative murals at BLINK. But we’re seeing more abstract designs this go-round, which I’m really excited about.”

For this year, Lindz and Lamb made some changes to the design, including flipping the motto of the mural from “Cin City” to “Who Dey.” It’s a way to “keep things fresh,” Lamb said, but it also celebrates the current mood in Cincinnati due, in part, to the Bengals recent run to the Super Bowl.

On Tuesday, Lamb attended a BLINK kickoff event to honor Barron Krody, an Art Academy of Cincinnati product who created Cincinnati’s first mural 50 years ago. “Allegro” is on the side of the Kinley Hotel on Race Street.

The new-look Lindz and Lamb mural for BLINK 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lindz and Lamb)
The new-look Lindz and Lamb mural for BLINK 2022. (Photo courtesy of Lindz and Lamb)

“Pieces like Barron’s were a beacon that showed the power of public art,” Lamb said. “It paved the way for a lot of the other large-scale abstract and contemporary artwork you see in this city today. In a lot of ways, it helped set the foundation for events like BLINK.”

While excited to show off his work, he also admitted to being excited to see the work of other renowned artists.

“Knowing the other artists who are coming to paint and create are people I look up to and hearing their feedback about how much they love Cincinnati, is so special,” Lamb said. “To have that hometown pride and spirit and know that it’s affecting and open to other international artists coming to contribute in the community and I think it is a special thing for this city.”

The Lambs are planning to stay downtown for all four days of the festival. They’ll serve as art ambassadors to make sure all the traveling artists get around to see all the installations.

“They’re going to get turned on their head,” Lamb said of other visiting artists. “A lot of these artists are used to painting at more traditional festivals. So, when the lights go on and the sun goes down, I can’t wait to share the BLINK experience with those who haven’t been here before.”

Cincinnati's invitation to the creative world

One of those visiting creators is British visual artist Vince Fraser. He’s one of 17 international artists taking part in BLINK — the most in the history of the young festival.

Fraser landed on the BLINK Team’s radar after a friend who lives and works in Cincinnati recommended him.

He had never been to Cincinnati before, or most places in the Midwest, he said. Cincinnati is a “little more obscure in its location,” which is something he enjoys about it.

“I’ll be surprised if I get to fit in everything because there’s so much to see and do during the festival,” Fraser said. “I can’t wait to see the artwork up close and personal, also looking forward to seeing some of the local artists.”

Fraser began his career as a digital illustrator more than 20 years ago. Over the years, his work morphed into more visual art, combining an array of media types, including film and motion.

For BLINK, Fraser created “Little Africa, Cincinnati 1800” at 701 Walnut St.

The piece depicts mythical African characters steering a futuristic steamboat through the sky and across the Ohio River. They’re “transporting Black people to a new life of abundance,” Fraser said.

A rendering of the '“Little Africa, Cincinnati 1800”' piece created by British artist Vince Fraser. (Photo courtesy of Vince Fraser)
A rendering of the '“Little Africa, Cincinnati 1800”' piece created by British artist Vince Fraser. (Photo courtesy of Vince Fraser)

His inspiration came from the famous steamboat engines of the 1800s that once crossed the Ohio River, transporting slaves and freed people of color to Cincinnati.

“I was speaking with some friends who are based in Cincinnati and we were talking about the rich black history Cincinnati has, which no one really knows about,” he said. “For me as an artist, my duty is to shine the spotlight on all these unheard stories of the past, but stamp my signature Afro Surrealistic DNA on it.”

Beyond the visual aspects, Fraser’s piece comes accompanied with spoken word poetry by Napoleon Maddox, founder of the Underworld Black Arts Festival.

“I hope the piece invokes a vision of a technically advanced and hopeful future in which Black people can thrive,” Fraser said.

During his career, Fraser has worked with clients like Nike, Adobe and MTV, gaining the attention of musicians such as Erykah Badu and OutKast. His current exhibition — “Aṣẹ: Afro Frequencies” — is on display at Artechouse in Washington, D.C.

Fraser is still relatively unknown in the United States. He views BLINK as an opportunity to showcase his work to a wider audience — and maybe land a new commission.

“The funny thing is, I couldn’t believe I had never heard of the [BLINK] festival prior, considering how big it is,” he said. “But I’m truly honored to be one of the international artists showcasing my work at this festival alongside some true heavyweights in the art game.”