ROSEVILLE — It’s an icon of the community, known not just by residents, but also by anyone who has commuted northbound on Gratiot through the heart of downtown Roseville.
May marks the 25th anniversary of Gonzo Studio.
It hasn’t always been easy for owner and artist Edward Stross. He’s faced more than his fair share of struggles in the last two and a half decades, but for a reason he can’t exactly explain, he’s always felt compelled to the area, and to the little storefront studio that sits on the corner of Utica and Gratiot.
“Something just brought me over here; now I know it was the universe,” Stross says. “The universe definitely pushed me here, to this location.”
His first storefront in the city was about a mile down the road, just south of Frazho. After nine months, he moved north to an open space just a couple doors down from his current location.
“I always looked at this building,” he says. “I knew I wanted it.”
In 1992, when the building went up for rent, with dreams of eventually owning the
building, he jumped at the chance to make it his home. It would be another four years before his dream of ownership came true.
And in 1996, when the building was finally his, he set out to work on a project he had long thought about — painting a mural on the expansive southwest-facing brick wall. He put a lot of thought into it before starting the project that spring.
“I wanted to paint something that would bring up good feelings in everyone, even if they are not art fans, and wouldn’t offend anyone,” he says.
After much thought, he decided he would paint a rendition of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “The First Kiss,” which depicts two cherubs exchanging an innocent but loving kiss. In a month’s time, the mural was completed and received with fanfare from much of the community. Not from everyone, though.
Stross still remembers some of the calls he got about the mural, including an elderly woman who thought he was making a mockery of a masterpiece by depicting two female cherubs. He told her he wasn’t, that one was a boy, but nothing he said could convince her. Another complaint called it explicit.
Stross was crushed and, just as quickly as the mural went up, it came down. In the week after it came down, he received even more angry phone calls. This time from residents disappointed it was gone. So he made the decision to start anew.
He wasn’t past the sketching stage, when he learned the mural had actually violated code and, in order to paint another one, he’d have to apply for a variance. The variance was accepted on one condition: He could have a mural or a storefront sign, but not both. He opted for the mural. And a short while later, his troubles with the city began.
Four letters — L.O.V.E. — painted at the top of the mural led to a legal battle for six years, in which the city argued the letters were a distraction to drivers and violated the local ordinance, before the case was dismissed without prejudice in 2010.
Those six years came at a high cost to Stross. He lost time and money, and the stress of the situation wreaked havoc on his health.
Over the past couple years, he focused a lot on his health, opting for gluten- and dairy-free foods whenever possible, taking vitamins, getting lots of cardio on his 10-speed bike and phasing out unnecessary stresses. His checkbook hasn’t rebounded as quickly.
He owes a few years of back taxes, which keeps him taking on commissioned work and leaves little time for personal creation. He hopes that will all change this year, though.
“I want to start doing more original work,” he says. “I want to start possibly exhibiting and having someone represent my work for me, and I have a feeling this is the year it’s going to happen.”
But it hasn’t happened yet. The year’s been off to a rough start.
“I’m a little down,” he admits. “I had three opportunities this year that I thought for sure would work, but every one of them didn’t come through.”
Any one of them would have paid enough to cover what he owes in taxes and leave him with the financial freedom to focus on his artistic whims. His hope for that freedom now lies in the $5 B.Y.O.B. art class he offers on Friday nights at 8 p.m., and an upcoming art sale he’s having March 15-31.
“I’m selling pieces I wouldn’t normally sell. I’ve gotten to a point where I just want to get all this stuff out of here. I am ready to move on to different styles, and I am ready to sell all of these pieces I’ve been holding on to for so long. And I need the money — I want to pay off the taxes, and when I do, I am going to start doing more sculpting.”
He speaks of his ambitions as though they are facts. When asked how he knows this will be the year it all works out, he says it’s something he just knows.
Gonzo Studio is located at 28305 Gratiot Ave. in Roseville. The 25th anniversary art sale runs from 7 p.m. to midnight March 15 and daily from noon to 7 p.m. through March 31. For more information, call (586) 776-6129.
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