Pulling into the secluded parking lot of Sarasota Fight and Fitness Club, tucked away on North School Avenue just north of Fruitville Road, visitors are greeted with a new view.
The large exterior wall of the boxing gym now boasts a larger-than-life image of a woman, armed with a determined glare and a pair of boxing gloves, throwing a straight-right punch.
As the moniker inscribed on her gloves suggests, the giant, 30 feet by 100 feet painting is the latest mural painted by the well-known French street artist, MTO. And the boxer’s identity? Sarasota Chalk Festival founder Denise Kowal.
“It was a little strange to be the subject,” says Kowal. “But, he insisted that it had to be me. I think he wanted to show his admiration for my role in the defense of art.”
Kowal, a vocal figure in the arts community, says she sees a lot of layers to the painting’s message and that its location adds to its impact.
“As an artist, he takes a lot of inspiration from the wall he chooses to paint on,” says Kowal. “I love the fact that it’s in a place that people wouldn’t normally discover. And, you get to view it from a distance, which I think you really need for this piece.”
The mural, completed Wednesday, Dec. 12, as a last-minute addition to the Going Vertical series, was painted by the artist in an impressively short period of time — about one week.
According to Kafi Benz, PR director of the Chalk Festival, who worked closely with MTO to ensure the mural was completed before the artist left for Paris, a lot of work was required to complete the project on such short notice. Acquiring permission from the building’s owner, a lift and enough paint for the mural, estimated to cost close to $5,000, proved to be a group effort.
“If it didn’t happen quickly, it wasn’t going to happen at all,” says Benz. “He was getting ready to fly back to Paris, and the opportunity would’ve been lost.”
Kenneth Blake, a model, who posed for MTO’s “Dr. Robin” mural on Sarasota Architectural Salvage earlier this year, says that much like his first experience with the street artist, this project’s inception was one of opportunity.
After his increased exposure from the “Dr. Robin” mural, Blake was motivated to get in better shape and began working out at Sarasota Fight and Fitness Club, where he met owner and accomplished boxing coach, Alan Sleit.
After developing a friendship, Sleit and Blake have partnered together to launch Punch Fitness in January, within the existing gym. The new venture will be geared toward people more interested in fitness than competitive fighting, and Blake hopes it will be more attractive to women, children and older customers. Earlier this month Blake ran into MTO, and he pitched the idea of a mural as a favor.
“I’ve nicknamed him Batman,” jokes Blake. “He seems to pop into my life at just the right moments. I thought this would be a perfect way to show what a great addition Alan and his gym are to the community and to showcase MTO’s talent at the same time. I trust them both, and I knew it would be a great outcome.”