That feeling didn’t last forever. After moving ILTHY’s storefront a couple of times — a different space in Gordon Square, then to Lakewood — Infante was exhausted. In 2015, Infante closed the brick and mortar ILTHY shop to take a break and figure out what he wanted to do next.
Then LeBron came home.
When the Cavaliers found themselves in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, Nike was looking for a local artist to commemorate the occasion with a huge mural right outside Quicken Loans Arena. Steph Floss, the Cavs’ official DJ, recommended Infante.
The Cavs returned to Cleveland for Game 3 down 0-2 in the series. Infante had set up shop outside the arena around 1 p.m. that day and began painting the heads of 12 Cavaliers above the bold wine-colored motto, “Believe.” An enormous crowd chanted “Let’s Go Cavs” over the 10 hours he spent creating the 20-foot mural.
“When I was done, they won that game,” says Infante. “Everyone streamed out of the Q while I was still painting and left believing. I like to think that painting that mural started the energy that led the Cavs to win.”
The mural started to get noticed as fans blanketed social media with pictures in front of Infante’s art. It was not lost on him that all the attention was happening during his break from the ILTHY shop.
“Apparently I had to actually close my store for people to see my art and not just my products,” says Infante. “The Cavs mural was so validating and got my name out there as a real Cleveland artist.”
With the Cleveland community now seeing Infante as capable of doing large-scale work, more offers started to roll in. A partnership between the Cleveland Foundation and Ohio City resulted in Creative Fusion’s mural project in 2016, the installation of close to a dozen pieces of public art on Cleveland’s Near West Side. They reached out to Infante to be part of the project.
Infante’s tribute to Prince features the music icon decked out in his white ruffles and signature purple coat, set against a lavender background. In his hand is, yes, Infante’s signature pink doughnut. The design elicited immediate excitement, particularly among some local youth.
“I really wanted to create something Cleveland iconic,” says Infante. “This is my city, so when I see people taking pictures in front of something I created, there’s nothing better.”
With his goal of being established as an independent artist separate from ILTHY, Infante jumped at the opportunity to create any art he was offered, from personal portraits to paintings to more public pieces. He has been commissioned to work on several other murals such as a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 3D glasses for Public Square’s Rebol. He was even asked by Hotcards to work on a piece for its downtown office. The result is a large portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs painted in the tech company’s signature rainbow motif.
“Getting people to see me as an artist was always the goal,” says Infante. “I’m more than just designs on shirts.”
But Infante hasn’t given up on ILTHY.
In 2016, his original location, 6602 Detroit Ave., was sitting vacant. He decided to move his storefront right back to its old digs, where he continues to create striking images, such as a sweatshirt with the Virgin Mary saying “Nobody’s perfect” under the ILTHY logo.
“We constantly have to look for the next thing that the customers are going to like,” says Infante. “I’m at a point where I need to play chess to figure out our next move and keep things interesting.”
But he is also hard at work getting his name out there as an artist outside of the brand. On New Year’s Eve, he covered the walls of event venue Red Space with his original art — a shaded portrait of singer Lauryn Hill and nude figure drawings set against a blend of primary colors, plus two marker drawings of artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, two of Infante’s artistic inspirations.
“It was the greatest art show of my life,” beams Infante. “I want to travel, showcase my art in different cities, and untap more talent I know I have in me.”
Currently he is hard at work networking with colleagues in other cities to set up more art shows, while continuing to put his name out there via social media for mural and painting commissions.
He even added “teacher” to his resume in February, when he taught his first DIY T-shirt and print class to kids.
“I want to teach art full-time at some point,” says Infante. “I can’t hold up this lifestyle in my 50s and 60s, so teaching what I’ve learned will be my way to give back after the grind is done.”
But for now, on this February afternoon, he’s here at his store, still loving the hype.
Soon after the Akron couple leaves, another customer wanders in. This time, the spectacled man makes a beeline straight for Infante.
“I don’t know if you remember me,” he says. “It was a long time ago…”
“Of course!” Infante exclaims.
It’s DJ Bonics, the hip-hop DJ for Wiz Khalifa who is performing tonight at the House of Blues. DJ Bonics says he made a trip to Gordon Square specifically to seek out Infante, the artist who had once designed a mixtape for him.
DJ Bonics spots a large ILTHY duffel bag.
“You have to have that,” Infante tells him.
“I don’t know,” muses DJ Bonics.
“Everyone will notice you with that,” Infante continues.
“You think?” asks DJ Bonics.
“Definitely. It’s a must-have,” Infante says.
The two take a selfie in front of the AstroTurf living wall at the back of the store, with the ILTHY neon-white sign above their heads and the newly purchased duffel in front.
DJ Bonics leaves the store with a promise from Infante that he’ll stop by the show that evening.
Infante smiles at the interaction. He’s appreciative, but still wants more. He wants to be known outside of Cleveland as more than the guy who paints pink doughnuts.
“There’s something more in me, a next level, but I don’t know what it is,” says Infante. “If you’re done chasing, you’re done. And I’m just not done yet.”