"Passion makes the world go 'round. Love just makes it a safer place.” Ice-T
Love comforts and heals. It makes us kinder, more forgiving people. It makes happiness possible. Unfortunately, when passions run highest, love is barely perceptible and is typically absent when we need it most. Which is ironic, because love is often a choice we make, and now is an excellent time to choose love.
So artist and Norwalk native 5iveFingaz is making it his mission to remind us: Love More Than Ever. Though he himself keeps a low profile, his message is gaining traction, as measured by the increasing popularity of his artwork and Instagram posts.
But who, exactly, is he and why is he doing this?
Growing up, he loved art and sports. His heroes were, and still are, Mr. Rogers, Dr. Seuss, Bob Ross, Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, and Keith Haring. During his childhood he was “über shy” and he struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression.
At twelve years old he started DJ’ing. He scratched with five fingers, earning himself the moniker 5iveFingaz (“Call me 5ive”). He and his friend rapped, 5ive playing instrumental, often practicing loudly in his basement (“My poor parents”).
In high school he fell into the “wrong” crowd and lost friends to violence and jail, but it taught him the value of life. He practiced spray-painting graffiti on abandoned buildings and got into trouble. Occasionally he “shut down” due to his depression. He was ashamed of his anxiety and depression, so he hid it well.
When he was a freshman in high school, a hall monitor, Ms. Dunn, rebuked him for skipping classes. “You don’t want to start out that way,” she warned him. She watched out for him for the next four years, attending his games and giving him hugs, When he graduated she gave him $250 toward college. 5ive reminded her of her son who had died from cancer.
5ive received a basketball scholarship to college, but the pressure of his classes got to him and his grades slipped until he lost both. He learned his girlfriend was pregnant, and when his daughter was born he became determined to go back to school.
Sacred Heart University rejected him twice, so he made an appointment with the dean and persuaded the school to accept him.
He graduated, then earned a masters in Design Management. He got a job in the corporate world and stopped painting due to the long working hours.
Yet a few years later his depression worsened to the point of insomnia. A yogi, to whom he confided his affliction, advised him to paint “until your mind goes to sleep.” So he began painting again, two pictures almost every night; it became his therapy.
Finally, he could sleep. His life began to “flourish” and he found an audience for his work.
However, in 2016 his friend sent him a link to a story about racist flyers found in mailboxes. The news distressed him: why the abuse? “We need love move than ever,” he repeated to himself. Four words, four letters. The graphic designer in him loved that. He painted his now-iconic Love More Than Ever (LMTE) graphic and it went viral. “Maybe this is the message I’ve had inside of me,” he wondered. Part Mr. Rogers, part Basquiat.
“Everywhere I go, I’m going to promote it,” 5ive decided. Wherever he traveled after that he brought stickers and stencils of LMTE.
He went to tent city in Chicago and hung his paintings on the walls with $20 bills behind them and a note, “If you find this and find the $20 you can buy a meal or buy a meal for someone else.”
A woman from California messaged him. “I walked out of the hospital after learning my dad was sick, then turned the corner and felt [your painting] was a sign from the universe.”
In 2019 Reebok released t-shirts with a near-identical image of 5ive’s LMTE. He sued, and they settled in 2021.
During COVID he ramped up his art and has seen several more LMTEs go viral. “It’s a little funny when it happens. It’s never the ones you expect.”
5ive is pursuing an emotional upheaval by sharing and showing the power of love. “Spreading love and positivity has been another form of therapy,” he concedes. His enthusiasm and energy are palpable and inspiring. He’s the “cool” guy who looks for the goodness in people, not the cringe-inducing self-prophet of solicitous banalities.
He speaks to students from elementary through high school about his affirmative message. He teaches kids to paint murals. He creates “guerrilla” art filled with words of kindness and kinship and hides paintings for people to find. And this is just the beginning…
Like most people trying to make a difference, he has moments of self-doubt. “Sometimes I get imposter syndrome. Just like I’m an artist… big deal… there are so many real problems out there,” he shrugs. But ask the people collecting his art. Ask the children who’ve drawn their own LMTE’s for him. Ask the thousands of people who believe in his message. There’s no denying his impact is real.