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Granby wrestler Isaiah Mejias finds serenity in the chaos of his art

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  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias works on shading during his Painting and Drawing class with art teacher Elizabeth Stapert, left, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias's pen and pencil case. Photographed during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A page in Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias's sketchbook. Photographed during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomores Casey Funk, left, and Isaiah Mejias work on shading their drawings during a Painting and Drawing art class on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Isaiah Mejias, right, offers a pointer on shading an illustration to fellow Granby sophomore Casey Funk during a Painting and Drawing art class on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A watercolor and quill illustration by Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias featured in an art display case in the high school hallway. Photographed on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Isaiah Mejias, center, works on shading in his sketchbook during a Painting and Drawing art class with fellow Granby sophomores Casey Funk, left, and Joseph Riley on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A page in Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias's sketchbook. Photographed during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby Junior/Senior High School art teacher Elizabeth Stapert works with a student in her Painting and Drawing class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias passes by a board of the high school's athletic teams from last year including the cooperative wrestling team he is on. Photographed on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A page in Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias's sketchbook. Photographed during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias offers input as art teacher Elizabeth Stapert, second from left, looks over some work with seniors Linsey Wenzel, left, and Meg Ouellette in their Painting and Drawing class on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias takes a Painting and Drawing art class in the afternoon and a ceramics class in the morning. Photographed on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias works on a page in his sketchbook during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias offers input as art teacher Elizabeth Stapert, far left, looks over some work with seniors Linsey Wenzel, foreground, and Meg Ouellette in their Painting and Drawing class on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A "ninja" in Granby sophomore Isaiah Mejias's sketchbook. Photographed during his Painting and Drawing art class at the high school on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2020 4:34:08 PM

INDIAN ORCHARD — Isaiah Mejias’ laugh starts in his belly. It rumbles through the back of his throat and jumps an octave. His whole face embraces the high-pitched sound as his eyes squint and his lips pull back into a wide smile.

A laugh so cherubic it initially sounds out of place emanating from a 6-foot tall heavyweight wrestler.

“When you first look at him you might be scared because of how tall and built he is, but he is actually one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Granby sophomore Ryan Gaughan said.

Mejias often contradicts his appearance. He’s simultaneously one of the top heavyweight wrestlers in western Massachusetts and a lifelong artist. His winter hours and after school are divided among sketching, homework and wrestling practice. Mejias lives in Springfield but attends Granby through school choice. His family brings him to Granby before school starts, then he stays after school to work on homework and art until wrestling practice from 5-7 p.m. He usually fills time by filling his sketchbook.

“Everyone knows Isaiah because he’s always drawing,” Granby art teacher Beth Stapert said. “He might seem a little intimidating because he’s bigger than a lot of his classmates but he’s such a nice kid. You don’t often have athletes that are super into art.”

Mejias was an artist long before an athlete. His mother, Jamie Porter, took away video games when he was 4 years old. Without Mortal Kombat to occupy his time, the young Mejias picked up a pencil. Art runs in his family. Porter draws regularly. They’re related to tattoo artists, makeup artists and hairstylists. His great uncle Mark Loomis, who has been a large influence, has a graffiti-influenced style that Mejias tried to emulate until he made it his own.

“It became a little addiction of mine that I couldn’t ever let go,” he said.

His style features sharp lines and detailed shading. Chaotic details meld together to create striking wholes. Mejias conjures aliens, demons, armored knights and monsters in graphite and ink. He twists popular images to his bent like the Ninja Turtles, Bart Simpson and Hey Arnold!

“His style is so unique and so mesmerizing to watch,” Granby sophomore Brandon Wishart said.

Art serves many purposes for Mejias. Sometimes he’ll “accidentally” leave a drawing out or drop one to break the ice in a social situation. He also takes commissions and sells his art online.

But, most importantly, art is therapy. Mejias has anxiety and channels worry, frustration or anger through his drawings.

He has a sketchbook called the explicit book where he puts most of the pieces that emerge from a dark place.

“I keep it tucked away from everybody because I don’t want people to look at me like that,” he said. “All that stuff we don’t like to talk about, I like to put on the page. Everyone looks at this like ‘that’s a little freaky,’ and I take that as a compliment.”

Wrestling and art work together to help manage Mejias’ anxiety. While the drawing births chaos, wrestling demands order. Maintaining competition weight takes discipline. Each move must be perfected through repetition in the wrestling room before it can successfully be deployed in competition.

“I feel like wrestling and (art) are my yin and yang. I need both of those because (art) is more my creative, put myself together energy, and then I need wrestling,” Mejias said. “That’s my way to get out my frustrations of the day.”

Mejias started wrestling in eighth grade after a suggestion from his grandfather Floyd Trombley Jr. Porter said he needed to participate in a sport because he couldn’t just sit around all day. He took to wrestling quickly even if he wasn’t fully committed to it at first.

“Wrestling is a second thing for him, it’s not the No. 1 priority,” Granby wrestling coach Joe Denette said.

Mejias placed fourth in the 285-pound weight class at the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament. He didn’t wrestle at the Division 3 state championships despite qualifying because he felt overwhelmed by anxiety and couldn’t compete.

“He’s a good athlete. He doesn’t believe in himself, he doesn’t have a lot of self confidence in that way,” Denette said. “That’s my focus with him is getting him to work to his potential. I see the potential in there.”

Mejias doesn’t necessarily see the same in himself.

“I don’t really see myself as good as people see me. I go with the flow. I practice, I go home,” he said. “Sometimes when you do such a constant schedule of things like that you forget you’re getting better at it.”

His teammates embraced him. Mejias was named one of the team’s captains despite being a sophomore.

“He was just an artist in a nutshell,” Porter said. “This has brought him out.”

Mejias is typically the one pounding on lockers firing the team up. Watching her son compete brings Porter out.

“There’s guys there who look like Goliath. They’re coming out and I’m like ‘he’s my baby,’ and I’m like ‘oh man’ then he slams him and he submissions him, and I’m the loudest person in the bleachers,” said Porter, who had Mejias when she was 16 years old. “I support him in anything that he does.”

Especially his art. Porter taught Mejias to draw his first skull. Now he draws a skull better than she can. She leaves notes on his work and organized the writing desk in his room so he could have a dedicated space to create.

“It’s one of the best things, I feel it’s almost a blessing. I see almost all my other artist friends and they talk about how their parents are so ‘that’s cool and all, but try this,’” Mejias said. “I don’t have that.”

Many try to steer Mejias away from art, calling it a hobby or saying it’s something nice for now. He’s committed to making art his career. Mejias wants to attend art school and has his eye on the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly. He’s said he could be a tattoo artist, video game designer, graphic designer or run his own clothing line.

“I want to enjoy my life. I don’t want to be a doctor just because you told me to be a doctor,” Mejias said. “Sure that paycheck looks nice, but I want to be happy. I want a job that keeps me young.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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