Sprouting up in a once neglected swath underneath the highway in Boston's South End, the geometric splashes of bright pink and aquamarine in Victor 'Marka27’ Quinonez’s latest mural are impossible to miss against the grey backdrop of the skyline. It’s just one of seven new public artworks going up at Boston’s only outdoor street art gallery...
Created in 2017, the Underground at Ink Block is home to some of the best modern art in New England and it just got bigger!
In a city where the most recognized pieces of art are along the highway (the Whaling Wall and the Rainbow Swash), Boston’s latest generation of street artists have been busy, rethinking how business, community and the city can collaborate. The results led to the Underground Mural Project -- a joint venture between local art gallery Street Theory, MassDoT and one of Boston’s biggest developers National Development -- which serves as a free outdoor gallery, a park and newly activated recreational space.
Quinonez, who runs the Cambridge-based Street Theory with his wife Liza, said it was important to include a body reflective artwork from diverse artists this year.
“Their differing aesthetics, themes and styles created a nice dynamic. You have Dana Woulfe’s abstract, geometric style with Greg LaMarche’s master a typography, GoFive’s culturally sensitive work meshing with a traditional muralist like Silvia Lopez Chavez. Then that curveball, Muro from Spain, who came and destroyed everybody with the big anamorphic bridge.”
Quinonez said the placement of the new batch of murals was very deliberate this year, with most going up in highly visible locations to draw folks in. For instance, Greg LaMarche’s “Choices” sits at a traffic choke point at the end of Herald Street, Indie 184’s pop graffiti was chosen for the park’s entrance on Traveler Street and Muro’s tropical colors can be seen from Southie. Eventually, Quinonez said, every column in the 8-acre park will be painted. In addition to doubling as a new park and gallery, Quinonez said he’s hopeful the Underground will provide inspiration for Boston’s up and coming and underserved art community:
“The institutions in Boston are so strong, the MFA, the ICA, and the Gardner Museum for instance, and they bring in big name gallery artists,” he said. “But then you have this subculture of artists that are trying to be that next generation doing huge things. To give Boston a platform where you can showcase that talent in its raw form is extremely important.”
Marka27 going up in his lift
One of this year’s artists, Dana Woulfe, came to Boston for school and spent his younger years trying to evade Graffiti Busters before opening up his own studio in 2012. While there is a greater push for public art in Boston, Woulfe said the city's history with street art has been tough, but projects like the Underground are exposing people to new art and ideas from local people:
“Street Theory has been awesome about featuring local talent. Too often these mural festivals prioritize the big out-of-town artists, and then throw in a couple locals for good measure, but Street Theory kind of does it the other way around...Give the locals a chance to shine on their own stage, while inviting a small group of outside big-name talent to drive more interest. It's refreshing and empowering...maybe Boston artists won't need to leave town to get some notoriety any more.”
With the continued growth in popularity of street art, The Underground’s future is bright, but, according to Boston native and marketing director for Bodega, Matthew Zaremba, he feels it's important to keep the grassroots art movements and initiatives going, and not just relying on what’s being proposed through the city:
“We need more legal walls, and open workshops for the youth, to nurture the next generation of creators. As the South End has been redeveloped, the neighborhood’s public art has come full circle... years ago, there was illegal graffiti all over I-93 and now there's murals and artwork from graffiti writers that used to get up around here during the 90's. I never thought as a graffiti writer I'd be painting a highway, a major highway, with permission, a blessing from MassDoT and the backing of the developer. It’s a dream.”
A few addition quotes & photos from this year's artists:
"Featuring bright pinks and deep blues, 'Cranes in the Sky' depicts an Afro-futuristic woman's face and cranes flying overhead. The mural is inspired by the Solange song of the same name and is meant to inspire creativity. I was trying to inspire creativity and and use that energy to defeat self doubt. The mural took me 2 1/2 days, working 12 hrs."
“Sacred Journey' is the story of an elder, blessing womankind. Throughout life, and beyond death, women are sacred. They are our protectors, teachers, and carriers of tradition. They give life to our children, and children are our future. Here’s to keeping tradition alive for our future. Bless and protect our women and children on their sacred journey."
"The name of the mural is Choices, it basically speaks to the seemingly infinite amount of choices we now have in the 21 century as if anything is possible if you can think it up...also refers to the choices one juggles in the day to day and how one simple choice can have a huge impact on someones life. That said it is not lost on me that some people will read this as something else and the mural leaves room for the viewer to decide for themselves what it means to them."
"My mural 'For Giving For Getting' is a play on the phrase 'forgive and forget'. It’s meant as a statement about human connection and that love, specifically, is a two-way street... not something to be taken for granted, or abused, or neglected, or spoken but not actually shown. In this day and age, I think a lot of people want to share their opinions and their voice, but don’t necessarily back them up with their actions. I’m a firm believer in the idea of showing and proving. This is a reminder to the world. That if you want change, if you want to connect, if you want to make an impact, you have to give as much as you take."
"The Upside Down"
"The space for my mural was pretty unique, with a lot of contours and different facing surfaces. So I concentrated on making a piece that could be experienced from different angles, walked under/around etc, creating an energy and environment to itself. The title comes from the feeling that the mural gives off, which to me was a very 80s kinda sci-fi/horror vibe (ie. Stranger Things) and the fact that I spent half the time painting upside down."
Silvia Lopez Chavez
"Up and Under"
"The concrete structures, overlapping lines above and patterns within the structure served as inspiration for the mural. This utilitarian place made me think of it an entryway of sorts. It is a grandiose and vulnerable shelter space. On the columns, I incorporated rendered paintings of bougainvilia flowers, delicate and are also strong with very sharp thorns. The use of color and geometric shapes come from the energetic intersecting lines of the space. Is like a sacred urban jungle with art deco twist. I wanted the space to feel welcoming and inviting for everyone who uses the space."