The Urban Canvas – Exploring Boston’s Graffiti

Walking the streets of Boston and its environs, I often come across spaces, buildings or public art that continually renew my love for the city. The city for me resembles a Tubist, Futurist or Suprematist painting in that the more I stare at its composition, the more interesting things I see.

I love wandering around the dilapidated areas of a city, near abandoned buildings or underserved neighborhoods in search of beauty in unexpected places. These unexpected places are the canvas for artists like Banksy, Pixnit and even Shepard Fairey who use the ugly and empty walls of buildings (often abandoned or not in used) to bring messages of anti-war, political and societal corruption to the people.

Wandering the narrow and congested streets of Chinatown during my lunch break, I came upon a mural on the side of a building on Essex Street. The mural, executed on a white wall depicts a man dressed in black holding two rollers underneath his left arm, carrying a pail on one hand and a brush on the other. The feeling of hopelessness and resignation expressed in the figure’s face further heightens the message behind the graffiti. As a spectator, we are told to follow our dreams, yet we are also told that these dreams have been cancelled. Executed by Banksy, a pseudonym for an internationally known British Graffiti artist, this work in Chinatown led me on a trek across the alleys and streets of Boston and Cambridge in search of street art.

That same day in Chinatown, I came across two works done by Shepard Fairey whose recent retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston was a huge success in part due to the popularity of the ‘Obama Hope Portrait.’

After walking around Chinatown, I went back to the office and recalled that alley in Central Square, Cambridge which is a sanctuary for graffiti artists. The thought of writing an entry on street art in Metro Boston was born in this alley.

The following weekend I hopped on the outbound train to Cambridge armed with my camera in one hand and a water bottle in the other in search of more art. Approximately two blocks away from Graffiti Alley (or Pee Alley or Creep Alley as it is locally known), I ran into a mural of a little girl writing on an imaginary surface. My first instinct was to attribute this piece to Banksy, but I wasn’t convinced that it was because it looked to be unfinished. After visiting Banksy’s website, I was able to confirm that it is indeed a Banksy piece.

Walking through Graffiti Alley in Central Square is like walking inside a candy store (to me at least). The walls are covered in every color imaginable, from neon orange to black to pink and white. There are many recognizable artists represented in the alley including a major piece by Shepard Fairey.

After spending some time in Central Square, I headed to Harvard Square in search of a work executed by Shepard Fairey I had recalled seeing a while ago. After leisurely strolling around Harvard Square, I found it on Dunster Street and immediately photographed it. People wondered why I was photographing a women wearing a head garment shown with a rifle shooting a rose from its tip. This is one of the reasons I love Shepard Fairey.

Graffiti is one of the best ways to learn about ourselves for they are a sign of the times, often denouncing political corruption and social problems while posing questions of identity and culture to the public. Throughout my trek in search of graffiti in the City of Boston, I learned that the dreams of so many inhabitants of this country have been shut down or “cancelled” as it has been done in Arizona.  I also learned that our wish of living in world of peace and harmony remains alive and vibrant as expressed in the works of Shepard Fairey.

Preserving Mount Auburn Cemetery

Preserving a place, building or object is no easy task. There are many parties taking part and all working towards the same goal: to leave the next generation a place or a building in which they can see their own history reflected upon its surfaces.

Last weekend I volunteered at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge assisting in deciphering monument inscriptions. For the last couple of years, the preservation team at Mount Auburn along with a dedicated group of volunteers has been surveying monuments and recording their inscriptions using various methods and techniques, which allow for a more accurate interpretation of these invaluable resources.

Techniques such as holding a mirror at an angle to reflect light on the inscriptions can help to better decipher the eroded and at times illegible names and phrases. I found the work extremely interesting and look forward to assisting in the preservation of Mount Auburn Cemetery for future generations to enjoy.

SOuth of WAshington Street – South End

SOWA Open Market

I love Boston in summer for its many outdoor events, including one of my favorites, the SOWA Vintage Market and the SOWA Open Market. The market opened this weekend at a new location just down the street from last year’s and it is better than ever. This year the market feels much more organized and with more sellers, but that could be my perception. 

Moving the SOWA Vintage Market to this new site gives people the chance to peruse the many art galleries and independent clothing and accessory shops in the Thayer Street area. Also, people can visit the many artists studios in the neighborhood during Open Studios or special art walks in summer. Had it not been for this move, it would’ve probably taken me an entire separate trip to see the excellent work  being done by creative artists in the city. 

I’m looking forward to the next many weekends the market will be open and hopefully find something different every time, including some gluten-free baked goods! I know there must be a bakery in Boston or its surrounding communities interested in selling their goods at the SOWA Open Market. I would love to see more vintage clothing or antique dealers this summer. It seemed to me that there were less vintage/antique dealers in comparison to last year’s market, but again that could be my perception. 

The SOWA Open Market is one of the many things that brings life to communities in Boston during the summer and it’s worth the time spent. It is conveniently accessible by the MBTA buses, the Silver Line, and it is only a short and pleasant walk  from the Green Line Copley Square Station and Orange Line Back Bay Station.

Boston Ink: Bringing the Tattoo Drama to Puritans

"Untitled (Vestido Montez)" by Dr. Lakra (a.k.a. Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez)The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Purchased with funds provided by The Buddy Taub Foundation, Jill and Dennis Roach, Directors

You can’t deny the power of tattoos. The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has dedicated an entire show to the art of the tattoo. Well, more specifically, the art of Dr. Lakra, a pseudonym for Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez, an artist and tattooist whose tattoo inspired art disguises the barely clothed bodies of figures taken out of photographs, advertisements, Japanese prints and even vintage pornographic magazines.

Remember back in high school, instead of paying attention in algebra or history class we doodled all over our books, drawing mustaches on every photograph of a person we came across? Most of the art in the Dr. Lakra exhibition recalls just that, doodles we all made in high school.

The art works in the show engulf the viewer with an almost disturbing, Freudian like embrace, capturing their attention and establishing a direct connection between tattoos and the image which they cover.

Images of eroticism and hyper sexuality are dispersed throughout show, to emphasize the fetishistic nature attached to tattoos.  Let’s face it, getting a tattoo is a liberating and exhilarating experience, it is a form of self expression which brings out the bad boy or girl in you.  Tattoos are badass. They make you want to bite your lips every time you see an attractive person on the street or at your gym with well executed tattoos adorning their sculpted bodies. And boy, are there bad ass girls in the Dr. Lakra exhibition? The objectification of women is undeniably present in this show which I found a bit unsettling, but Dr. Lakra also brings out the notion that tattoos act as band-aids which we use to cover our insecurities and improve our self-esteem.

The Dr. Lakra exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art could be the push the contemporary art scene in Boston needs to break away from the puritanical roots that have suffocated it for decades. If the exhibition inspires you to get a tattoo, kudos to the Institute of Contemporary Art for pushing the envelope and getting you to get other people to bite their lips when they see ink adorning your body.

Boston’s Love Affair with Art Deco

The Art Deco style in Boston never did flourished as it did in cities like New York, Tulsa and Miami, Florida, yet Boston has some excellent examples of the style. What remains today must be protected and preserved for they illustrate the history of the people of Boston.

More than any other architectural style, Art Deco celebrates the triumph of architecture, industrialism and commercialism. Below are some details of some of Boston’s most beloved Art Deco masterpieces.

For a sumptuous view of an Art Deco interior, visit Trinity Church on Copley Square and spend a few minutes admiring the 1938 re-decoration of the chancel by the prestigious architectural firm of Magginis and Walsh.

By any means, this is not a listing of every Art Deco building in the city, but a few details to spark interest in the style. To learn more about the city’s Art Deco architecture, visit the Art Deco Society of Boston’s website.

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

New England Telephone & Telegraph Company on 185 Franklin Street (Also owned by Verizon)

The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company Building on Cambridge Street, occupied by Verizon.

The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company Building, now occupied by Verizon.

One of my favorites in the city, the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company on Cambridge Street.

Detail of the beautiful Shreve, Crump and Lowe Building.