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.

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