By Beth Treffeisen
What was once a dark, graffiti-ridden, sore patch along the beautiful Esplanade is in the midst of being rejuvenated through a colorful, dynamic mural that is currently in the works.
The brightly colored mural will reflect the daily cacophony of fast paced bicyclists, skaters, joggers, boat traffic, and the rhythm of vehicles that pass daily along the Charles River Esplanade.
The mural titled, “Patterned Behavior,” by Boston artist Silvia Lopez Chavez is the Esplanade’s newest contemporary artwork and is expected to take about three weeks to complete. It is expected to be done by mid-September if not earlier depending on weather. The mural will remain up for one year and has a chance to be renewed to remain for the second year.
In 2013, Silvia received a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant for her ‘Fresh Air: Portraits’ of Chelsea project; which explored the environmental and political aspects within air quality issues in Chelsea, MA and was also a finalist for the Brother Thomas Fellowship Award.
“It’s been very cool,” said Chavez taking a break from sketching the mural along the Esplanade, “We have had a lot of good, positive responses from people using the space. People who use it daily are just screaming “thank you!”
The Esplanade Association, an independent non-profit that works to revitalize and enhance the state park, commissioned the non-profit Now + There to curate and produce a mural for the Esplanade in the area located west of the Massachusetts Avenue, bridge.
The project is privately funded through money raised by the Esplanade Association.
Jessica Crimmins, the interim executive director of the Esplanade Association said that they have been interested in doing a public art project for quite a while.
“There are a lot of reasons why people come to the Esplanade – running, biking, walking or touring, and now, they have another reason to come into the park, for culture and art,” said Crimmins.
The association created an “Arts in the Park” fund to back this project and hopefully other future works to correspond with their other programs such as “Healthy, Fit & Fun.”
Currently, the space serves as a blank canvas for graffiti artists, and Crimmins said she hopes the mural will deter people from continuing that in the area. Depending on how it goes, Crimmins said, the Esplanade Association will look into extending the murals stay.
Over 100,000 commuters on Storrow Drive and thousands of bicyclists, hundreds of boaters and rowers, as well as many people on the Cambridge side of the river, will be able to see this mural everyday.
The concept for “Patterned Behavior” takes inspiration from the everyday activity and how humans utilize the space. When Chavez first began doing sketches and research in the area, she noticed that people tended to follow the same paths.
“Designing this piece, it was clear it wasn’t going to be faces or words, which can be present in my work, but more about the reflection of the space and movement and how to convey that with a ton of color – which is so me,” said Chavez.
She continued, “The color to me in an abstract way represents the variety of us here in the city, how we are from so many places. Boston has people from everywhere. That is my way of reflecting that. The beautiful colors are representative of the beautiful people here.”
For example, Chavez pointed to two yellow circles near the side of Storrow Drive and said in an abstract way that represents the cars going down. Other patterns such as arrows and lines represent the flow coming in from either side, intersecting and interacting with each other.
“It is a different experience depending on what direction you are coming from overall,” said Chavez.
This mural is the second commission by Now + There’s Year of the Woman programming and is the first initiative in the Esplanade Association’s newly expanded arts program.
Chavez said that she wanted to follow the Year of the Woman and hired an all-female mural crew. Chavez said that in the world of street art, graffiti art or murals, it is a very male-dominated community– kind of like a boys club of sorts.
She hopes to bring attention to female artists who continue to not get opportunities to build their portfolio.
“It’s something that’s a catch-22 – you have to think in reverse,” said Chavez. “I know a lot of strong artists that are female but not given the opportunity to do these projects…I hope this project opens more doors not just for me but for these amazing strong woman who are helping me.”
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), community organizations and neighbors approved this project.
The area the mural is on is very tricky to get permits for. The pillars and the wall belong to MassDOT, DCR owns the land and is charge of taking care of the park, and the main wall facing the river is a historic landmark, needing permission from the Boston Landmarks Commission.
“We had to go into getting all of the permitting, and that process was long,” said Chavez. “I was so grateful to have Now + there and the Esplanade Association to do that along the way.”
Chavez said it was difficult as an individual artist to go through this process and for most artists they don’t have the time or the capacity to do all of the work.
In addition, she had to get insurance that went into the millions of dollars to cover her assistants, herself and every object that she has at the site.
“Now, we’re here and that makes me very happy and it makes people very happy, which we have been seeing again and again which is fantastic,” said Chavez.
Kate Gilbert the executive director of Now + There, hopes that this mural will help reclaim the area that has slowly been taken over by cars.
“The art is sort of supporting the pleasant walk through here, but it is about cars versus people and what that is going to mean in the future,” said Gilbert. “[The mural] is going to make it more pleasant and useable space.”
In terms of the short stay the mural will have, Gilbert said she believes that it is important to keep changing the face of public art in Boston.
“There are some icons that are always going to stay, like the CITGO sign, but I always use the analogy you really don’t wear the same clothes that you wore 10 years ago,” said Gilbert. “I think temporary art reflects the changes that are happening now…there is a moment in time we are reflecting in artwork and hopefully in five years there will be something new.”