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Crowning a new generation of artists

Fields Corner art piece celebrates Basquiat and black men

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Crowning a new generation of artists
Maria Fitzpatrick’s “Saints” street art project pays homage to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and local youth. (Photo: COURTESY MARIA FITZPATRICK)

A street art project called “Saints” is now gracing the historic Jerrier Storage Building in Fields Corner. Artist Maria Fitzpatrick and a group of young men at the Boston Center for Youth and Families’ Cleveland Community Center put the piece together over a period of 10 months during a bi-monthly art group.

Author: COURTESY MARIA FITZPATRICKTeens who are depicted in “Saints” pose with the work.

Fitzpatrick and the young men met at the center twice a month from 5–7 p.m. to make and discuss art and also to decompress from the day’s stresses. “I wanted to do an arts group for some kids in the community because I think it’s an important part of development,” says Fitzpatrick.

When she saw that the group was comprised of black males, she focused the sessions on Jean-Michel Basquiat, the graffiti artist who achieved wild success and celebrity in the 1980s. “Here’s this African American young man who comes from a background of immigration, and he’s now the highest-priced artist in the country,” says Fitzpatrick. “I wanted to show them that African American artists can become extremely successful.”

Graffiti collage

Drawing from this inspiration, the wheat paste art piece on the Jerrier building features a photoshopped graffiti collage. The cut-out word “Boston” sits in the background, while photos of each of the eight young artists float in front of it. Each artist has a gold, halo-like crown, a signature of Basquiat’s work. Basquiat challenged the Western artistic tradition by crowning black men that he admired as kings and saints in his works. Fitzpatrick says the symbol remains significant in a world still hostile to black men. She wanted viewers to see the boys in the positive light they deserve.

The social aspect of the sessions was just as important as the artistic lessons, Fitzpatrick says. The group would have dinner together during their two hours and talk about school, girls and television. “These are men of color who are living in a really negative world towards them,” says Fitzpatrick, who grew up in the neighborhood herself. “For them to be somewhere with an adult that’s not a teacher or a social worker is really important.”

Fitzpatrick says she thought of art as a positive activity that allowed the young creators to be themselves. Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn and due to early exposure to art from his mother, channeled his dissatisfaction with racial and social norms onto the page and onto walls. Now, these Fields Corner artists are following in his footsteps.

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