Local artist and educator offers public art walking tours
Boston has an extensive collection of graffiti and street art; the trick is being able to find each piece. Art Walks Boston offers walking tours of the public art in Boston’s South End, Mission Hill, Fenway and Jamaica Plain. The tours provide education on the artists and their processes as well as, let’s be real, a killer bank of Instagram photos.
Boston native Rob Larsen leads the tours. Larsen is something of a graffiti history guru as well as an artist and photographer in his own right. Larsen’s laid-back style and personal anecdotes bring an inviting atmosphere to the tour. He opens the experience saying, “Feel free to be oblivious, stare at art, take pictures, I’ll let you know when you’re about to be killed by oncoming traffic.”
The street art and graffiti tour starts just past Symphony Hall on Huntington Avenue. The first half winds through Northeastern University’s campus, which is chock-full of commissioned work.
International artist Jef Aerosol painted mini pieces all over the campus in his minimalistic black and white style. His most common character is “Sitting Kid,” a boy drawn up into himself with his hands around his knees. Whether he’s upset, sick, tired or merely pensive is up to the viewer. Red arrows are another signature of Aerosol’s, they feature in each of his works.
“One of the things to notice is how he uses red to draw your eye through the piece,” says Larsen. “He’ll look at the space that he’s in and subtly, or not so subtly, use that environment.”
Boston native Cedric Douglass features notably on the tour, with two powerful pieces on Northeastern’s campus. His 2016 mural, “A World of Innocent Wonder,” features a silhouetted child pressing the tab of a spray paint can. From the can emits a fantastical landscape with a dinosaur, Jackson Pollack-style paint splatters and Picasso-inspired morphed fish. The mural speaks to Douglass’s interest in educating young people about art and showcases the incredible breadth of his talent.
The first half of the tour focuses more on street art and murals while the second half hones in on the graffiti. Winding past Ruggles, through Roxbury and Mission Hill and ending in Jamaica Plain, Larsen illustrates how the big names in Boston graffiti, like Kem5, ProBlak and Zone, have evolved stylistically and moved from writing to creating depictive images.
The Art Walks tour is a wonderful way to learn about local and international street artists, and to see firsthand how the scene has progressed in Boston. That said, it’s not for the faint of heart, the three-hour walking tour covers three miles. Tours run through November.