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Muralists kick off public art series in Grove Hall

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Muralists kick off public art series in Grove Hall
The mural on the side of Breezes Laundromat. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NOW + THERE

Artists Paul Goodnight and Larry Pierce have contributed a new addition to Grove Hall’s thriving public art scene, an energetic 60-foot long piece titled “No Strings Detached.” This is the first mural of public art organization Now + There’s “Mentoring Murals,” series, a project that pairs seasoned Black muralists with up-and-coming artists in collaboration with Grove Hall Main Streets.

Artist Paul Goodnight (right). PHOTO: COURTESY OF NOW + THERE

Goodnight and Pierce have been working in the Boston art scene for 40 years, and their priority here is providing for the community. “If you’re doing a mural, a public piece of artwork, it really is for the public in which it lives,” says Goodnight.

Located at 345 Blue Hill Ave. between Roxbury and Dorchester on the side of the Breezes Laundromat, “No Strings Detached” centers on three circular banjos. Black figures play string instruments around this focal point, appearing to move in synchronicity with the melodies. This was Goodnight’s original concept. “When I started to think of it, I thought of the string instrument,” he says. “And I started to follow its journey back, and a lot of string instruments came out of Africa. In particular, the banjo.”

Artist Larry Pierce with Acting Mayor Kim Janey. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NOW + THERE

Superimposed in front of this painting are images of four dancers, brought to life by Pierce. He recognized the drama and movement of Goodnight’s piece instantly and wanted to add figures that would maintain that energy. The dancers, representing hip-hop, classical and contemporary styles, illustrate the influence of Black artists on the dance medium as well.

“No Strings Detached” ebbs and flows with the expertise of a trained dancer, but it didn’t start out that way. The artists worked from their own studios on their paintings, and when they came together, the collaboration didn’t feel quite organic. Enter Robert Turrell. Though dubbed the technical designer of the installation, Turrell became the hidden third artist in the collaboration, working with the two muralists to harmonize their designs.

“You can hear the music, you can see the vitality, you can see the energy, and all of this is an homage to the central element, which is a banjo,” says Turrell.

The mural “No Strings Detached” by artists Paul Goodnight and Larry Pierce. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NOW + THERE

When first approached about the piece, Goodnight had reservations about the physically intensive aspects of mural-painting. But “No Strings Detached” isn’t painted on the wall of Breezes Laundromat. The artists created their paintings, and then with the help of Turrell, enlarged the images and printed them onto two panels of a weather-resistant material. The panels were then attached to the wall.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey with Kate Gilbert, executive director Now + There and Ed Gaskin, executive director Greater Grove Hall Main Streets. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NOW + THERE

This style not only makes mural projects accessible to a wider range of artists, but it also provides the opportunity for artworks to move easily from one place to another. Pierce and Goodnight hope “No Strings Detached” will move to a venue like City Hall after its run in Grove Hall. The piece will be up on Blue Hill Avenue through Sept. 10, and then the next artistic duo will take over.

“Longevity is very important. The longer you see it, the more impact it’s going to have on the most people,” says Turrell. “That’s really what it’s all about — giving back and sharing the gifts that you have.”

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