Under the sprawling concrete where I-90 and I-93 meet, a Boston street art scene is beginning to come into focus. Cars run overhead day and night; in the cover below, bikes pass by and folks walk their dogs. There's an energy running through this eight-acre park that's inescapable — and it's bigger than the excitement that a few new murals bring.
Two years ago, a dozen artists converged on what's being called Underground at Ink Block. They added some color and style to the newly-minted urban park at the foothills of the South End and South Boston. This past week, another handpicked group of artists put up new pieces in the space. Creative agency Street Theory, founded and run by couple Liza and Victor Quiñonez, organizes and facilitates the mural projects, while real estate company National Development pays the bills.
The initiative finds a way to make the otherwise forgotten, somewhat awkward yet grandiose space — created by the elevated highways — a usable park. At the same time, it imagines something greater for Boston's street art scene. The artists chosen both in 2017 and this year are a mix of Boston-based artists and artists at the height of street art culture in other cities and countries. The goal: Elevate Boston artists while elevating Boston's status in the global scene.
“We strongly believe in, you know, uplifting the art scene in Boston but also giving Boston artists opportunities to show outside of Boston," Victor Quiñonez said. "It's one thing, and it's one challenge, to get them exposure in their own city but it's a whole other challenge to show, you know, other major cities that this is a city that absolutely has talent just as much as they do."
This project ideally allows local artists to engage with artists and styles from elsewhere.
Underground at Ink Block is a concentrated example of what's playing out on a broader scale in Greater Boston. As more money flows into the region, there's been organized efforts to put up walls in Cambridge's Central Square, Boston's Grove Hall, downtown Lynn, downtown Worcester and Salem. Compared to other major hubs, "Boston is sort of playing catch up game right now," Quiñonez said. Boston's historically conservative attitude toward street art is loosening. We're starting to see what's possible.
The first year of the mural project brought artists into the nave of the underground space; walls were painted in the central part under the overpasses. This year, the artists were tasked with focusing on spaces facing the highway, visible on the skyline. Here's a look at the artists and their new pieces:
Born in the Dominican Republic, Silvia López Chavez has been based in Boston for the past two decades. As both a practicing fine artist and illustrator/graphic designer, her distinct style merges the pop of brightly-colored two-dimensional shapes with more realistic elements painted in still life. She makes a point of incorporating community into her process. For her, that means making sure girls and women get exposed to the scene.
The unique spot she painted in Underground at Ink Block reminds her of one of the first large-scale outdoor pieces she did in Boston in the fall of 2017 under the Kenmore overpass on the Esplanade. Earlier this month, she finished up a massive piece at the Ruggles MBTA station. In it, a woman blows bubbles as geometric shapes liven up the background with pops of color.
López Chavez is calling her piece in Underground "Up and Under." Flowers crawl up two pillars and bold, bright geometric shapes sprawl across the space where the pillars connect above. Flat colors layer up, making use of distinct architectural elements like the beveling concrete on the pillars. Colors blend at the focal point, the flowers that López Chavez describes as fragile yet strong.
Spanish artist Iker Muro had one of the trickiest spaces in Underground at Ink Block this year. He covered the edge of the highway, visible on the South Boston side, in his iconic bright blobs.
Up close, the blobs look like oblong ovals, crisp yet vague shapes merging into one another. But if you walk across the bridge to the right spot (conveniently marked with three circles), you'll see the shapes line up to form perfect circles. The anamorphic mural is one of the more outwardly visible pieces this year -- and adds a striking pop to the skyline.
Muro is known for transforming abandoned spaces with confident splashes of color. Originally an illustrated and graphic designer, he's been focusing on public art since 2002, with the simple ethos: "Color makes people happy."
Victor Quiñonez, one half of the Street Theory team, is an established street artist who splits his time between Boston and New York City. He goes by Marka27 and describes his style as neo-indigenous.
He painted his first Boston wall in 1999, and now has walls all over the area, including Central Square, Grove Hall and Lynn. He painted a 200-foot-wide piece in collaboration with Don Rimx and Problak in the central nave of Underground at Ink Block in 2017. This year, he took on a solo project, painting a column with two extensions connecting to the I-93 overpass. He politely calls the space "super dynamic" but also "extremely challenging."
The piece, which he calls "Cranes in the Sky," depicts an Afro-futuristic woman's face, interlocked with teal and magenta, as cranes fly overhead. Yes, he was inspired by Solange. He mentions his two daughters and says he wants to empower them, and also represent the diversity of Boston.
Originally from Mexico, Quiñonez said all of his pieces focus on a cultural celebration. “What I really want to do is just remind any person of color, whether brown or black, that they should always be proud of where they’re from originally, and not feel like they need to, in any way, compromise their culture or where they're from or try to be someone that they’re not because they’re afraid," he said.
Roxbury artist Genaro Ortega, who goes by Go Five, is a design and visual arts teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.
He's painting one side of a rectangular box-like structure sitting next to the highway entrance ramp. (Matthew Zaremba's new piece is on the other side.) He tells me the mural depicts an elder blessing a woman on her life's journey. The sage the elder is burning wraps around the side of the box, enveloping the woman as she walks away with a child on her back. She wears a red dress, which Ortega tells me is meant as a reminder of missing indigenous women.
He pulled on traditional graffiti methods for this piece, but also illustrates and paints on canvas. As with this piece, most of his art focuses on faces.
Boston artist Matthew Zaremba is becoming known for his simple, witty sketches. His Instagram account is full of black, white and red images consisting of simple all-caps lettering and ink outlines of objects, often hands.
In his piece at Underground at Ink Block, on the other side of the box from Go Five's mural, he simply writes "For giving, for getting." Two hands, one holding a heart, the other wide open, draw a gentle curve across the wall.
Situated right at the corner of the I-93 on ramp, it's one of the best pieces in terms of visibility that went up this year.
Originally from Rhode Island, Dana Woulfe went to MassArt and is now based in Boston. He co-runs the creative services agency Studio Fresh and works as a designer and freelance artist.
He creates very abstract, ethereal pieces. Wisps of paint crisscross, drawing your eye across a vast space.
For his wall in Underground at Ink Block, electric blue smoke shoots across a black background. It's situated on the underside of an overpass, visually acting as a top border or sky to the elongated portrait of a woman Marka27, Don Rimx and Problak painted in 2017.
Greg Lamarche has roots in the South Shore area, and came up in the old school New York City graffiti scene. If you look up into the concrete ceiling from the Albany Street side of the space, you'll see his colorful, typographic illustration of the word "choice." It looks a bit as if he cut the letters out, one at a time, from a magazine. He's become an expert at creating these type of dynamic typographic murals that mix the orderliness of graphic design with the energy of graffiti art.
Soraya Marquez, from the Bronx, has been steeped in graffiti culture for two decades. Her pieces are often woman-centric and have a social activism bent. She's had gallery and museum exhibits worldwide, painted walls everywhere from the South Bronx to Paris, and works with companies like Rimmel London and MTV.
Her street art is expressed in a uniquely mixed media form, layering street art with imagery and design. There's a distinct inspiration from pop art and abstract expressionism. As of Thursday afternoon, she was just getting started on her piece at Underground, so here's a first look.
Take a look around the Underground at Ink Block space: