By Cassie Capewell for Boston Compass Blog
November 19, 2020
Meet Curtistic, a fine artist making a big mark in and around Boston. You might have seen his work already—he painted the murals at the McDonald’s in Central Square, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, and Out of Town News in the heart of Harvard Square, among others.
A pretty impressive list for someone who has only been making large-scale murals for about a year. And now? A collaboration with the most prestigious art museum in the city.
It all started in Japan. Curtis Williams made his first piece of art when he was five years old living overseas with his family. It was a color-by-number duck from an issue of Nickelodeon Magazine (and he includes rubber ducks in his pieces still today). At the time, Pokémon was new and taking over the world. In the center of it all, Curtis would collect stickers and trading cards, not even knowing their names because they were all in Japanese. However, the electrifying creative ecosystem of Japan started Curtis off on his own artistic explorations.
Back in the states, in Orlando, Florida, Curtis continued developing his creativity, drawing cartoons, taking art classes, customizing Air Force 1s, and later apprenticing at a tattoo shop.
But he never stuck to one medium. When he moved to Boston in 2015, he expanded to scratchboards, acrylic paint, embroidery, pastels, spray paint, graphic design, 3D rendering, and more. “I will do anything I can get my hands on,” he says. “As long as I can afford to do it, I’ll try it—that’s my motto right now. I want to do a little of everything.” He even sleeps with art tutorials playing in the background, hoping to get them stuck in his subconscious.
A mainstay in much of his work is his dinosaur, inspired by Francisco Goya’s painting The Colossus, which depicts a giant standing in the background of a tiny village in the foreground. Curtistic’s dinosaur is a nod to his time living in Japan, with their kaiju monsters and Godzilla. “I love the idea of things being larger than life,” he says. You’ll often see Curtistic’s signature dinosaur stomping among cityscapes, a nod to his new home of Boston, and the dino really comes to life through his latest artistic pursuit: murals.
He started out by assisting muralists with their pieces for Underground at Ink Block, as well as Marka27 with his “Queendom” mural in Central Square. Marka27, with Liza Quiñonez, is the co-founder of Street Theory Gallery, a creative agency that focuses on activating communities through street art. Street Theory Gallery is curating various mural initiatives around the city, including Underground at Ink Block and an installation at the Museum of Fine Arts.
The new mural on the front lawn of the MFA is titled, No Weapon Formed Against Thee Shall Prosper, and features portraits of George Floyd and Martin Luther King Jr, among others. It represents the struggle of Black People and People of Color due to racism and police violence in America, and brings forth the question of art institutions’ role in reflecting communities of color. This mural is a collaboration between five street artists and muralists: Cey Adams, Sophia Dawson, and Marka27 out of Brooklyn, and Problak (another one of Curtis’s mentors) and Rob Stull, who are Boston natives and artists-in-residence at the MFA.
This mural is in partnership with the new MFA exhibit, Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation. Jean-Michel Basquiat and fellow street artists including A-One, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee, and Toxic created an art scene of their own that defied longstanding racial divisions and took the world by storm, providing interesting context to 2020 America.
This collaboration includes “Speak Your Truth,” a digital protest mural for the public to engage with, featuring Curtistic and other local artists Lee Beard, Mar Chapman, Sage De La Cruz, and Rixy Fernandez. Curtis’s addition (top left) is a collage piece with the message of unity. Add your own piece of art to this digital mural (template here) and be entered to win a tour of Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation!
“It was amazing,” Curtis says, about the collaboration and experiencing the exhibit. “It was inspiring to say the least. Knowing who [Basquiat] was, and his art within history, it holds weight.”
It’s refreshing to see the work of so many artists of color represented in a world-renowned arts institution, and even better that some are local. Many people grow up learning about Monet, van Gogh, Matisse, and the like, but how many know an equal number of Black and Brown artists, or their influence on white cultures?
“Abstract expressionism was inspired by jazz,” Curtis says. “Jackson Pollock and other abstract painters at the time would go to Harlem and other Black neighborhoods and listen to jazz music, and then go home and try to recreate it in their work. Picasso stole cubism from African masks. We’ve always been there, we’ve always created, but art history doesn’t get taught in that same light. It’s one reason why I create the work that I do.” He continues, “especially with this exhibit at the MFA, there’s a sort of renaissance taking place at the moment; it’s cool to feel like I’m a part of it.”
As far as what’s next for his artistic journey, Curtis has his eyes set on sculpture and marble work, as well as curating shows. And when I ask if he wants to stay in Boston, he says, “hell yeah,” an answer that unfortunately surprises me after hearing “hell no” from many Boston artists.
“It’s a blessing,” he says about his time so far in this city. “It’s crazy. I’ve done so much since being here.” He just finished a mural for B/SPOKE Studios’ WAREHOUSE pop-up in South Boston, and is now sketching out plans for a restaurant project and a mural for Canal District Kendall. “I’m constantly working, learning, and trying to grow... just soaking up everything I can from this world. I’ve been blessed to find the reason why I’m here, so I just keep pushing that.”
For Curtistic, this is all a larger-than-life dream turned to larger-than-life art.
Madison Park Technical Vocational High School Mural: @jalenwalkerphoto
MFA front lawn mural: Adams, Cey; Dawson, Sophia; Quinonez, Victor "Marka27"; Gibbs, Rob "Problak"; and Stull, Rob. (2020) No Weapon Formed Against Thee Shall Prosper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Basquiat Painting: Basquiat, Jean-Michel. (1985) Anthony Clarke [Acrylic, oil, and collage on wood]. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Curtis Working: @trulydex
This piece was made possible through the Boston Arts and Culture Covid-19 Relief Fund. Thank you for supporting our local writers and creators!