A new mural has made its way onto the side wall of 808 Tremont St in Lower Roxbury. Curated and produced by public art curator Now + There, the mural, the third in a series called “Breathe Life,” was hand sprayed by Roxbury native Rob “Problak” Gibbs and depicts two children surrounded by what looks like a glass window with a galaxy painted behind it and beams radiating outward. The children are signing the American Sign Language words “Breathe Life,” which can be seen in motion with an app called “Artivive.” The other Breathe Life murals are located in Grove Hall and Central Square. The mural is set to be left up for 18 months, but there is a possibility it will stay longer if enough people express their support.
Now + There held an opening celebration for the mural on June 5, where a crowd gathered to see the mural and hear from several speakers who have been engaged in the process. Kate Gilbert, Executive Director of Now + There, said she believed that Gibbs could “slay this beast of a wall,” as artist Ann Lewis had done it previously with her mural.
“What Rob is doing in this mural is elevating graffiti and street art. He’s throwing down the mantle for the next group,” Gilbert said. “But let’s face it: graffiti still has a negative connotation. Honestly, a black man with a spray plight caught in his hands can still be wrongly accused as a vandal. But Rob has artfully blended this graffiti sensibility with his formal painting techniques, putting him in a street art category all his own…”
Karin Goodfellow, Director of the Boston Arts Commission, expressed her excitement for the mural and called it a “victory.”
She said she was “thrilled to see that one of our local artists is doing work all over the city to truly break through the boundaries of a city and our neighborhoods.” She spoke highly of Rob’s desire to step up for other artists who are. Coming up behind him. “Rob’s artwork has filled the gaps of contemporary art institutions by celebrating local artists, art culture, and the importance of our youth,” Goodfellow said.
Stephanie Anderson Garrett, Vice President of Communications and Fund Development at Community Builders, the owner of 808 Tremont St., said “we’re delighted to host Breathe Life 3. We’re thankful for the meaningful beauty of the mural and for celebrating the families who call this community home.”
The star of the show, Rob Gibbs, said that 808 Tremont St. “couldn’t have been any more perfect of a location.” He thanked the community for their patience during the painting process, as he took up parking spots for the parishioners at People’s Baptist Church and was out there spraying day after day.
Gibbs said he was 13 years old when he first got involved in graffiti, and he learned from a friend “who was always doing characters.” He said this mural took a couple of weeks to design, but only one night to outline it on the wall via a projection.
“This is home,” he said of the location. “ I’m back home, so this is a way for me to take what I’ve been learning in the world and bring it back.”
“When I first met Rob, I was impressed with his sincerity, his enthusiasm, and his artistic gifts,” said Rev. Dr. Wesley A. Roberts, Pastor at Peoples Baptist Church. As an African-American artist who was brought up not very far from here, I was even more impressed as I observed him day after day, preparing the wall, sketching the mural, and then painting it. So each day when I get here, I would see him high on the lift, and he would wave to me and we would communicate in different ways. I want to say thanks to Rob for painting this beautiful mural for this community and for all the people who will observe and enjoy for the next 18 months at least. My hope is that it will last longer than 18 months…”
As Gilbert mentioned, the sign language can be brought to life by downloading the “Artivive” app, or by texting “Breathe Life” to 555888, and Now + There will send the link to download.
“So life right now is a little weird and maybe a little challenging,” Gilbert said. “But with projects like this, I think we’re spreading a little more positivity, we’re helping to redefine who we are as Bostonians, and artworks like Breathe Life give us a glimmer of a more positive and equitable future.