Plywood can be improved.
Just ask Arthur Halvorsen, and artist who has been blasting in and out of the Back Bay and South End painting flower murals on every piece of plywood that replaced the glass storefront windows on June 1.
Most of the Back Bay and South End busin
esses that were looted in rioting on May 31 and after took to boarding up the windows and keeping the boards there. It just didn’t do for Halvorsen, who described himself as a renaissance man who has a healthy art career and also works at Warren Hardware in the South End.
After the Hardware Store was looted early on June 1, he decided the plywood look needed some color, and that gave way to scores of plywood panels being painted with approval – and without at times – all over the downtown neighborhoods.
“I have a desire to decorate,” he said, noting that he works in ceramics and teaches ceramics. “When I see a blank space, I say, that needs color. When the hardware store got looted I couldn’t stand the plywood look. I wanted to do something artistic to it. The quickest thing was spray paint. I translated my flowers I have done in ceramics to flowers spray painted on plywood. It sprung so many ideas immediately.
“I am vandalizing in some cases, but not vandalizing permanent things,” he continued. “I’m only vandalizing things that are going to come down. I’m only vandalizing the Band-aids.”
The flowers began popping up all over the place about two weeks ago, starting at Warren Hardware and branching out into the Back Bay, Newbury Street, Ink Block and on Tremont Street in the South End. They are marked by bold colors and black lines that form all kinds of flowers.
“These flowers translate easy to it because of the thick black line and I use very bold colors,” he said. “I’m not shy. Graphically it’s stunning. It’s really just about me spreading my seeds. I see my flowers as you do on an everyday situation – maybe something you bought at the supermarket, or something at a funeral or flowers for a birthday party. Maybe you see someone with flowers on the T and you smile even though they’re not yours. It’s to make you smile; that’s what I’m doing.
“The stories behind my flowers are for me,” he continued. “I absolutely see them as people and as emotions. But there is no narrative. You approach them with your own narrative. I like that. Everyone gives them their own narrative.”
Halvorsen works at Warren Hardware by day, but he also teaches ceramics at Mudflat Pottery School in East Somerville. He is also an adjunct professor at Lesley University, and graduated from the Maine College of Art in 2007.
He said the whole point of ‘Arthur’s Garden’ is that they will come down, but he also hopes they can spawn private pieces and public pieces – flowers that stand up in public places or backyards like paper dolls. If they get stolen, then that’s just part of the art, though he isn’t advocating it.
He said his personal hero – particularly now with what he’s doing – is Keith Haring, who did chalk drawings in the New York City subway in the 1980s to highlight the underreported AIDS crisis.
“He is my idol and this is how he started,” he said. “When he got famous for doing the chalk drawing in the subway – 60 Minutes was interviewing him and during that interview he got arrested. That’s what catapulted him. That was something he did to highlight the AIDS crisis no one was talking about. I feel like I’m doing the same thing. That is the artist’s job.”
As he has gone on, he said he continues to learn and has done panels recently that have come together very well. Like any artist, the more he works with the medium, the better he gets.
But the reality of reality also comes into play.
“I’m starting to understand what kind of paint runs more than others and I’m learning what gold is better and what silver is better than other silvers,” he said. “I have to work quick. I’m in there and out because I’ve only had permission to do a few of them. So I’m learning all the time, and I also have to remember to do my taxes.