Street mural artists explain their craft

Viewing art as “the creative genius of humanity”

ARTISTS, SAID PERCY FORTINI-WRIGHT, aredocumenters” of history. “Without artists, you wouldn’t know what went on in the past,” he said. Art is what man has created up until now…It’s the most important thing and should be kind of put on a pedestal and not looked at as like art as a profession. It should be looked at as the creative genius of humanity.”

Fortini-Wright, a Boston-based mural painter whose style combines graffiti with fine arts, has lofty goals for the arts. The more people that take on that path of freedom of expression of self and mastering it and utilizing income and sharing that with people, the quicker we get to a better place in humanity and existence,” Fortini-Wright said.

As CommonWealth reported, more Massachusetts communities, particularly Gateway Cities, are turning to large public murals to transform their neighborhoods. Murals can enhance civic pride, attract tourists, and even improve public safety. On this week’s Codcast, we spoke to two mural artists, Fortini-Wright and Mike Grimaldi, about their craft.

Grimaldi, a Salem resident who goes by the name Grimdrops in the art world, waited a decade after graduating from Montserrat College of Art before even attempting a mural.” “I had huge admiration for this work, but I was way too scared to take on a project,” Grimaldi said. He took the leap at a Salem arts festival, painting a four by eight piece of plywood, and got hooked.

Grimaldi describes his style as “very clean, very bold, very graphic.”

“Businesses will come to me with a general idea, and then it’s my job as an artist and muralist to visualize it, make something that makes sense for the project and what they’re looking for,” Grimaldi said.

Fortini-Wright describes himself as a realist and an observational painter, who is known for his cityscapes, like a Cambridge mural that depicts Central Square at night. “I’ve been a working artist for a long time, merging the aesthetic of coalescing graffiti and classical oil painting,” he said. His trademark motif is a zebra, reflecting his multiracial heritage and Libra zodiac sign (zebra, he points out, rhymes with Libra and has stripes, echoing the balance of opposing forces in Libra’s scale symbol).

While speaking on the Codcast, Fortini-Wright walked down to a massive mural of an Orange Line train, replete with a zebra, that he’s painting for a private client and art collector who owns a Boston data center and commissioned the mural in a parking garage abutting the Orange Line.

Asked practically how one creates gigantic murals on buildings, Grimaldi said he designs his murals on his iPad first, then either projects the image onto the wall or uses a grid method, dividing the picture into squares and painting one square at a time.

Fortini-Wright generally sketches his ideas and works from a reference photo, but focuses more on the big picture rather than sketching each detail. He uses paint rollers with extenders to get up high or low on a wall and extend his range, and uses a combination of spray paint and house paint.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Fortini-Wright said part of his goal is to positively impact the community, particularly by inspiring other artists. “I think of artists like mini-creators where we’re kind of creating our own little reality,” Fortini-Wright said. I hope I inspire other artists to become artists as well, other young people. To be able to create your own work out of your own thinking I think is what our purpose is here.”

Grimaldi said living in Salem, where the El Punto Urban Art Museum has filled The Point neighborhood with murals, and near Lynn, where Beyond Walls has commissioned dozens of murals, he has seen the transformative impact of art.The public art here is just unbelievable, “Grimaldi said. They’ve got work from some of the most renowned street artists around in the world. So it definitely transforms the area. And I feel like it definitely makes you stop to really appreciate it.”

“I get excited, and the community seems to get excited, each time a new artist is brought into the city to put up new work. It always gets people talking, which I think is always for the best,” Grimaldi said.