When I was approached last year about doing a commission for Boston Children’s Hospital that would be colorful and fun, feature Boston buildings, and include animals, I thought: Yup, that’s definitely in my wheelhouse.
Above: “The Old State House” (60″ x 30″ 2 piece painting)
The hospital was renovating its imaging floor and looking to bring in art referencing sites along the Freedom Trail. As such, each corridor would be named for a street with a Freedom Trail connection. My street assignment was State Street, and more specifically, the Old State House.
I remember how appealing the look of the Old State House was to me when I first came to Boston 25 years ago. I especially liked the lion and unicorn statues on the upper front corners of the building, so unlike any buildings I’d known in my life in Miami. As I considered this project, I thought it’d be fun to play off the idea of tourists seeing those statues for the first time. But the tourists would be lions and unicorns, rather than humans, and pleased to see their own kind monumentalized.
That’s not to say the lions and unicorns in the artwork weren’t humanized — they were. They were given human forms to a large degree, as well as clothing. I wanted to create a correlating equivalent to tourists one might see walking around Boston taking in the historical sights, so the scene would feel simultaneously normal and surprising.
The project began with an afternoon walk from my South End studio down through Downtown Crossing to the Old State House, where I took hundreds of photos of the building from different angles. What I most wanted to get was a straight ahead view, and that was pretty tough due to the configuration of the street in front of it. The best head-on view could really only be obtained while standing in the middle of the street, which I did, very carefully.
Dividing the artwork into two separate paintings, I began with the building itself. The building alone took me about two weeks to paint, mainly because of all the brickwork and mortar. My plan was to have a gathering of lions along the sidewalk nearest the lion statue, and unicorns gathered on the side with the unicorn. Then I added in one unicorn on the lion side, and one lion on the unicorn side for a little balance. To figure out how the pointing poses should look, I had a few friends pose for photos while they pointed up toward the sky.
The surrounding buildings were purposely painted more loosely, highlighting the architectural detail of the Old State House as well as how deceptively tiny it can feel in their looming presence.
This diptych was to be printed on plexiglas and wall mounted. I have to admit I was a little skeptical about the plexiglas, but when I saw it installed at the hospital I appreciated how luminous and sleek it appeared.
Note: I’ve set the two images at the beginning of this post to show side by side, so that you can see the entire diptych image. If you’re looking at it on a mobile device, however, you won’t see them side by side.
If you’d like to know more about the Old State House, here are a few resources:
A 2014 Boston.com story about the refurbishment of the lion and unicorn statues.
The Bostonian Society’s History of the Old State House.
Thanks for reading.