The old bricks, thriving weeds, and peeling paint on the side of an auto body shop near the former home of the ‘Bubble’ community center in Grove Hall for a long time conveyed an unfortunate message about that stretch of Geneva Avenue: blight and neglect.
But that was before Jeremy Harrison – who paints under the name ‘Sobek’ – and his crew of artists, known as the Flava Unit Crew, transformed the wall into colorful thematic messaging about fatherhood and parenting.
The live-painting demonstration stretched over two days this month as part of the 3rd annual Graffiti in Grove Hall event, which has attracted a great deal of attention since the first installment in 2021. Now just a vacant lot next to a blank wall, Sobek said the site was screaming for improvement.
“There’s nothing like this in Dorchester right now on this scale,” he said.
Sobek said he has had no formal training. He took up the craft in school as a child. The first piece of art he remembers making was a paper plate mask for Halloween in the fourth grade. He said he created a bloody werewolf face that he liked so much he didn’t turn it in to the art teacher but kept it and made more copies.
As he got older, his technique improved from studying alongside talented graffiti artists from Dorchester and Mattapan. He describes his passion for the art as “rebellious strength” that has led him to prefer large-scale, spray-painted pieces like the auto body shop wall. He also worked on the Black History Mural on Warren Street in Grove Hall two years ago.
Jonathan Lopez-Wilen, a former member of the city’s Mural Crew, participating in Graffiti in Grove Hall this month. Seth Daniel photos
Discouragingly, most of the walls that he was asked to paint were in far-flung places like Sherborn, and he wanted to stay closer to home.
“I’m born and raised here and I’ll still here,” he said. “Graffiti in Grove Hall started from a point of inconvenience from having to go to work in other places…I really wanted to be able to focus here and share with this community and be able to just walk down the street and create…It’s live here now and I love that.”
Other members of the Flava Unit Crew see this as a way to bring their art directly to the community.
“I think every year this gets better,” said Prop, of Dorchester. “I’m glad local artists have a place to create and hone their craft with each other. Sobek puts out the bat signal every year, and we all love coming down here to try to create something dope with him.
“The more receptive the city is to what we do, the more opportunities spaces like this will come online for this type of art,” he added.
Another artist, who uses the moniker “Apeks,” has learned his craft over the last three years at the Grove Hall event. “Sobek taught me art,” he said. “He was my first art teacher and he stuck with me my whole life.”
The now-completed-piece in Grove Hall emphasizes the strength of men and men’s health. It also stresses the importance of fathers and the guidance passed down by older men to younger men.
“We’re in a world where it’s not seen as strength anymore to be a present father,” Sobek said. “It has become misconstrued where the family values and family isn’t there. I’m a father and my son needs me…There is also a sense of fatherhood we want to convey for every young person we might see roaming around.”
The piece is called ‘Swimming with the Sharks’ and shows how predatory the world can be these days for young men in neighborhoods like Grove Hall – especially without guidance by strong fathers and men. The mural shows sharks seemingly ready to attack, with an underwater Boston scene painted in as well.
In previous years, the wall featured topics like the history of graffiti art, among others. The event is coordinated under Sobek’s initiative, Back Against the Wall.