Open Studio with Jared Bowen


Artist Rob “Problak” Gibbs, Playwright Idris Goodwin, & more

This week Boston artist and Artists for Humanity Co-Founder, Rob “Problak” Gibbs new mural in his “Breathe Life” series. Then playwright Idris Goodwin on his plays for young adults exploring issues about racism. Plus, the American studio glass movement at The Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida and artist Conrado Walter Massaguer, who introduced modernism to Cuba.

AIRED: July 10, 2020 | 0:26:46

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

artist Rob "ProBlak" Gibbs and his message on a mural.

>> In a state where we cannot breathe, I'm asking people

to take the time to breathe and look at what's going on.

>> BOWEN: Then the playwright giving his work away

so that we can all play our part in conversations about race.

>> Not everyone is comfortable talking about race,

but that's by design.

And, and it's, it's to continue to perpetuate

the imbalance of power and the inequity.

>> BOWEN: Plus a museum with more than just a touch of glass.

>> We have this opportunity not only having this

gorgeous collection, but we have the opportunity

to create programming that does inspire.

>> BOWEN: And the caricaturist who was the pride of Cuba.

>> He was influenced not only

by the artwork in Cuba,

but what was happening in the modernist movement

all around the world.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, artist Rob "ProBlak" Gibbs is Boston's man of murals.

His latest is taking shape right now in Roxbury,

which is where we met to talk about monumental painting,

the legacy of street art, and the power of positivity.

(jazz music playing)

For artist Robert Gibbs, the routine is straightforward--

rise up and get rolling with music.

>> So there's songs that either I'm familiar with

from listening to my moms and pops jamming on a Saturday

or things that I've grown up with

just throughout all my life, music is definitely, uh...

a vital component to painting.

>> BOWEN: The lifelong Bostonian is working

on the third mural in his Breathe Life series--

epic-sized works bringing fresh air

into the city's Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods.

Begun in 2017, they offer a narrative.

First, a little boy with massive might.

Two years later Gibbs painted him as deliriously happy,

supporting his equally joyous sister on his shoulders.

Now, she's floating into the world on her own.

>> She's blowing a series of bubbles

and out of the series of bubbles,

there's going to be one of them that's big enough

that covers and protects her whole entire body.

>> BOWEN: What do we see in her hair?

>> You see the universe, the galaxy,

so, um, the universe is always on her mind.

>> BOWEN: On his mind has been Gibbs's two-year-old daughter,

making sure that as she grows up in Boston, in these times,

she has something to look up to.

>> It's an uplifting message.

And so instead of trying to... as I would say,

feed steak to a baby, I would... sneak the, um,

the pill in the applesauce. (laughs)

And so hopefully it's something that she grows up with

and other little, little kids

that see themselves in the murals.

>> BOWEN: Gibbs also grew up here,

venturing into graffiti art as a teenager in the early 1990s.

>> It's just the ability to hack or manipulate

the ideas from, you know, these little cans.

>> BOWEN: He stuck mostly to his neighborhood, mostly to

buildings where he and fellow artists had permission to paint.

>> These are areas and buildings that people, or the city,

wasn't even caring about, that we were putting the beauty in.

>> ♪ Creative innovator to his heart ♪

♪ His name is Ramo and his specialty is art ♪

♪ On Beat Street

>> BOWEN: Part of his inspiration came from movies

that cracked open his view of the possible.

>> One of the films was BeatStreet

and then there'sStar Wars,

and there was brothers and sisters

in there that looked like us.

I was like, "Yo, what they're doing

is speaking for the culture in such a large platform."

>> BOWEN: Today Gibbs's own platforms are expansive too.

Of course, there are the towering walls.

But there's also Artists for Humanity,

the institution he cofounded almost 30 years ago

that puts under-resourced teenagers to work as artists.

And teaming with him for his latest mural

is Boston's Museum of Fine Arts

in a nod to its upcoming Basquiat exhibition

and, says the museum's Makeeba McCreary,

as an acknowledgment that it can do better.

>> Black artists, black artists from Roxbury, from Dorchester,

from Mattapan have not traditionally been acknowledged

in our collection and in our programming.

>> BOWEN: TheBreathe Life mural's timing

is also horribly coincidental,

as the killing of George Floyd has once again

reminded the nation of the sanctity of breath.

>> In a state where we cannot breathe,

I'm asking people to take the time to breathe

and look at what's going on.

People are walking around with their head down, angry, mad.

And when you look at these murals,

they're so large in size, it's a minute to take a breath

and look up and see what's promising, you know?

>> BOWEN: Already drawing visitors,

the mural is painted on Gibbs's alma mater,

Madison Park High School, a sentimental spot,

but one that is also easily visible a mile away.

And it's no accident that

this girl floats over Boston Police Headquarters.

>> She's owning, um, her place, her rightful place in the city.

And, um, you want everybody to see that.

But mostly you want little brown and black girls

and boys to see that.

>> BOWEN: They will also see, whenBreathe Life is finished,

Gibbs's signature-- his artist name, ProBlak.

>> It's our name, "Pro" is for black is our people.

And so that signature, or the style,

or what people see alone and can connect with me as an artist,

it, it speaks volumes, man,

and it feels great because now, you know,

I've got my daughter telling me I'm a superhero

to her now. (chuckles)

So I'mma just continue to grow on and flow on, man.

>> ♪ We ain't like them jokers >> ♪ Jokers

♪ My team get booked by promoters ♪

♪ 'Cause my flow's so ferocious ♪

♪ I'm focused 'bout to shine >> ♪ Shine, shine, shine

>> ♪ Supernovas

♪ I came out dirty they ain't want me to shine ♪

♪ No, no, no

>> BOWEN: That was a performance in our own studio fromHype Man,

a play about discord among a group of artists

when they can't agree on how to address

the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Its playwright, Idris Goodwin,

is now making five of his plays addressing the Black experience

available for free to children and families.

Including #MATTER, a work that dives into the debate

over the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here's a look.

>> Nobody is killing you and locking you up

and taking away your right to vote and then telling you

to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

>> BOWEN: Idris Goodwin, thank you so much for joining us.

>> Oh, yeah, absolutely.

>> BOWEN: So tell me about

what you were thinking as you wrote these five plays

you've put out into the world for free so people,

in invitation, of course,

for people to participate, have an exchange with them.

What was your thinking behind it?

>> Well, you know, what's been really the silver lining,

if there is one, about this, um, challenging moment we're in

is that it's, it's forcing us

to examine how we were doing things before

And I just, I've always been the type of person that,

I write to respond to the moment.

And I, and I want to get my work directly to the people.

And, um, I don't know, this moment, I just was like,

this just felt like the thing to do.

I mean, two of the five plays are... existed already.

So I said, let me just bang out three more.

And, and just give them to folks, you know,

just, just to, just try to provide some kind of tool

to be helpful, you know?

>> BOWEN: When you say "folks," do you,

do you have a particular audience in mind?

>> Well, I mean, I was thinking a lot about my own household.

You know, we are a multigenerational household.

The youngest is nine months old

and the oldest is in her 60s, we'll say.

And we like to read, you know,

because I'm a professional playwright.

You know, I bring scripts to the table a lot

and say, "Okay everybody, let's read."

And since we've been in lockdown,

we've been doing that a lot more.

And so I thought, well, why not, you know,

do something like this,

but create opportunities for people

to have conversations about race, about,

about this thing that a lot of people either don't talk about

or are uncomfortable to talk about.

But it shouldn't be that way because, you know,

it, it's opportunities for us to learn

to be better as, as human beings.

>> BOWEN: What happens when you're sitting at the table

or in your living room

and you're taking these roles and you're acting them out?

>> I mean, I think it, it's quite literally just that.

It's you are directly engaged with the work.

Like vicariously, we put ourselves in the shoes

of the characters that we're watching on stage.

But this is just more direct, no fuss, no muss.

Just getting down into, you know,

the lives of the people presented.

So I think there's a much more immersive experience.

>> BOWEN: Do you wonder, and I wonder about white people

who often say they don't feel comfortable talking about race

and immersing themselves in these conversations,

and this puts them into the conversation

in a way they probably haven't experienced before.

>> Not everyone is comfortable talking about race.

But that's by design.

And it's, it's to continue

to perpetuate the imbalance of power and the inequity.

As an artist, as a storyteller,

this is one small thing I can do or that I have done,

was to just say, at the very least, you know,

I know there's a lot of parents

who want to talk about this with kids.

There's teachers who want to engage in it.

And maybe this is one way that

they can at least just open the door, you know?

>> BOWEN: Within your five plays,

how did you arrive at, specifically,

I mean, you do go very deep over the course of five plays.

But how did you arrive at what you wanted to talk about?

>> Yeah, so, so, two of the plays,

#MATTER was written in 2015

during the campaign when all the Democratic nominees were

were running to, to... in the primaries.

And Martin O'Malley said, for the first time,

this was the first time I ever heard this,

he said, "All lives matter," he said, "Black lives matter,

white lives matter, all lives matter."

>> I posted, "This is no time for apathy."

>> And I liked it.

>> "The fight for equality continues on."

>> Liked it.

>> And then I typed a hashtag and three words

I thought anyone could get behind.

>> I didn't quite like that.

>> The playBlack Flag is, was written in, after the...

in the aftermaths of Dylann Roof

and those massacres in South Carolina

and the debate about whether or not

to take the Confederate flag down or not--

a debate that we're still seeing now.

>> Guess your mom really did pack everything for you.

>> Oh... yeah.

She's got a lot of pride.

It's where I come from, you know.

I know it's a little...

you know, "southern girl" but...

>> It's your side of the room.

>> The other three, two of them were thinking about Juneteenth

because even in just talking about what Juneteenth is,

you inevitably talk about

the institution of chattel slavery, right?

>> BOWEN: How personal are these plays?

Everybody always says, "Write what you know."

>> Yeah, sure-- sure, sure, sure.

Of course, very, very personal.

I come from... I'm the descendant on both sides

of my family, of enslaved people.

You know what I'm saying, I, I...

we left the city of Detroit because of,

because of the crack epidemic.

I've had my run-ins with police officers that were,

that looking back, it's really a blessing

that I made it through those experiences.

And for me, you know, my calling,

my role is to be the griot, is to be the storyteller,

is to create reflection opportunities

for us to check in and say,

"Yo, this is what I'm seeing, what do you see?"

>> BOWEN: Speaking of that, finally, I wanted to ask you,

you've taken over as director of the

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, congratulations.

What a time to been taking over an organization.

But that's a whole... >> Yeah, right, right.

>> BOWEN: Whole other segment. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: But there was a letter recently written

addressed to white theater

that "You've got to do better." >> Yeah, yes.

>> BOWEN: And it starts with the leaders

and people behind the scenes,

not just the shows, the content that's being put on stage.

You're in that position now. >> Right.

>> BOWEN: What do you see as that position

allowing you to do that, as this letter called out,

so many theaters in this country

have not been doing right for the last, you know, century?

>> It's not a mistake

that a letter like that comes out

in a moment like this.

Because now we know we have everyone's attention.

And to be quite frank, part of why

I made the choice to go into arts leadership

is because I want to help

create lasting and impactful change in this field,

because I truly believe in this work.

And I truly believe that a significant portion

of a lot of these leaders to whom this letter was addressed

want to see the change, but they just don't know how to do it.

And they're too afraid to let go of some control and some power.

And so, you know, part of why my goal is to,

is to do that work in a real, in a real way where

people behind me are going to benefit from it.

>> BOWEN: Well, I very much enthusiastically

look forward to seeing what you do from there,

from here, from afar.

Idris Goodwin, thank you so much

for joining us today.

>> Thanks for having me, be well.

>> BOWEN: You too.

We're making every effort

to keep your cultural calendar full.

It's time now for Arts This Week.

The gardens of Daniel Chester French's historic home

Chesterwood are now open.

Walk the grounds of the sculptor

famed for his Lincoln Memorial statue Sunday.

Maps have been used to manipulate information

for centuries.

It's all detailed in the new online exhibition

"Bending Lines," Monday.

Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart

is now conducting... interviews

in the new podcast "Conversations with Keith."

Tune in Thursday.

Friday marks the anniversary of

jazz singer's Billie Holiday's death in 1959.

Known for the anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit,"

Holiday was only 44.

Flat Earth Theatre heads to the moon

with the science fiction radio playFine-Tuned Universe.

Fire up the YouTube Saturday.

We move to St. Petersburg, Florida, now

where the Imagine Museum gleams with glass.

With more than 500 pieces on view,

it covers the history and artwork

of the American Studio Glass movement.

>> I think it's important

to understand even what studio glass is.

As I tell the visitors as they come through,

you know, they hear the term studio glass,

but then have no idea... have no idea it was even a movement.

So why do we call it studio glass is the first question.

In the early 1960s, there were ceramic artists

and other sculptors, who wanted to work in the medium of glass.

Prior to that time,

believe it or not,

all the glass that was being manufactured,

was being manufactured or being produced,

was being produced in factories.

So in 1962, Harvey Littleton was the first pioneer

who determined that he was going to create the furnace

that could go and be in an artist's studio,

so that the artist,

individually and independent from the factory,

could create their art.

And that's pretty much how the movement was born.

Believe it or not,

Dale Chihuly was one of his first students

in the first MFA program

at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to study glass.

That was a pretty important period of time in those '60s,

when, you know, these creatives have come together and...

with the idea that they were going to transform sculpture

by being able to make it work in glass

and have the transparency and the reflection of light that,

prior to that time, had not been possible.

Hence, studio glass--

furnace in the studio.

The museum opened at the end of January in 2018.

We have a wonderful benefactor by the name of Trish Duggan.

Trish decided that she wanted to open a museum.

Then she determined that it was going to be

a studio glass museum and she worked

with a colleague, Corey Hampson, who is the president

of the Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak, Michigan.

And they discussed what would be the collection,

and what they would like to show,

and Corey helped her understand

that there was not another museum in the United States

that showed the history of the studio glass movement,

and showing that solely.

There's other glass museums, and they have the history of glass,

but they have it from the beginning of time.

So there was no museum that just was focused on this history,

independently of anything else.

Corey set out and worked with all the artists

and collectors in the area,

and put together a collection

of 500 pieces, 55 artists covering 55 years.

And so Trish bought the collection

for the museum

and that's what you see here today in these galleries.

Part of the collection we had

was of Paul Stankard's work

from the earlier part of his career

to the later part of his career.

So you actually can see an evolution of his work,

as well as when you're in the first nine galleries down here,

that you can see the evolution

of many of our other artists' work and technique

that they put into it.

Paul Stankard is like the...

he is maestro of the paperweight.

And I really just hate

to diminish that concept by saying paperweight,

because really they are beautiful orbs with...

And why we would call it "Unseen Worlds" is because

there's, there's basically, in that tiny little glass ball,

is, is a world that few people see.

I mean, it's the world that Paul Stankard has put together

in his mind.

And when you look at those glass orbs--

all of the flowers, the insects, the human forms,

there's little tiny ants-- all of those elements

that are in there were actually done with a torch

and a rod of glass providing all of those extra details,

so when you look at it, they're just magical, magical worlds

inside of these really perfectly formed glass balls.

It's one of those shows you'll have to get close,

you know, to truly appreciate it.

We have this opportunity,

not only having this gorgeous collection,

but we have the opportunity to create programming

that does inspire, that does uplift.

Not to just really have to be focused with studio glass,

but we can open that door a little wider

that gets to our, you know, the spark of our humanity,

which is the arts in a much broader sense.

>> BOWEN: Finally now, a look at the often cheeky legacy

of Conrado Walter Massaguer, the Cuban caricaturist

who brought modernism to his country starting in the 1920s.

>> My name is Francis Luca

and I'm the chief librarian

here at The Wolfsonian,

Florida International University.

I'm the curator of this installation

that's looking at Conrado Walter Massaguer,

a Cuban publisher,

art director,

illustrator, and caricaturist.

He was born in Cuba in 1889.

He actually left and fled with his family

when the Spaniards invaded

during one of the independence wars.

And so he grew up kind of bi-culturally

and then multiculturally.

And so I think for that reason

he was influenced

not only by the artwork in Cuba, but what was happening

in the modernist movement

all around the world.

He actually introduced the modernist aesthetic

to Cuba with a lot of Art Deco designed covers

for his magazines.

Social was one of his most important magazines,

and that one aimed at an elite audience.

So this was designed to get

the who's who of Cuba

interested in modernism.

(man singing in Spanish)

He had an entire section

inSocial magazine called Massa-girls,

which is a play on his name,

sounds like Massaguer, Massa-girl.

And what he was doing with that was showcasing

this new woman that had suddenly appeared

first on the American scene,

and then he helped import into Cuba.

He loved beautiful young women.

He was a little bit of a machista in that way,

but he wasn't so thrilled about

their being so outspoken and liberated.

That, I think, was a little bit threatening to him as well.

So you sort of see that little bit of ambivalence

in these kinds of portraits.

He was also very famous for his caricatures.

In fact, that's how he's mostly known today.

And he did, over the span of a lifetime,

tens of thousands of caricatures,

and he did them in a very modernist style.

He said the best caricatures are done on the sly

with a furtive hand, where you're just sketching them,

and they don't even know that you're sketching them.

Some of his caricatures got him in a little bit of trouble.

He was not shy of expressing his disdain

for certain Cuban presidents.

You look at Machado sitting in the chair, not so handsome,

and then you look at the portrait that's being done

and it's, "Oh, he's young and handsome."

It's a completely different individual.

Massaguer spent a lot of time working for

the tourism industry in Cuba,

which began in 1919.

Since this exhibit focuses exclusively

on the work of Conrado Walter Massaguer,

I wanted to sort of show him in the context

of some of the other contemporary caricaturists

from Latin America and so it's calledCaricaturas.

Once Castro's revolutionaries seized power,

Massaguer continued to live in Cuba,

though in relative obscurity, until his death in 1965.

Here is someone who was the cultural ambassador

for all of these visitors,

especially from the United States

and all of a sudden there are no visitors

from the United States after 1959.

He ends up working in the, the Cuban National Archives,

just spending out his remaining days there.

To me the most important thing about this exhibition

is the fact that we can showcase this artist who was

well-known, well-renowned in his period,

but has sort of been eclipsed

because of more than 50 years

of strange relations between Cuba and the United States,

and his artwork is reflective of this earlier period,

this period of warm relations and cordial relations.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a group writers and artists

who've woven their experiences around race into their work.

>> That idea that you're here to help others means that

you already believe that you're dominant to those others.

>> I feel that this is a play about us knowing

in this moment of time

who are the immigrants in America?

Who is this happening to now?

What, what side are we on?

Are we paying attention?

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen,

thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online


And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter


>> I posted, "This is no time for apathy."

>> And I liked it.

>> "The fight for equality continues on."

>> Liked it.

>> And then I typed a hashtag and three words

I thought anyone could get behind.

>> I didn't quite like that.

And I responded with a hashtag with three words--

nothing offensive--

what I thought anybody could get behind.

>> I didn't quite like it.

I deleted it.

>> She deleted my response, which seemed hypocritical.

>> Uh, my wall is my space.

And, yeah, I edit it.

It's one space where I can create the world

I'd like to inhabit.

>> I, I respond to her posts a lot.

We share the same algorithm.


I respond to all posts that strike me.

I've been responding since the beginning.

>> My response was to remove it.

>> Erasure is never okay.

I responded, "This is not a race issue.

"Not really.

This is about abuse of power."

>> I responded, "Are you crazy?"

>> I responded, "If we're talking about equality,

"the human experience,

"this is, this is no time for stark divisions

"along racial lines.

This is a time for us to recognize our shared humanity."

>> I deleted it.


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