Local artist Silvia López Chavez is painting a 5,000-square-foot mural on the MBTA wall outside Ruggles Station, turning a nondescript space into a vibrant passageway to and from campus.
The focal point is a pair of hands holding a paper crane, a reference to the ancient Japanese legend promising eternal happiness to anyone who folds 1,000 such origami models.
“It’s about fulfilling your dreams and how you go about creating your future,” says López Chavez, who took a short break from painting on Thursday to reflect on her work.
The mural is bursting with color, including brilliant shades of blue, green, and purple. It features Slinky-like shapes, directional arrows, circular targets, and a lone train barreling down a bright red track.
“I wanted to capture this idea of migration and making a journey,” says López Chavez, noting that her art explores the basic human need to connect across social, political, and cultural mores. “It’s never a straight line—it’s always up and down.”
Her mural is the latest piece in President Joseph E. Aoun’s Public Art Initiative, which provides a platform for artists to test their creative limits on campus. The artwork is scheduled to be completed later this month.
“Public art has the ability to bring people together and create joy in unexpected places,” says López Chavez. “I think Boston could use more public art and I love that Northeastern is supporting that mission.”
‘Whenever I’m not making art, I’m not happy’
López Chavez was born in North Carolina and grew up in the Dominican Republic.
Art is in her blood. Her father plays the cello and her mother sings. In her childhood, she says, “music and art were part of every family gathering.”
She studied painting and sculpture at a popular art school in the Dominican Republic and moved to Boston in 1997 to study illustration at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
She didn’t intend to stay in Boston after earning her degree. “I thought I’d be here for four years, pay off my loans, and go home,” she says.
Instead she took a fulltime job as a graphic designer and illustrator at the Museum of Fine Arts and has continued to live and work in the city for the past two decades.
She recently completed her first professionally commissioned mural on the Charles River Esplanade and is currently an artist in residence at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she makes art with children with serious illnesses.
“Art,” she says, “has the power to heal and make children forget about their pain.”
López Chavez, who specializes in mixed media paintings, drawings, and monoprints, has exhibited her work in shows at the Fitchburg Art Museum, Boston Children’s Museum, and the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Clients of her freelance design work have included the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“I’ve been making art my whole life,” she says. “Whenever I’m not making art, I’m not happy.”
She supports her fellow female artists. Her husband, a photographer, is helping her paint, but the other artists on the Northeastern mural project are women.
She says that several onlookers have already thanked her for breathing new life into this once utilitarian space.
Sarah Milberger, who graduated from Northeastern this spring with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, observed the crew in action on Monday morning. “It feels imaginative in a youthful way,” Milberger says.