In Northeastern’s latest mural, art imitates life

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A pelican, a blue jay, a cardinal, a seagull, and an Andean gallito de roca. They’re seldom if ever seen together in the wild, but they’re all perched together on the side of the Stearns Center on Northeastern’s Boston campus. It’s part of the newest campus mural, with a story to tell about immigration, travel, and connecting with one’s roots.


Felipe Ortiz, the artist behind “Plumage,” deliberately chose many migratory species for his vibrant new campus display. Ortiz was born and raised in Cali, Colombia. He lived there for 14 years until his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1999.

When he returned to his own country after gaining U.S. citizenship, Ortiz found that birds’ seasonal migratory patterns resembled his own journey from south to north and back again. The parallel became a central part of his artistic exploration.

“In my experience, I find it relatable that humans—also a migrating species—can move and adapt to find suitable conditions, but are faced with man-made frontiers and political borders that often impede these kinds of experiences,” he says.

Some of the birds in “Plumage” can be found in North America, and some in South America, representing Ortiz’s history on both continents. His fluid, expressive style reflects his Latin American heritage, a nod to a culture rich in color and movement, he says.

“As an immigrant, I find it important to represent my cultural values and interests,” Ortiz says. “Through my art, I can interpret a style where the subject matter can help the viewer identify the connection in my Latin American roots, and it is humbling to encounter viewers who also feel identified through my art.” 

Ortiz used a technique called “wet on wet” painting, in which he mixes colors on the wall itself while the paint is still wet, rather than mixing them beforehand. The range of colors used in the mural was created from red, blue, yellow, and teal base paints.

And just as Ortiz’s work is situated in the context of his specific geography, the piece is specific to its location on campus.

The mural sits between two pieces by Jef Aérosol, the French graffiti artist whose stencil work can be found throughout the university’s Boston campus. Ortiz’s piece is the newest addition to Northeastern president Joseph E. Aoun’s Public Art Initiative.

Ortiz wanted to be sure his piece fit “in conversation” with Aérosol’s, he says. In the existing work, a person appears to be jumping down from up high—Ortiz’s pelican is in a similar landing pose. A monarch butterfly wing in one corner of the piece echoes another of Aérosol’s pieces nearby.

“Knowing there was this other mural right next to it, I had to consider how I wanted mine to speak to it, in a way,” Ortiz says. “The fluidity of it, and the way it transitions between these other murals is what makes me most proud of the piece.”

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