Since opening in 2004, the Artists For Humanity EpiCenter has come to symbolize more than home to one of Boston's largest employers of creative teens.
Rob Gibbs, one of AFH’s co-founders and Painting Studio Director, sees the EpiCenter as a dream space to pursue his creativity - despite all odds. It all started 21 years ago when he and AFH co-founder Jason Talbot were teens with a passion for art and, serendipitously, met Susan Rodgerson, AFH Executive/Artistic Director. What began as a single artistic collaboration between Gibbs, Talbot and Rodgerson in her tiny studio (the size of a two-car garage!) has since blossomed into the 3,000 sq ft Painting Studio that tops the EpiCenter where Gibbs directs a team of mentors and the next generation of teens to find their voice through art, all of which will be open for you to experience at this year’s Greatest Gifts on Earth Holiday Sale and Party!
|Rob strikes a pose in front of his art at Crewest Gallery.|
This year on Dec. 12th, you are invited to shop and meet our co-founders and talented staff of teen-artists and young entrepreneurs at our Holiday Sale and Open House extravaganza! And while teens are busy putting the finishing touches on their paintings for next week, get the inside scoop in this exclusive interview with Gibbs,... plus behind-the-scenes photos from his first solo show in LA last summer.
AFH: Hi Rob! Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?
RG: Roxbury. I grew up in 2 sets of projects, Lenox St and Orchard Park.
AFH: When did you meet Susan?
RG: I Met Susan when I was 13 years old during my 8th grade year at the Martin Luther King Jr. middle school. It was around that time that I started to take art seriously.
|The first AFH teen-painters! Can you find Rob?|
AFH: What was the first project you did together?
RG: Susan worked with our entire class to produce a large painting that was a combination of 3 separate canvases that formed 1 large image. The composition consisted of 3 sections. The 1st section was a comet chasing its tail indicating that it already made a full cycle. This image was accompanied by a graffiti style alphabet that was held up by a series of 1”x1” squares painted by the individuals who took part in this large piece. That project’s concept was my introduction to the power of spontaneity and the power it possesses to unite and pull all creative aspects together to speak more than one idea/voice in a piece.
AFH: How did you all come up with the idea for AFH back in 1991?
RG: A few of us wanted more art exposure, so we worked in Susan's studio for two years after that first project was completed. She invited us to come paint and learn how to produce artwork under her mentorship. It started out as very informal. We had no idea how far this collaboration would go. We just had a good relationship and trusted each other. As time went by, our friendships grew stronger. If I had to say where the “idea” came from, I would say that it was birthed through the creative process. Susan created a space for us to learn and grow; we gave the dedication and commitment. So before you know it time told us the truth.
|The first AFH studio!|
AFH: What works did you sell when you were first working with Susan and Jason?
RG: The first couple years, we created:
· A large painting to celebrate the life of Elma Lewis and Ruth Batson.
· An installation for the Big Dig and an accompanying t-shirt design
· Air brushed T-shirts
· A mural for the Big Blue Dot
· A live painting in front of Armani Exchange on Boston's fashionable Newbury Street
AFH: What’s the biggest art lesson you have learned?
RG: I’ve learned how to think and be different. Practice builds strength. Confidence shows experience. Humility maintains the balance for them all, and helps me take ownership and responsibility.
AFH: What’s the best part of being a mentor?
RG: The best part has “parts” to be honest with you. Knowing that you get to help another person out by sharing your time and knowledge through a practice is one part. Being present in “the studio” is another part. Growing with a young person until they become a young adult is another. Experiencing the generations that come and go thru the program, going to weddings, baby showers and participating in other momentous celebrations of your friends, peers, colleagues, and mentees is another. The best parts need their own interview.
AFH: What or who inspires you?
RG: Hip-Hop culture plays a huge part in my work: the music I listen to and the lifestyle that comes with it. I represent a discipline in the culture that hosts its own alphabet (graffiti). So I try my best to hold it down. A large amount of my friends are creative and in some way shape or form. So inspiration is always a phone call or hang out session away.
AFH: Where have you shown your art in Boston?
RG: I’ve show my art in the following galleries:
· Nielsen Gallery
· Armani Exchange
· Kingdom of Fine arts
· Hibernia Hall
· Baha’i Center
· 4th wall
· Good life
· Locke-Ober Restaurant in Boston
· Mass Art
· Blick Art
I’ve also shown in a series of club nights and not so art friendly events. I have a series of murals around the city of Boston in each one of the major neighborhoods both old and new.
AFH: When did you start using the name ProBlak as your alias and what is the significance?
RG: It was the only name I’ve ever used. Taking an interest in becoming a writer, (one who masters graffiti) I knew I had to have a cool alias that would be a name that people could connect to instantly. I grew up in the golden era of Hip-Hop, and I strongly consider myself a product of what the old school paved the way for us to take it to the next level. I listen to recording artists such as Big Daddy Kane, KRSone, Cool-G-Rapp, LLcool J, Special Ed, Kurtis Blow, (just to name a few) who turned on my thirst to want to be a part of this culture in a major way. It was through artists such as Nas, Ice Cube, X-Clan, Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Brand Nubian and of coarse PARIS, that fueled the name that chose me: “Problak”. I took away the “c” to try and make the name shorter due to the necessity of writing it faster when I had to put it up and go. I was young and determined to be one of the greatest. My true hero that made me want to stick to my name is my pops. I found a lot out about myself because of the choice for my writer name. The dictionary helped me breakdown how I would combine the prefix and the base word together to simply say I am for my people. It felt like it meant something every time I wrote it.
AFH: You recently had your first solo show in LA. What was that like?
RG: It was bugged out. I was like “LA for REAL? Why not! I’ve got to see if what I do works somewhere else.” I’ve been a part of so many group shows. My first solo show helped me realize how much of a baby I am to the gallery scene as a solo artist. Producing the artwork was the smooth part. The pressure came from all the follow up work that you must do to be taken seriously (i.e. artist statement, bio, web presence, flyers, press packet, shipping, curating, promotion and promoting) I always knew about it, but when you have to do all that stuff for yourself, it’s a whole different ball game.
AFH: What do you hope people take away from your art?
RG: Honestly, I hope to trigger one of your five senses. As a writer, the misconceptions run heavy. The general public’s reaction when I tell them the “type” of artist I am usually comes with the screwed up face. The curiosity that comes with it hosts a gang of questions. The conversation is one layer. The artwork then speaks for itself. I feel like I advocate for a community of artists such as myself. These are the most talented and humble cats I’ve ever come across. I strive to have my work make a person feel smart when they walk away from it. I feel responsible for having some consideration for my audience. So I play on words with my titles, plan my compositions with fragments that could almost be compared to a breadcrumb trail to a story that’s always going to be a work in progress.
AFH: What’s the biggest challenge in creating art?
RG: Making the time to create it. You can’t buy supplies with skills and praise, so you have to have that 9-5 to support the means to stay active and relevant. As an adult, the time plays out really differently then when I was teenager.
AFH: What role do you think art plays in today’s society?
RG: I feel like my work showcases a voice of a kid who grew into an adult in city that went through some challenges. During those times, I developed my chops visually; through a discipline that evolved from a time when it was once hieroglyphics on the wall. My work reflects those early times as well as my thoughts: from absorbing the information or getting into a series of conversations with a variety of people. For me, art is a visual representation of what a reporter may cover.
AFH: You have a shirt that has "Graffiti Saved My Life" printed on it. Did it?
RG: Shout out to my brother Vyalone.com for putting such a statement on a tee.
Simple: I grew up between two neighborhoods that birthed an onslaught of talent but offered very few options in facilities that would host or hone your talents and help them grow. It was either play sports or hustle. The street entrepreneurs were the cool cats who seemed to have it going on, but I knew it was not the safest thing to do. Youth workers felt positive/caring, and seemed to have all the fun; but there was a certain mysticism to them. I remember being young and full of that “can’t sit in one spot" energy, so I know that I made a youth worker work, but I got respect from the cats on the street.
I chose to do graffiti because I saw a similarity between the two types of people I looked up to when I was not around my parents: the youth worker and the cats on the street. Graffiti had that “who did it” mystery. I felt like, “if I can do this, it would be ill to say something, but I could
still be a bad ass because I’ll put it where I thought it belonged in the street and nobody would know personally who did it, just the name that signed it.” Choosing to do Graff kept me in the street in a different way, and a majority of my good friends took the other route for a variety of reasons that were accessible to us. I read the papers and personally experienced the effect of those choices, so I went with my heart with the support of some fear that my pops and moms would not only be disappointed, but would kick my butt. My lil brother was also a serious motivator for me to take that Graff route because I felt like it was my job to not only take care of him but to help him make the best choices in and outside of the streets.
AFH: What’s next for you? Future plans?
· Continuing to put some paint where it ain’t.
· My Web site problak.com (long time coming)
· Select gallery shows and collaborations with good people who are in the industry of art and design.
This is my LIFEWORK so I will continue to walk a humble path and do this thing until it hurts.
Stay Strong, Grow on, Flow on,
For more about AFH, keep checking back here and on our facebook page. If you would like to support our program and help us fund over 200 under-resourced teens with jobs in the arts, click here.
And to meet our co-founders in person and the teen artists they inspire, RSVP to come to our Greatest Gifts on Earth this Dec. 12th!
Want more? You got it! Check out the video below!