by Jeremy Sobek
I remember how I felt the first time I knew I was going to be an artist, I was in fourth grade, my teacher’s name was Mr. D. It was Halloween and the entire class was making paper plate masks as part of a contest. I had no cares for the contest, though. I was too absorbed in what I was creating.
The night before, I begged my oldest brother to draw something scary on a paper plate. He was a pretty good artist, so my intentions were to present whatever my brother drew. After minutes of pestering he finally drew the face of a werewolf, blood dripping down sharp teeth. I was amazed. I remember going to bed late because I couldn’t stop staring at my werewolf paper plate mask.
The next day in class all the students were pulling out their masks adding last minute decorations of scariness. I grabbed a new paper plate from Mr. D and pulled out the mask my brother made. I started copying the werewolf onto my new paper plate and was extremely happy with the result. So I drew it again and again, probably ten times that morning feeling joy every time I started over.
From then on art became my everyday life. Instead of going to play basketball with my brothers I would be sitting in my room drawing. A few years later, 1997 to be exact, a cousin of mine came over one afternoon to hang out. He had no idea I was into drawing. A few of my scrap papers had on them two tags that I would write over and over, Devs and Vex, and they were high up on a building in my neighborhood. My cousin saw my copies and told me who the guys were and explained this game called graffiti. I was instantly hooked and haven’t stopped writing since.
I have had some hard times in life and creating art has been the one positive act that has saved me. I was a gang involved youth, shot at, sliced with knives, was part of massive gang fights, racially profiled and harassed. At 13 years old my main focus besides art was to make it to see 18 years of age.
In 2013 I was the cause of a horrific accident involving a firearm that almost took the life of a loved one. I was arrested and spent the next two years in and out of court on bail, finally taking a plea. I served 2 ½ years. The hardest part of that experience was having to leave my son and hurting someone I truly cared about.
I spent my time at the South Bay Corrections Facility. The first month I was completely depressed. I spoke to no one, barely ate and I slept most of the day. For whatever reason I decided to hang outside the cell one morning for rec. I noticed a couple of guys standing over this man who was drawing, without thought I went and sat down at the table. The man was drawing, in blue pen, a lion with a crown. We spoke briefly and before the rec was over I asked for a few pieces of paper and a pen. From then on I drew. The inmates became my clients and I drew tons of portraits, angels, teddy bears, hearts, skulls and graffiti. I also wrote poetry. I joined an essay writing class and was reintroduced to a lost passion.
I realized the power of my art when I saw inmates smiling as they explained the images I drew to their friends. Some would quietly go right to their cell, sit on their bed and stare at my work for minutes at a time. I wondered what memory they thought of as they sat in silence. Even correction officers would comment, “ Pretty good work, [Sobek],” as they raided my cell.
The inmates encouraged me to do more with my art, for them and for myself. I wanted to create a business. Upon my release I decided to do whatever I must to accomplish my artistic goals. Since my release I have been part of a documentary called ‘The Free Walls’, working closely with Olivia Huang and the Cambridge Arts Council. I was commissioned by Jamaica Plains Development Neighborhood Corp to create a mural with the residents at 75 Amory St. I’ve been a part of numerous art shows and hosted my own. I have been asked to participate in a street art documentary as one of the main artists with knowledge of Boston graffiti.
Although I believe this to be a significant resume since my release, I have yet to be accepted as a serious artist in the art world. I have been denied by a few of the organizations that sponsor large scale murals in Massachusetts. My determination to create on a larger scale led me to create my ‘Back Against The Wall’ initiative with the goal of bringing legal street art to Dorchester/Mattapan, my birth place. The art scene in Boston is unbalanced with most of the colorful and experimental street art happening in the wealthier parts of the city. I’m the product and proof that something beautiful can flourish in the dirtiest of places.
“Take the art farther than where you found it,” I heard a man say in a documentary about Black music and arts. I say this phrase every day, for it leaves me with no choice but to see my goals through. I’m obligated to teach my son his family history and the history of all people of color. I’m obligated to speak on social justice, prejudices and inequalities because I’ve been subject to them. My power is my art and I will do what I must to take it farther than where I found it.
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