Armed with imagination and a love of bold colors, CFA alum Mia Cross creates public art for Boston neighborhood focused on a collective American identity.
Spark Volume 3, Issue 3 | by Rebecca McDade
We check boxes indicating our eye color when standing in line at the DMV and in our dating profiles, but one CFA alumna paints piercing and playful portraits of people’s eyes to make a political statement and connect a community. Mia Cross (CFA’14) studied painting at BU and was commissioned last fall to create a piece of public art for Boston’s Leather District titled We the People II.
Cross was approached by a public art coordinator for the Rose Kennedy Greenway with an incredible opportunity to create a 140-foot-long mural in the heart of the Lincoln Street Triangle. “I’ve grown so accustomed to the process of applying for opportunities— denials, sometimes acceptances, re-applying, etc.—so to be approached with such an amazing opportunity was an honor,” beams Mia.
To arrive at a concept for her mural, Cross drew inspiration from her 2017 oil painting, We the People, which she considers her first resistance painting. Following President Trump’s initial travel ban announcements, Cross scoured the internet for photographs of immigrants and refugees and then painted a poignant collection of their eyes.
“My goal with the original painting, and then the mural, was to recognize a diverse group of people who share an experience or call the same place home. I wanted to create a piece that said ‘we are all here, we are people of the world, we are Americans, we are connected,’” states Cross. “The eyes can express a strength and power like nothing else. And the notion of having eyes wide open is to simply say: ‘we are watching.’”
Shades of green, royal blue, yellow, and neon coral carry a vibrant and rhapsodic energy throughout the length of the mural in the various characters that she created. The mural is a playful abstract piece; one character even sports a head of banana hair above soulful, extraordinarily life-like eyes.
For a piece focused on our collective identity as Americans, Cross’ hands-on approach speaks volumes about her own identity as an artist. Her goal is to connect with the individuals represented in her mural on a personal level and on a larger scale, her dream is to represent diversity and unite the community. Cross approached strangers of varying ethnicities and ages in the Leather District and asked to photograph their eyes. “It was important for me to create a connection between the mural and the community that passes through the area,” she explains. “I wanted the neighborhood to feel a sense of ownership for the mural.”
In some instances, curious onlookers approached Cross and asked if they could be included in the mural. Originally, she was planning to only include their eyes but as Cross got to know the neighborhood, she began to include other distinguishing features such as a person’s hat, hair, or glasses. “People would check back in to watch my progress, excited to see their eye pop up on the wall,” says Cross. “Some of these people I’ve connected with online, one I am meeting for tea, another came to my mural celebration party. The mural is the glue.” Talk about practicing what you preach.
In total, there are 34 eyes on the mural and each pair took Cross about two hours to paint. In an effort to include as many individuals as possible, Cross used the eyes of two different people on several of the characters. For one of the characters, the left eye belongs to a homeless man who frequently stopped by to visit and the right eye belongs to a man who worked nearby. “They might never meet, but their eyes are now planted on the same face!” describes Cross. “It’s not too complicated. At the end of the day… we are all just people.”
“Art has the unique ability to defy boundaries that exist between people— different spoken languages, cultures, histories, ways of perceiving the world.,” says Cross. To experience the same piece of art “automatically connects you to the people who’ve looked before or the people who will look after. Your experiences are now intertwined,” reflects Cross. “I hope that viewers take away that we are all connected and, we the people, are all in this together!”
From wrapping up this incredible piece of public art on the Greenway to completing multiple residencies to exhibiting throughout Boston, Cross has continued to expand both her portfolio and her network in just the few short years since graduating from BU. Cross, who recently moved into a studio on Harrison Ave in the South End, clearly has the drive, passion, and imagination to create a career for herself that is outside of the traditional lines, helping the art scene grow and thrive in Boston. We can’t wait to see how she colors the world around her.
Here at CFA, we are so proud to see one of our alums showcased in an authentic and enduring piece of public art. “Mia’s work blends figuration and abstraction in wonderfully inventive ways,” shares Jen Guillemin, Director of Arts Leadership and Innovation at the College of Fine Arts. “We are thrilled that the Greenway selected Mia to activate the neighborhood with color and imagination!”
Want to see more of Mia’s work on and off the Greenway? Check out her Instagram @miaxart!