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James Perry in conversation with artist Percy Fortini-Wright

Anthony W. Neal
Anthony W. Neal is a graduate of Brown University and University of Texas School of Law and has written for the Bay State Banner since 2012.
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“Orange Line with Fish” by Percy Fortini-Wright PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

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Sponsored by City of Boston | Mayor Michelle Wu

This is the 20th interview in a weekly series presenting highlights of conversations between leading Black visual artists in New England. In this week’s installment, artist James Perry talks to artist Percy Fortini-Wright. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“Beyond Composition 3” by Percy Fortini-Wright PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Percy Fortini-Wright is a Boston-based graffiti artist and painter. He received his BFA and MFA from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Exhibiting within both public and private spaces and creating large and small-scale pieces, he combines the worlds of classical painting and graffiti techniques, expanding the boundaries of his work.

In 2015, Fortini-Wright was named Boston’s Best Artist by the Improper Bostonian. His past projects include the creation of five paintings depicting iconic moments in Boston Marathon history, commissioned by Adidas and featured in Hypebeast and Sports Illustrated. His artwork has also appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and American Art Collector, among other publications, and most recently on the cover of Journy Magazine.

James Perry: Percy, tell the folks who don’t already know you a little about yourself.

Percy Fortini-Wright: I’m a painter, a creator of many things. I like to coalesce classic oil painting in graffiti vernacular. I’m kind of a technical mathematician magician. I think of ways to collide the different compositions, how to play with the polarity of graffiti art, tagging, abstraction, and how that works into classical painting. I think of myself as like a scientist of how light cascades on form.

“Saving Andromeda” by Percy Fortini-Wright PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

I love teaching and empowering the light within other artists to create and be the best versions of themselves.

Who is your inspiration now and who was your inspiration in the past?

I’m inspired mostly by nature, observable objects. I’ve always had this kind of wonderment. I just like the universe, how it works, how it functions. I was always amazed that life exists in the first place. So, that was one of the first things that inspired me to create — creation itself.

“Exiting The Ring of Fire” by Percy Fortini-Wright PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

My grandmother was a watercolorist. She painted these really beautiful realistic boat scenes with these really drawn-out reflections you would see in the water. So, we saw art in that way. One of my best friends, who was like a brother, was doing graffiti in the early ’80s. He was a mentor of mine. I learned how to write graffiti at a very young age. Probably at 12 or 13, I was sketching in books, learning and in the game. Those were my first inspirations. Those were perceived polarities: classical realism vs. tagging, graffiti and that whole aspect. Those are the two pillars of my experiences, things I extrapolated from later in life.

I’m interested in painters like Caravaggio and John Singer Sargent. One of my favorites on a more scientific tip is [Leonardo] da Vinci. Also Pythagoras, a lot of the forefathers, the sculptors of civilization, the Egyptians.

Tell us about this piece on the wall here.

That’s a piece I did of my mother, right after she passed away. She was a big inspiration to me. She was always there when I had art shows. She was my biggest supporter. My mom was always that person who reached out to people. She always had strong ties to the Black community. [She] and her best friend were disco queens back in the day. She was a beautiful individual, someone I considered my best friend, and we had this very interesting bond between the music that we shared together. My dad didn’t really like rap music, but my mom could relate to it.

“Mosaic Pavement” by Percy Fortini-Wright PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

As an artist, how important are advocates and mentors?

I’ve always had people looking out for me. There are people looking out for you and people who aren’t looking out for you. Paul   was a huge mentor for me, my parents, absolutely, and a lot of my students who I’ve taught. Rob [“Problak” Gibbs] and his crew. Look what they’ve done for the graffiti world.

You have these city scenes. There was one I saw in Cambridge at Central Square. With your murals, I feel like I’m moving. How do you do that?

I love the spatial aspects of nightscapes. A lot of my compositions have that light at the end of the tunnel or some type of pyramid-like structure, and that gives the viewer a spiritual experience and a viewpoint … where it kind of puts the viewer in the driver’s seat. I’m playing off the normality of something. Everyone drives. I’m trying to find situations that all humans can kind of relate to.

What advice would you give a young person who wants to continue to create?

I think that all humans are innately creative. That’s what we do. What I do with any person is help them see their own potential and harness their own energy. Being a creative individual is like mastering self. I would tell them to work on their self-confidence. Don’t be afraid to fail. You learn so much from your failures, sometimes more than your achievements. Be fearless and loving. Put your all into it. It can happen if you believe it.


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