Photos submitted by Gregg Bernstein

Gregg Bernstein: the Backbone of Allston's Art Scene  

by Oliver Vicar

It's nearly impossible to walk the main streets of Allston and not witness the colorful murals of Gregg Bernstein. The Massachusetts native,Roxbury resident, and father of one is widely known for his work throughout Boston. Bernstein studied at MassArt and was later hired by the city of Boston as part of The Mayor’s Mural crew as a way to get the youth of Boston involved in the art scene as well as combat the graffiti problem the city was having in the 90’s.

I had the opportunity to speak with Gregg Bernstein about his work in Allston as part of this project, the transcription is as follows...  

Oliver: How did you get started with art?

Gregg: Art has been a part of my life for, jeez, all of it I guess. As far back as I can remember I was grabbing at brushes and colored pencils. I got into it as a kid and my parents signed me up for some private art lessons outside of school and then I went to MassArt for college. Graffiti was the first like public works of art I did. We would throw up our tags pretty much wherever we could. It was something fun to do and a way for a bunch of goofy Mass Art skater kids to express themselves and their artistic views.”

O: Ah graffiti, ok. That's a pretty interesting topic in Boston, can you talk about your experience with the early Allston graffiti scene?

G: “Yeah, so there was this like underground community for it here as I’m sure there is everywhere, with popular spots and places people knew were safe to go. There was a bunch of the bigger guys who would see you out painting and be super encouraging like, ‘Yeah keep doing what you're doing man’ and shit like that, they really just liked to see that you were trying and wanted to be part of it. I was really into skateboarding as a kid so I related it to that and how skateboarding is about doing your personal best and not trying to be the best of the best ya know. I feel like it was a lot bigger in the 90’s though, everything was being done big and with a new fresh style. It’s kinda like half the taggers and writers now are still stuck there.”

O: So in my research I found that you were hired by the city to paint murals over popular graffiti places to try and like combat it?

G: “Yes in 1994 I got hired as part of The Mayor’s Mural Crew and we would take kids who applied to be part of the crew for summers and basically just go out to locations and paint murals assigned by the city, and yeah a lot of the time it was to cover up walls that would get tagged all the time. It was me and Heidi Schorr, Heidi was definitely the more business part of it and I was the art, but we learned a lot from each other and I don't think I’d be where I am business-wise today without her. That definitely peaked in the 90’s as well though, we had a grew of  like 60 kids and some additional mentors. It was usually set up like every 8 or 10 kids had one adult with them. It was great we were cranking out great work, 10-20 murals would go up a summer.”

O: So what happened with that then?

G: “Well we had gotten a bunch of awesome stuff done in a majority of the neighborhoods around the city, Allston was my favorite we weren't there that much though, the locations were all perfect and the pieces turned out absolutely amazing I think, great memories, but they started cutting out budget after the world trade center attack in 2001. People just didn't really care as much about the arts in the communities around here for a bit, they were more consumed with security and street art was kinda out of vogue for a while. People were slowly being let go one by one, Heidi and I were the last to go.”

O: So now you still do murals but as a freelance artist correct?

G: “Yeah, the police station will call me saying there's a business or something that wants to pay to have this wall that keeps getting tagged covered and I’ll go do it. Allston has been the most voiced about having these areas taken care of. We can't cover up all the graffiti of course so they usually leave the ones on the side streets and alleyways alone, but they’ll get protective over the main drags like Harvard ave, Comm ave, Western street, and Cambridge and Market street out in Brighton. I like to think of Allston as my personal canvas, I love the publicity of it, I believe public art has the to power to transform a community and the attitude of the people who visit that space.”

O: Do you have a favorite piece or pieces you’ve done in Allston?

G: “Oo that’s tough but my favorite pieces that I’ve done on my own are the one behind Fast Eddie’s off Commonwealth, the Harvard and Comm ave intersection and then gets progressively more modern as the painting stretched down the building. Also one I did over the Summer at the end of Harvard Terrace of the Public Gardens. It was actually the first one I’ve done in spray paint, I usually work in house paint and brushes so that was a good experience. I also just signed one last week, not many people have seen it yet. Like I haven't seen any pictures of it anywhere yet. It's up above the McDonalds at the Harvard and Commonwealth intersection right where the T-stop is, you should go check it out. I did it of a green line train.”

Check out more of Gregg Bernstein's work here

 Photo by Caroline Toth  Work-in-progress: Gregg Bernstein Mural Artist

Photo by Caroline Toth Work-in-progress: Gregg Bernstein Mural Artist