There is a single word, “Grace,” cradling a seed that sprouts a solitary flower in bloom.
The flower is layered over a brilliant blue sky, a mural in miniature painted around all four sides of an electric utility box on a sidewalk — the kind of box that’s usually an ugly imposition on an already imposing urban landscape. But on this one, “Seed for the Soul” is inscribed on a corner of the box, and purple mountains rise majestically on the back.
It is not the only oasis of public art in Pawtucket. Across this gritty, post-industrial city, there are other boxes with uplifting words — Healing, Love, Hope — lettered across a spectrum of unabashedly bright backdrops, grassy plains and sunsets, different scenes on different corners, all of them striking. Many are the work of one man who will tell you he’s “not an artist.”
Retired Pawtucket police officer David Borek saw these scenes and liked how they transformed the brutal into the beautiful in a very public way. And as he admired the works, an idea sprouted. Through friends at City Hall, he tracked down the painter, a lifelong city resident named Paris Fisher. The fuchsia-petaled daisy rising against a wispy blue sky on the portico of Borek’s Pawtucket home marks their first collaboration.
Two years later, we’re in the driveway at Borek’s home, looking at their latest project.
In front of the garage, there’s a blue tarp dotted with paint cans and spattered with a rainbow of spills, an accidental Jackson Pollock. Fisher stirs a brilliant yellow paint below the enormous canvas of a double-wide overhead garage door, its once conservatively bland white aluminum finish now an arresting panorama, a desert road heading into a sunset.
“I am not an artist,” he tells me as he brushes paint carefully along the edges of the mural’s golden sun. “I know artists,” he says, growing as he does from a talented family tree — his mother, an uncle, a cousin. “I am just a community worker who uses art to encourage others.”
Fisher is a lifelong resident of Pawtucket who grew up in the Prospect Heights housing development and searched for ways to help his community. His younger self used hip-hop, rap and oratorical talents to organize neighborhood events. He found he could channel his energy into drawing others in. He got a degree in social work and expanded those efforts.
These days, Fisher is an independent contractor working with young people in the community, focusing on mental health. “Not in the clinical sense,” he says, but rather “in the day-to-day coping” with difficulties and stress. “Kids are going through a lot these days,” he says, so art is the vehicle he uses to teach techniques and tips to help them balance life and stay healthy.
There’s a parallel that runs through what he does and what the kids do. No matter what you’re doing, he says, it’s not about whether you’re a great artist. “It’s about how great you use the talent you have.”
Tomorrow he’ll be back to his regular job, leading a substance-abuse prevention program at Pawtucket’s Blackstone Academy Charter School. It’s there, in the fertile fields of earnest potential, that he performs his real artistry: planting the seeds of hope, healing, love and grace so the community’s next generation can sprout and blossom and create its own scenes of ethereal brightness.
copyright 2019 / Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design