Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs On the Process and Mission of Art, and On Being a Good Person

On December 3, students and faculty were joined in virtual Hall by Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs, a celebrated visual artist who has transformed the cultural landscape of Boston through graffiti art since 1991. Growing up in Roxbury during hip-hop’s Golden Age, Mr. Gibbs saw the power of graffiti as a form of self expression. The medium became a tool for him to chronicle and immortalize his community’s culture and history—a way to document, pay homage to, and beautify the City’s underserved neighborhoods. His remarkable artwork has brought him much notice and acclaim. Mr. Gibbs was featured last spring on the cover of Boston Globe Magazine for an issue titled “Why Art Matters.” In the spring, Mr. Gibbs also partnered with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts as an artist-in-residence, in part creating a mural in his Breathe Life series at a vocational high school in Roxbury, not far from the Museum grounds.

In Hall, Mr. Gibbs began with a brief video of him and fellow street artist Marka27 completing a large-scale production beneath a bridge in Boston’s Ink Block, titled “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” The clip of ProBlak and Marka27 creating that mural offered students a sense of the scale, paint application, and intention behind the artistic piece.

Mr. Gibbs went on to answer questions from both students and adults, speaking about his start as an artist; his process; the challenges inherent in his medium; his inspirations and collaborations with fellow artists; and how his work has evolved over decades. The next day, Mr. Gibbs joined RL art classes, via Zoom, meeting with students from Class VI to Class I in Studio Art, Art & Technology, and Digital Design courses.

Beyond his artistic practice, Mr. Gibbs is also co-founder of Boston’s Artists For Humanity, a non-profit that hires and teaches young people creative skills—from painting to screen printing to 3-D model making. For the past 29 years, Mr. Gibbs has mentored and guided countless burgeoning, young artists through the organization, and continues today as its Paint Studio Director.

In his mentor role, he explained, one of the key lessons he hopes to impart is “how to honor a commitment. No matter what [these young people] commit themselves toward, that’s a transferable skill that they can put toward anything. If you have the will to sit in front of a painting, or a piece of paper, you can put that drive toward finishing school work, studying, staying focused. I want [these kids] to be better than they were when they came in, as human beings.”

With a focus on arts education, Mr. Gibbs has conducted mentoring workshops for Girls, Inc., The Boston Foundation, Boston Housing Authority, and Youth Build, Washington, DC. He served as a guest lecturer at Northeastern for their “Foundations of Black Culture: Hip-Hop” course. He was the curator for BAMS Fest’s “Rep Your City” exhibition in 2019.

Mr. Gibbs is the recipient of a number of awards, including the 2006 Graffiti Artist of the Year award from the Mass Industry Committee, and the Goodnight Initiative’s Civic Artist Award. In 2020, he was honored with the Hero Among Us award by the Boston Celtics. His work has been featured by NBC, WBUR, the Boston Art Review, and Boston Magazine, among many other outlets.

View the entirety of Mr. Gibbs’s Hall presentation.