Kimisha Turner’s brush boldly stroked black paint around a cardboard cutout shaped like an arrow to create the geometric figures within the big “B” – the first letter of the new block-long mural emerging across the concrete on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, capturing a moment both in art and history.
“It’s just the beginning,” said Turner, 39, a multimedia artist from South Seattle, as her assistant and 8-year-old son, Malcolm Woods, smiled nearby.
“The arrows are about progress, about moving forward,” she said. “This (movement) is all about beautiful black bodies, so hopefully I’ll have some positivity in there before I’m all done. I’m just going to do my best.”
From Turner’s “B,” near 10th and East Pine, 15 more white block letters measuring 19 feet from top to bottom, neatly spread 177 feet due east along East Pine Street, spelling out the cause that’s brought thousands of people to this protest on a hill:
B L A C K L I V E S M A T T E R, the letters read.
Throughout Thursday afternoon, artists – most of them Black — crafted their own unique renderings within each letter of the textual mural, articulating through artistic expression what the moment means to them.
“She just means `Blackness,’” said artist and musician, Perry Porter, 30, of Seattle, describing his colorful woman captured in the mural’s first “L.” With wild hair haloed by butterflies, a vine-like tentacle curls around her lower body, which is flanked by a shark that represents the artist. “She’s every black woman in my life,” Porter said.
The sprawling new street mural took shape Thursday night — from Turner’s ‘B,” all the way to the final R at 11th Avenue, which marks the block surrounding Seattle Police’s East Precinct that demonstrators now occupy and call the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.”
A 40-year-old mural artist and Belltown small-business owner, who declined to give his name because he’s white and wants to keep the attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, said he got the idea for the street mural by observing similar street paintings in other cities where demonstrations have been sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
After the BLM slogan was painted in big yellow letters on a street in Washington, D.C., near the White House – a move partly designed to troll President Donald Trump in response to officers’ heavy-handed dispersal of peaceful demonstrators in nearby Lafayette Square – a similar painting cropped up on a street in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“What Washington, D.C., did was cool, but North Carolina took it up a notch with murals in each letter,” explained the organizer. “I thought that was brilliant.”
The Seattle man already was connected through social media to one of the Charlotte street artists who helped paint that mural, asking him for advice to replicate an effort in Seattle. The Charlotte artist sent dimensions for the lettering, which the Seattle man used to help calculate the dimensions for the mural on Capitol Hill, he said.
Over about five hours Wednesday evening, the man and a friend who paints business signs snapped chalk lines and used sidewalk chalk to sketch in the letters of the slogan on street pavement. They then blocked the letters in with white primer and a water-proofer, creating the concrete canvases, he said.
The man said he then reached out to his Black friends in the Seattle art community, asking if they’d be willing to paint murals in each letter.
“Ninety percent of the artists are Black, and the rest are people of color,” the man said. “I mean, this is a Black Lives Matter mural. It should be painted by people of color.”
The cost of all of paints and other supplies so far used to create the mural have been covered by donations from demonstrators and passersby, he said. Artists were still accepting donations to raise money for a final batch of weather coating to preserve the work once it is complete.
The group of artists worked into Thursday night to finish the mural before the weather turns.
“What’s happening right now should not be forgotten,” the anonymous muralist said. “The best case scenario is that this will stay here forever, and the city helps us touch it up each year or whatever to make sure it does.”