North End resident Nate Swain has been described as a visionary, self-taught artist, professional, a photo muralist, and an inspiration to young artists. But the description now being affixed to his name is: rising superstar on the city’s arts scene.
A graduate of Doherty High School in Worcester, Swain received his Associate’s degree in Landscape Contracting from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass/Amherst. After working in construction for three years, Swain returned to UMass and received his bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture in 2000.
Swain, 40, moved to the North End and began a career at an engineering firm working in the field of landscape architecture, drafting and designing parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, gardens, roadways, and parking lots.
“After eight years at the firm, I had this calling to follow my passion to be an artist because when I went home from work I’d do oil paintings and all sorts of art,” said Swain. “And I really wanted to see what it was like to live an artist. So I quit my job in 2008.”
Swain decided to start painting murals.
“My first mural project was the NStar building on Prince and Salem Streets,” said Swain. “I was originally going to paint that building, all the windows and stuff, but the scaffolding was $30,000, so I had the epiphany of doing it all in photography and using a large format printer to print these photo collages that I had to put together in photo shop.”
Swain’s project drew outstanding reviews from fellow North End residents and tourists from around the world.
“They loved it,” says Swain humbly. NStar loved it. The neighborhood loved it. It went from one of the ugliest buildings in the North End to one of the most beautiful buildings in the North End. I was really blown away by the response to my work. I realized the beauty of photo murals is that it tricks the eye.”
Inspired by the positive responses from neighbors to his work, Swain sought out a second project in which to display his unique talents.
“I realized St. Leonard’s Church was redoing their peace garden at the corner of Prince and Hanover Streets. They had these two blank walls and I proposed to do another photo mural of this photograph I took at Arnold Arboretum. I ended up blowing this photograph up to 20 feet tall and it wraps around two sides of the building 85 feet long.”
“That’s when I realized how big you can make these photographs and I started working more with Boston Building Wraps, who was the printer of my work,” said Swain. “I was just amazed at some of the stuff they printed and installed.”
Swain asked Boston Building Wraps officials if he could use the vinyl from the company’s previous projects.
“I started collecting the vinyl and started painting on it and the first project I worked on was with Artists for Humanity and Lynette Shaw and it was an abstract painting that we installed on Hamden Street in Roxbury. That was 30 feet tall by 70 feet wide. It was put up three years ago and it’s still up there today.”
Swain has since transformed the Bartlett Bus Yard in Dudley Square, creating “a full graffiti artist, muralist extravaganza where they took an old bus repair facility and allowed artists to replace all the walls and the surfaces with graffiti, murals, and art.”
Swain’s reputation as the preeminent photo muralist in Boston continues to grow. His 90-foot painting of a giant sequoia tree on the Government Center Garage is one of his most visible works in the city. His name appears prominently on the painting.
In addition to the NStar and St. Leonard’s projects in the North End, Swain has done paintings on roll-down doors for several businesses including the well-known Polcari’s and Davio’s Restaurants. He also painted a utility box on Salem Street.
Swain’s newest contract should result in his most visible artwork of all.
“I just got an award through [Boston] City Hall and the new Urban Mechanics initiative to do the ceiling in the City Hall lobby.” said Swain. “I’ve never done a ceiling before but it’s going to be a printed photo mural, 40 feet wide by 55 feet long. I’ll be covering over everything with a photo of blue sky and clouds. The project is called ‘Lobby Sky.’’’
Swain hopes to have the City Hall photo mural ready for installation by December.
Building a following for his dynamic projects and creative genius, Swain is starting to attract a lot of paid artwork assignment from Boston business owners and residents.
“I want to make the world more beautiful and colorful and fun. Those are three things that I’m out to do.”
Judging from his artistic successes to date in Boston, Swain is well on his way to accomplishing his goal.