Silvia López Chavez brings life to Ruggles and beyond through art


Kelly Chan

The new mural at Ruggles station brings life to the previously bleak wall, much like the rest of artist Silvia López Chavez’s works throughout the city.

Kelly Chan, news correspondent

The entrance to Ruggles station on Northeastern University’s west side of campus is more than a major hub for Boston commuters and college students. Local street artist Silvia López Chavez has creatively transformed it into a symbol of hope and joy. 

Among the mural’s endless spiraling waves of color and whimsical clouds, a woman closes her eyes and blows bubbles into the sky, as if in a state of pure bliss. This vibrant wall, appropriately named “JOY,” is just one example of Chavez’s vast collection of murals all over the city. 

Originally from the Dominican Republic, 42-year-old artist Chavez has painted her way through the streets of Boston for the past three years. With a fine arts background from the Altos de Chavón School of Design, Chavez moved to Boston in 1997 to continue her art studies and graduated with a degree in illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. 

While her expertise mostly involved a studio at the time, Chavez began to expand her canvas to the city walls after her involvement in community service sparked her goal of spreading joy to everyone around her. 

“My murals are always about connecting and uplifting,” she said. “They always bring a positive message, and they all have that in common.”

Chavez emphasized the importance of her work with the Boston Children’s Hospital as an artist in residence in the hospital’s creative arts program. The program, funded by a one-year research grant, explored the healing effects of art in lowering stress and anxiety levels among its patients. 

She credits the inspiration of “JOY” to a powerful tradition she witnessed at the hospital: the celebration of each discharged child. The children would exit the hospital with their families in a sea of bubbles — a bubble tunnel, she said — blown by the nursing staff and specialists, congratulating and supporting their victories. 

“It was just a good reminder for me that we really have to celebrate the small things, especially in a time where there’s so much bad happening and in the face of so many challenges and difficulties,” Chavez said. “It’s important to recognize the good things that are happening and celebrate.”

Understanding the role of Ruggles station and the stresses of the people who use it every day, including herself when she worked for the hospital, Chavez hoped to bring positivity to those passing through the station and remind them of the small things that bring joy. 

“It takes me 10 minutes to get from the hospital to the station,” she said. “Those 10 minutes at the end of the day really felt like forever, sometimes. You’re processing all the things that happened during the day. Sometimes, it would be great, and sometimes, it would be very difficult.”

Her first mural in Boston holds a special place in her heart. Located on the bike path along the Charles River, this mural, “Patterned Behavior,” marks one of her favorite spots in the city, where she often has picnics with friends or watches the sun set over the river. 

This project was also significant as it was her first experience creating her own team — an all-female band of artists — to tackle the job.

“We’d sing and dance and paint, and it was just a lot of fun,” she said. 

Working her way up as an artist, especially into a street artist, Chavez overcame several challenges from language barriers to finding jobs to working around the unpredictability of precipitation (she has three apps just for weather!). She attributes her artistic success to her work ethic, positive attitude and ability to engage with people around her, which derives from her work in serving the Boston community. 

That said, her change in work environments from the studio to the streets was a true obstacle. 

“Learning to work in public, that was very challenging,” she said. “It’s really a performative art in a way. You’re learning in public, and you’re also failing in public. In a studio, you can play, experiment, change and do things, and it’s just you, yourself, your artwork and your space, and I think that’s very different when you’re outside.”

However, Chavez said her ability to connect with her audience in a public setting has been an important aspect to the meaning and impact of her work.

“A lot of the work that I do as a street artist is really to engage with people as I’m working. I think it’s an opportunity for people to get an insight to what the artist is doing or how I’m painting or how things are being created right on the wall,” she said. “People have a lot of questions that they want to ask, and I love being able to shine light to that process so people can connect much more to the piece.”

While much of her work lies on the city’s walls, Chavez does not stop furthering her work in her studio in the Boston Center for the Arts. Creating through both types of art keeps her in balance, she said, which allows herself “time to explore and continue to push through boundaries in her personal work.” 

Now, Chavez plans to continue widening her gallery of street art, especially before winter hits. She is working on murals in Waltham and Burlington, on the outskirts of Boston and even has sketches for the exterior of a plant in Ohio. 

“I feel like I drive around Boston all the time, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s the perfect spot for a mural!’” Chavez said. “I think that we could totally take over the city.”