Dan Masi spent six months of 2017 living nocturnally, sleeping during the day and painting all night, while creating the three-panel mural at the Lilypad in Inman Square.
“It pretty much turned my entire body clock around, so that I was just used to being up at three in the morning, four in the morning,” the Somerville-based artist says. “Being here for shows is amusing, but hanging out here all night, playing my own music, with absolutely nobody around, and watching the sun come up on my way home is my most fond memory of this place.”
Masi (pronounced May-zee) has been a friend to the artist-run venue since its inception in 2005, whether he was dropping by just to hang out or picking up a few shifts as a stand-in bartender. Run by a rotating cast of seven team members, the Lilypad operates based on just a few pillars: individuality, community, and creativity. The venue hosts shows on an almost nightly basis, and holds various children’s music classes, piano lessons, and other events during the day.
In a bleak landscape of shuttering independent venues, music corporation horror stories, and a struggling-yet-surviving local music scene, the Lilypad provides a sort of light—an escape into a candy-colored dreamworld where the phrase “art for art’s sake” still means something. At least, that’s the feeling evoked by Masi’s epic mural, an awe-inspiring homage to the Spanish Romantic painter Francisco de Goya—considered one of his country’s most important painters and known for his portraits—that spans three of the walls in the venue and the inside of the bathroom.
The largest panel shows a small crowd being led down a hillside path by a harlequin and golden piper. Under the hill—which is also the title of the work—“there’s this whole Elysian world,” Masi says. The scene calls up the primary questions that Masi is asking with his work: “Is he leading them to a paradise of sorts from a world that they’re trying to escape? Is he not? Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing? That’s where I leave it up to interpretation,” he says.
Another panel features Masi’s updated version of Goya’s “El Pelele” (translation: the puppet), a work he saw at the Museum of Fine Arts that gave him “near-Stendhal syndrome” when he first viewed it.
“I was quite taken by it. It stands out, it’s unusual theme-wise. So, I think I understood what he was going for, and I wanted to revive that,” says Masi. “Mystery is what I’d like to inspire in people when they’re in the room looking at shows. So, I’m not totally distracting them with a theme, with a concept, or telling them what to think. It’s just a lot of stuff that can go in any direction. I think it puts them in a good place for the performance. It confuses people. It creates an air that I think makes them a little more vulnerable to the music that’s being played at them.”
“[The mural] came together really quick,” he says. “We decided it was time to get rid of the old one. I sort of had some ideas [of] what I wanted to do, but nothing was really concrete. That’s sort of my process—especially with something so big, I knew one thing I wanted to do on this side was a version of the ‘El Pelele.’ I saw that and said, ‘I like that, I want to make one.’”
Masi’s interpretation of the work is much brighter than the original, with a more Mannerist approach and a highly saturated color scheme—a move that was not entirely intentional, since Masi did most of the painting with a different lighting set-up. Masi also purposefully diversified the women pictured, as all of Goya’s subjects were of a similarly pale complexion.
“It’s a trip to see it,” he says. “I think I actually meant it to look a little darker. It came out a little more vibrant—not that I mind the vibrancy.”
The neutral tones of the third panel are the most jarring visually, compared to the vibrancy of the rest of the piece, but the figure of the donkey prompts another strong evocation of Goya.
“I was in a Goya place when I was putting this together, and I wanted to do something of my own that Goya might like,” Masi says. “Were he to manifest here and see what I’ve done with his work, I think he’d be fairly pleased.”
In order to create “Under the Hill,” Masi covered up another one of his works. Anyone who looks closely enough can still see and feel the original brushstrokes under the new painting. Perhaps this is what is most representative of the spirit of the Lilypad—that it is able to change and adapt, while also somehow staying the same.
“Ultimately, this is a house in a neighborhood. It’s been here a while and the neighborhood is changing a lot, but I don’t see us going anywhere anytime soon,” Masi says. “So, there’s that comfort level. I know that I can spend 260 hours over six months working on this, and it’s not going to turn into a Starbucks next week.”
While the community continues to support the venue, rising rents in the area have placed a burden on the Lilypad team. Masi is candid about the realities of operating an independent art venue in a gentrified city, but he is also hopeful and optimistic about the Lilypad team’s ability to navigate around it.
“I’ve watched every year, more and more [people] get pushed away, and it sucks. Luckily, we’re able to hold on,” he says. “When one soldier has to go out a little bit, the other one stands up and tries to pick up the slack around here.”
This perseverant, “do-it-ourselves” attitude exists at the core of the Lilypad itself. Although the image on the wall will eventually change, what will last is this notion of local art and artists being integral to the venue in this most tangible way.
While painting “Under the Hill,” Masi kept an online visual diary of his progress, which is still available for viewing 2017lilypadmural.tumblr.com.