Guerilla Art

Taking it to the streets with artist Tim Jewell


Most guerilla artists tag subways and city walls with spray paint. Often times the words and images are ugly, profane, angry or skewed.

Tim Jewell became known – infamous, some would say – by trespassing and leaving his shadows behind. Eventually he was commended for his work and won artistic grants. Many never would have dreamed it possible.

Jewell, 64, a Fall River native and resident, made his mark in New London, New York City and his own hometown by sculpting black silhouettes of human figures and drilling them upright into piers to greet the morning and evening sun (whether he had permission to do so or not).

Jewell, who was educated at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, went on to get his MFA from the renowned Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He began his public art career as a federally commissioned muralist in New London.

“I painted two large murals in New London,” Jewell says. “I was popular in Connecticut. I was known there.”

The subject of his large wall paintings was always the common man – the laborer, working and toiling. On the side of a downtown building, one of Jewell’s painted workers comprised the height and width of an average city block: 3,500 square feet.

It was impressive indeed.

Jewell then moved to New York City where he lived from 1982 to 1994. There, his oil paintings and sculptures were exhibited in Manhattan galleries and sold to private collectors.

Returning home for family reasons, Jewell was soon at it again. “I drilled four wooden cutouts on some pilings on the Taunton River, on Davol Street right near the old Regatta Restaurant,” Jewell says. “I did it without permission, of course.”

The local newspaper read: “A guerilla artist put up art on private property.” Jewell claims that the article said that if he turned himself in, police wouldn’t prosecute.

He turned himself in.

Then Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan told Jewell that he felt the art should stay up. “It stayed up a while, but between vandals and the wind, it eventually came down,” says Jewell. Because of the local notoriety, a contingent of art educators at UMass invited him to campus to discuss the grant application process.

“I told them about what I call my conscience figures, which I had originally put up around New London,” Jewell says. “I installed seven figures on the water. The people at UMass went crazy for it,” Jewell adds. “Because of me they got that Adams Grant last year.” Jewell shared the grant with several local organizations.

Now with permission and even a blessing, Jewell put 20 silhouettes up all over Fall River – five for each of the four seasons, all in various poses and attire.

“We made t-shirts, tote bags; the Herald News had a contest with clues. People could win prizes if they located the figures around the city,” Jewell says. “One is still up on the Herald News building in Fall River.”

But Jewell has found it difficult lately to live on notoriety alone. While he has exhibited at The Narrows, and throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts, (including AS220 on Empire Street in downtown Providence), his sustainability as an artist has been slim, something his mother once predicted and feared.

“My father was a cartoonist and I copied what he did,” Jewell says of his childhood artistic beginnings. “I was sick of trigonometry, English, Latin, math. My mother said I would starve in a garret.” Jewell’s sense of humor shows as he says, “My mom developed her vocabulary from Reader’s Digest. So, I came back home, have a studio in my basement, and, well, now I starve in a garret.”

In the throes of winter, he was working on new ideas, paintings and collages in mixed media, while yearning to post some new exciting silhouettes, to draw a new crowd and survive.

“Art is life,” says Jewell simply.