Jul 24, 2018

Life After the Guild, with Shaun Durbin

by: Laura Kochman

Guild alumnus Shaun Durbin may have graduated from Mural Arts’ reentry program, a months-long paid apprenticeship, but we’ve seen him a lot of him lately. He recently helped paint the massive ground mural at this year’s Oval+, and assisted artist Ian Pierce (Artes Ekeko) with a new mural in Fairhill. I caught up with Shaun in our studio, right after an inspirational workshop with Artes Ekeko, and asked him a few questions.

What’s been one of the highlights of your experience with Mural Arts and the Guild? 

Everything that’s transpired the past couple hours with the artist Ian [Pierce], because for me that’s one of those little moments that you like to have with other artists. Seeing what issues they put on the forefront and what their beliefs are. What motivates them and makes them tick. Meeting individuals like that—it doesn’t really get any better. I feel like home when I’m here.

How did you start making art? 

I was packing bags at PathMark and I used to always walk by that mural, with the hands coming together, and it had this saying: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” It was always a source of encouragement. I liked the colors. That’s what really struck me when I was younger—I’m looking at all of these shades of brown and I can see all of the different colors and they were all coming together, and that saying was so positive.

Neighborhood Children at Peace Wall by Jane Golden and Peter Pagast. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.

So I would draw. I was the kid that always got asked to draw stuff in class. When I was in sixth or seventh grade, we had a substitute art teacher who happened to be someone who worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her name was Ms. Woods—older, black woman, had this little fro. I didn’t know she was aware of me, but one day when I came into class, she took a plant off the window sill and put it on my desk, and she said, “Draw what you see.”

For the next 20 minutes I tried to get the shading, get the vines that were breaking off. The veins coming off the main leaf. I remember hearing her steps when she walked back up the aisle. I looked up and she looked down, and she said, “When you come to this class—all of the paint, all of the paper back there—you just go and do whatever you want.” She gave me freedom in that experience. I guess I needed that. It was always therapeutic for me, art. It always was a saving grace. Even now to this day.

What does art mean to you? 

Right now I’m working with Ben Volta on a South Philadelphia High School mural. He’s always upbeat, even though he might be tired. Outside of being an artist, these people have lives. They’re going through struggles, and that’s what I believe art is about. It can be educational, it can be about struggle, it can be about pain, it can be about inspiration, it can be a liberation. Ben allowed me to use this studio space to create some of my own little pieces of artwork, which I gift to people…it’s a gift that I can give. If I were to give back anything to the people around me, it would be that, art.

What did you take away from your experience in the Guild? 

I learned application of the acrylics and I learned scaffolding—I actually got my resume together. My customer service skills have improved because when you’re out there putting up the mural, the community comes around. You have to tell them what you’re doing. They want to know what’s going on in their community. They want to have their own ideas. They start to tell you their stories of what the community looks like, and sometimes they might influence your next mural. You really incorporate the community, and I like that. I want to leave a positive footprint every time I leave a place.

If I were to give back anything to the people around me, it would be that, art.


But I still have some challenges. I’m still on probation. The home front is still kind of crazy because my mom is a mess, but I love her. She came so far and so did I—I downplay the fact that I survived eight and a half years [incarcerated]. A lot of people don’t. When you actually are inside, you see the systematic prejudice, what they do, how they strip you away and try to strip away your humanity. To me, to come out and still have a sense of myself—the purpose and the drive motivate me, especially social matters. Through the medium of art, we can shine the light on what is important. Spread information and let people know that you’re not alone. This place allows your voice to be heard through the medium of art. To some people here, it’s everything.

Last updated: Oct 21, 2021

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