Boston Street Piano 2016: The Tattoo Heart

Creating a Street Piano for Celebrity Series‘ “Play Me, I’m Yours” hitting the Boston streets in September! 

Boston Street Piano 2016

The 60 artists chosen all worked in a shared industrial space in the Innovation & Design Building from  July 18-Aug. 26, and the pianos will be placed on September 23. I don’t know where mine will be yet, that is still being determined (or is still a secret even the artists don’t know!)

So here is a shot of my finished piano, and I’d like to tell you a little about it.

Splendid video Matt Weston shot in the piano workspace at the Innovation & Design building!

The Long Version, for those of you who like to read:

The Tattoo Heart: Peace, Love and Understanding

Piano-originalMeeting The Piano

I started our Street Piano Time with an open mind, having several germs of ideas, but I wanted to meet the piano and let it speak to me. We don’t know our eventual locations in advance; so the ideas can’t be site-specific, they can come from your mind and heart and they can be “piano-specific”.

The random lottery number drawn from a hat matched me up with a low, small blonde number with Deco curves, that looked to be anywhere from the 1930s to the 70s, a Wurlitzer with stunning light wood finish and a beautiful grain. As my companions on this adventure were merrily priming their pianos in flat white, I just couldn’t bear to do it. I was in love with that lustrous blonde finish.

So my first act was to go over it all with a metallic gold wash, to bring out the beautiful color without completely hiding the wood grain.


LaManche Street Piano additionAn Addition

The next thing was to build UP. Such a low profile would not be seen from far away, and we want to attract players! Consulting with Celebrity Series’ piano tech yielded a design that let them still access the works, yet let me have my grander profile and bigger canvas.


The main concept I wanted to work with is the same as my goal for this whole endeavor, and the reason I love the Street Pianos project. It’s the delight people have at finding these in public, being able to play them, being able to share that play with friends and strangers… it brings people together, increases the amount of goodwill in the world, breaks down barriers between people and makes the world a happier place. That is what I believe we need most in this country and on this planet, right now: the ability to see and care about each other as fellow humans.

Sailor Jerry style heart
“Play Me, I’m Yours” Tattoo Heart. Photo: Matt Weston

Tattoo Design

Sometimes I like working in a visual language that recalls tattoo art, because it’s a way in which ordinary people are comfortable thinking symbolically. New England sailors learned the art of tattooing from the Polynesians, as inherently both a way of showing identity and milestones on their path through life, and also a way people tend to think magically and use symbols to create reality- be it protection, abundance, or calling forth better qualities from themselves.

In creating a composition for this piano, I wanted to start with the shapes of the object, and use shapes and symbols to show music going out into the world and creating love and understanding. Or through the keyboard, the player being able to draw that universal love into themselves.

The focus, the big Sailor Jerry heart with the motto of the project, calls to people from a distance to come play. Then the other shapes in the composition can be seen close up, each having meanings of their own.

Vhair with mandala, heart pattern and doves, piano with Maori pikorua, Hawaiian taro leaf border.
“Seat of Consciousness” with mandala and doves. Photo: Matt Weston

The borders containing the piece are a Hawaiian motif of taro leaves, which mean groundedness and abundance*. The repeating background pattern on the right is a West African Adinkra symbol “Akoma Ntoso” that means “linked hearts”, for understanding and agreement between people**. In white in the center is a sacred geometry hex pattern that can also be seen as many interlocking peace signs. A mandala in black on the far right stands for enlightenment and balance. The silver repeating knotwork across the back is the Adinkra “Mpatapo” or “knot of peace and reconciliation.” Elsewhere on the piano and bench can be found a repeating background pattern of hearts, and white doves, a Western peace symbol.

Playing the piano will energize the symbols and cause the forces of peace, love and understanding to become stronger in the universe….Well if this is not strictly true, it IS aspirationally and artistically true! And poetry that speaks to our unconscious is damn good stuff.

Even if the symbolic meanings are not consciously clear to most, it is still important to me that they are there, and some people who know such things may get them. Others will hopefully see a beautifully decorated object that they will enjoy playing, and it will brighten up life in some city square for a time. That also makes me happy.


Street Piano Detail
Detail with repeating background pattern of West African “Akoma Ntoso”(linked hearts), and mandala. Photo: Matt Weston

Boston Street Pianos 2016
Sponsored by Celebrity Series of Boston

*Per Keone Nunes, Hawaiian master tattoo artist, video
**With special thanks to artist and scholar Stephen Hamilton, who taught me about the Adinkra symbols.