By Seth Daniel
When one walks into Zume’s Coffee House, since July they would have been greeted with a four-foot by eight-foot mixed media piece of art by budding artist Markus Sebastiano – complete with a hand-made galvanized steel frame.
It’s message is timeless, but has really picked up headlines as of late.
Dressed in vintage clothing, and posing in an old mill in Lawrence (where Sebastiano lives and works), are two children with a sign that reads, ‘Stop outsourcing your/our future.’ In the piece, the word ‘your’ is crossed out, and the children bear a somber expression. Behind their likeness is an enormous collage of old newspapers, books and advertisements all featuring a theme hearkening back to America’s industrial working revolution.
Sitting in Zume’s last week across from his piece, Sebastiano said the picture is three years old, and said he thought it was quite funny that the issue has once again come back into the major headlines due to it being a central campaign issue for President Donald Trump.
“It’s funny because I disagree with Trump on 99 percent of everything he says, but I guess I do agree with him on that 1 percent of keeping things here,” said Sebastiano with a laugh.
He said he grew up in Lawrence where his father had a sheet metal shop and was a sheet metal worker, making things like HVAC ductwork and other metal fabrications. He said he always helped his father, and watched how he could figure ratios for the metal working in his head – how years of experience had come to refine his father as more of a craftsman than simply a sheet metal worker.
At the same time, three years ago, he was considering the future of his niece and nephew – who are the children in the picture at Zume’s – and that their future likely wouldn’t include such technical and skilled work as his father’s generation. He said that’s where his industrial side comes from, including the huge galvanized steel frames that surround much of his work.
However, that also caused him to want to make a statement about the future, and just what pro-outsourcing policies might have on the young people of today. He said he actually created the picture live in a store window at a Merrimack College gallery in Beverly. People would stop and watch his progress over several days, and he did complete the painting there.
“This type of job outsourcing has always been going on,” he said. “I see the young people and I was thinking about them and my generation too. People are thinking only about how things turn out now. They aren’t thinking forward to about 40 years and how it will affect these young people. I wanted to make a statement about that.”
Sebastiano initially installed the picture with a larger show he had last summer at Zume’s, which has become a very hot spot for artists in the Boston area to exhibit. The Charlestown coffee house actually books artists one year in advance due to the numbers of requests they get.
Once his show was over, Zume’s asked if they could keep the outsourcing picture up for a while longer.
“Having Markus’s work at Zume’s has been wonderful for us,” said Debra Ball. “I love watching customers take a step back and look at this piece and make conversation about it. Not only does it make a statement, but also the piece itself has so much going on that even children are talking about it when they come in.”
Sebastiano said the piece has travelled extensively in the last three years, probably hanging up in at least 15 other venues since he created it at Merrimack.
While Sebastiano relishes his own work, such as the outsourcing piece, he also spends a great deal of time nowadays outfitting restaurants and retail stores with custom painting and graphics. He is one of the most sought-after commercial artists now, and his work appears all over Boston, including bicycle stores in Southie and donut shops in the South End.
That, he said, is a different kind of work but something he has really come to enjoy.
Much of his work, like the outsourcing piece, combines elements of old history with new and modern looks. He said he can sometimes do a great deal of historical research before starting one of his own paintings or even before doing his commercial work.
“It all depends on what the space calls for,” he said. “I certainly do love integrating the old history into my work and combining it with the new and modern look.” Sebastiano, 37, works out of his Lawrence studio called Blockhaus Gallery.