Marshall Pratt


A&I Cover Artist Revealed

On the cover of the Early Summer issue of Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas, we featured an image that had been stenciled onto a red exterior wall of the former A Gallery (which prior to that was the Coke bottling plant), on State Road in Tisbury. We attempted to find the artist who created the image, but didn’t have any luck. When the magazine came out, we posted the cover image on, and also the MV Times website. That’s when Sandy Pratt posted a comment informing us that her son, Marshall Pratt, had created the striking piece.

A&I Contributing Editor Kate Feiffer recently sat down with Marshall to ask him about his work. To her surprise and delight, his story spanned continents, and included international political intrigue and a raucous party. Marshall grew up on the Vineyard and received a B.F.A. from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in association with Tufts University, in 2010. He has lived in Boston and in the Kraaiennest section of Amsterdam, which he says is “more colloquially known as Purple City to the young guns.” Now living in Vineyard Haven, Marshall shared the details of how this image came to be. Below is an edited version of Marshall’s tale:

The image itself has kind of an interesting etymology. It’s a little bit convoluted.

In 2012 and 2013, I was living in an area they call the Bijlmer [short for Bijlmermeer], in Amsterdam. Bijlmer was designed as a city of the future, with giant concrete high-rises. It looks like a beehive. By the time it was completed — my figures and dates are subject to the wear and tear of memory, but I believe it was the early ’60s — it was deemed undesirable by most of the people who saw it, because it was so monolithic. It was just huge concrete buildings that ran on forever. Unfortunately, it didn’t look George Jetson; it looked more George Orwell. And it ended up being relatively unrented until the mid-’70s, when Suriname (a former Dutch colony) declared independence. Something like 50 percent of the population of Suriname moved to Amsterdam because the economy was in such shambles in Suriname, and they ended up primarily in this region because it was the cheapest rent.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s and ’90s, the area became really dangerous due to economic factors and drugs and crime. It became where the music and images of Amsterdam’s hip-hop community came out of. When I moved to Amsterdam, I had intended to do photography, which is what I went to school for, but I was just so intrigued by all the graffiti. The European graffiti game is completely on point. It’s beyond what most people here are doing. I had done stencils in high school of pot leaves and Bob Marley’s face, and things like that, and I started rehashing some ideas into things that I was seeing around me in the area.

The building I lived in was known as Klein-Kruitberg. In 1992, it had been hit by an Israeli cargo plane [El Al Flight 1862], which fell out of the sky. There are a lot of conspiracy theories about the event, but basically it bisected the building. I think about 40 people, including the two pilots on board, were killed. For weeks afterward, the entire area was cordoned off. The airplane was supposedly carrying a fruit shipment, so the whole question was, Why was it cordoned off, and why were guys dressed like this [in protective gear and gas masks] crawling all over it for weeks after, if it was just fruit in the plane? One night whilst trading stories with my newfound international cohorts, I was regaled with a handful of stories about that day. Some heard the explosion, some just saw the damage; however, everyone I discussed it with from then on seemed to believe there was, at the very least, a little more to the story than was being told. This consensus, coupled with the fact that I had previously never heard of the event, is what really sparked my interest. I played a lot with this image as it related to other images in the area. I had stencils of the buildings of the area, and he would be standing behind the buildings or in front of the buildings.

I do a lot of work in the vernacular of street art, but not necessarily on the street, for a few different reasons. When I was living in Boston (2002–10), their graffiti laws and basically the growing gentrification on Mission Hill made it nearly impossible to A) go out and make the art and B) to keep any level of anonymity. Boston, like a number of other cities, now has cumulative-tag laws, where if they see an image they catalog that image, and every subsequent repetition of that image, and if you are caught making that image, you are charged a fine for each one of the images found. Plus, I was doing it under my own name and I had a website, so it would be easy to track me down.

Pretty much the same goes on on the Island. It’s a small community. And a lot of the imagery I deal with wouldn’t make a lot of sense in the spaces here.

When the building of the former A Gallery was slated for demolition about two years ago, I was given an opportunity to go in there. They wanted to inspire Island artists to go and be crazy, and they were going to film what was happening and sort of make a music video-type-thing around it. It was sort of an open canvas, you know: Come and paint on the walls, run around and have a good time. It started out with people coming in and painting, and there was a big concert. The Cahoots played, and DCLA played, and the place got torn to shreds, and people were breaking down Sheetrock, and there was smashing and spray-painting going on. Nobody could breathe because there was so much gypsum dust in the air and all that, so it ended up being a failed experiment.

The project sort of backfired in their face because of the level of destruction. I think a few of the players got in trouble and had to beg forgiveness, but the image of the man in the gas mask that I put on the front of the building remains.

To find out more about Marshall Pratt and his art, go to

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