Street Art Profiles: Caleb Neelon

Cambridge mural by  Caleb Neelon .

Cambridge mural by Caleb Neelon.

As I wandered around Boston searching for street art to prepare for our Clif Boston Art Run, I came across two happy blue characters rowing along a color-splattered brick wall. They added such a whimsical, imaginative flair to the historic New England city, and I was excited to come across more of the colorful blue creatures. Later I learned they were the brainchild of Cambridge artist Caleb Neelon, who is the featured artist for our first ever Boston Art Run. Caleb was patient enough to answer my barrage of journalistic questions. Find out more on the happy blue creatures' world, what it's like to paint murals and how the blue friends were born:


Where are you from originally?

I'm from Cambridge, Massachusetts and still live here.

How did you first get into art?

I grew up with markers in my hands and no one ever told me to knock it off.

What got you into street art specifically?

I first saw graffiti when I was little in the early 1980s and it definitely looked impressive to me then in my fuzzy memories. As a teen in the early 1990s, someone told me that graffiti was writing your name all over the place and making it look cool. I still love painting in the street because people see it in their daily lives. I need what I do to meet real people where they are in their real lives.  


Your signature blue character is so charming in your murals. What inspired the character? Does he/she have a name?

The blue guy is an initially subconscious riff on an Ed Emberley character - look up his Drawing Books if you don't remember the name. The funny part is that I used that character for years without remembering it was based on an Ed character. Then ten years ago I met Ed (he's 86 now) and we realized that it was and had a good laugh. Now I curate Ed Emberley museum shows! And the blue guy is kind of an old friend to me at this point.

How has your art evolved over time?

I still have a great time painting outside and feel very good doing it. The scale of some things has changed as has the budget, but I'm very fortunate to have made a career out of what I love.

Is there anything you're working on right now?

I have a couple of murals to do before it gets cold and retreat into the studio to paint there.

How long does it take to do a mural? And how do you get inspiration?

Murals usually have a time limit because someone is paying to rent a hydraulic lift for me to use. Those deadlines are pretty helpful, really. And for inspiration the past couple of years I've just hung out with my daughter, who's four now. She'll crack out four concept drawings with full back stories while she eats her cereal. 

Do you have a favorite piece you've done?

On a personal level, a lot of the works I did in my early and mid twenties in Brazil, Nepal, and other places had a profound impact on me. More recently, I'm proud of the works I've done in the Boston area. This city didn't have much in that vein for a long time.

Do you have any common themes in your art?

Color and imagination for the outdoor murals, if those can be thought of as themes.

Is there a message you want people to take away from your work?

The power of working outside is that one can reach someone in a state they'd never be in on a museum or gallery visit. I hope they can be a bit of hope and reassurance to someone walking down the street in a terrible moment in their life. And if people just enjoy the color and want to do fun selfies for their instagram, I'm happy to see that too.

Where can people find out more about your art?