The 5-ton bronze figure reaching skyward outside the Prudential Center on Boylston Street was upstaged Monday afternoon by a 41-foot paint-by-number mural colored in by passersby.
People often stop at the popular “Quest Eternal” statue to take selfies or group shots, but on Monday they paused instead to grab paint markers and help with the mural, which was created by artist Ernest McKinley English. He joined with ArtLifting — a Boston organization that works with homeless and disabled artists — to organize the project, which he said was meant to foster collaboration.
“By bringing people together, you create more value for the community,” he said, adding that group work is powerful because it transcends typical social or geographic dividing lines.
Liz Powers, cofounder of ArtLifting, said English’s vision dovetails with her organization’s purpose. “Both Ernest and ArtLifting have the mission of bringing people together through art, building community through art,” she said.
The mural was a way for some ArtLifting painters to extend their individual work into a community setting.
Spanning a wall at the back of the plaza beneath the Prudential Center, the canvas appeared daunting at first. When it was unfurled around noon, the piece was just a stark black outline of an intricate design of tiny squares and trapezoids, each featuring a number from 1 to 6 that was representative of a color.
English, who said he used a systemic approach in designing the mural, which held a hidden message that would be revealed upon completion, had no idea how many of the small shapes were contained inside the outline.
“Ernest and I were trying to guess last night,” Powers said, laughing.
Hold on, said Randy Nicholson, another ArtLifting painter, as he began counting the number of tiles in a single column, the number of columns in a single foot, then walked the length of the piece.
“Four thousand and change,” he said.
The paint-by-number construction made the project accessible to strangers on the street, regardless of their artistic ability.
“Anyone can be an artist, and if we all come together, no matter what age or class, we can accomplish huge things,” Powers said.
Dasia Olivier, 17, of Boston, stopped by with two of her friends while out to eat.
“It made me feel a little artistic even though I’m not at all,” she said.
“Everyone took a part of it, which makes it even cooler,” said Olivier’s friend, Savannah Roberts, also 17 and from Boston.
The part-in-a-whole ethic resonated with many of the artists who worked on the piece, both amateur and professional.
“I think the greatest message,” Nicholson said, “is as a community, we can accomplish what we can’t as individuals.”
Steve Hernandez, 43, of Austin, Texas, colored some spaces with four of his children, ages 5, 7, 10, and 11.
“It’s kind of leaving a piece of them in Boston,” he said.
By midafternoon, at least 500 people had colored some part of the mural, English said. He still was unsure what to do with the canvas when it was finished, but he was considering an auction or sale to raise funds for a local charity. No matter where the piece ends up, English said “it makes me happy.”
At about 3:30 p.m., the shape of the mural was beginning to emerge, looking like a swath of stained glass, equal parts Candy Land and Alice’s Wonderland.
Curved letters appeared outlined in black across the mural’s center.
There it was, the all-important message behind the art.
“Don’t forget to love life.”