by Chamidae Ford
Last week King County Metro unveiled its new wrapped bus, coaches, and worksite posters that all feature artwork inspired by Black Lives Matter.
The contest began back in the summer of 2020, when Metro asked their employees what Black Lives Matter meant to them.
Robert L. Horton, an artist and transit operator, created one of the winning pieces. Horton has been a professional artist for over 20 years whose work has been displayed in numerous solo gallery exhibits. He is also a member of the ONYX Fine Arts Collective.
His artwork will be featured on two wrapped Metro buses. At 60 feet long, its message will be spread across King County.
“Black Lives Matter, to me, is we are expanding our voices more clearly, being more forceful, more resilient, and we’re doing it in a different way,” Horton said.
Horton, heavily influenced by the work of Jacob Lawrence, finds history to be an important aspect of his work.
“I love Jacob Lawrence’s work. I kind of pattern myself after him. I don’t do it directly as he does, but my style is kind of similar to his, although mine’s a little more detailed,” Horton said. “What I like about him is that he did these storyboards of stories of history. Whether it be John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, ‘The Migration Series,’ ‘The Civil Rights Series,’ but suddenly each panel is a full story. And I like to do the same.”
This love for Black history has translated into his work for King County Metro.
“Most of my work deals with African American history and the history of our culture,” Horton said. “The urban street style has been kind of my influence lately as well. What I do personally, with my work, I kind of combine African American culture and history and then the African diaspora culture and history, this kind of cross cultures together. The rich colors, the details on the textiles and patterns, the African American cultures of the flag of the red, black, and green.”
Although this experience was different from his usual creative process, it was rewarding.
“I use watercolors and acrylics. I also use other entities like graphite pencils, that type of thing,” Horton said. “It was challenging [creating the mural]. But soon as I started going, just creating the work and doing my sketches, and then finally doing the final pieces of designs. It all came together.”
Horton is hopeful this mural catches the eyes of people around them and not only surprises them but makes them feel proud of the movement.
“We’ve all seen bus murals before, but this one’s different from any other bus mural that’s been done before,” Horton said. “So when people see this, they’re going to be taken aback because you see this image of the bus coming down the street and to see Black Lives Matter, you see the colors, you see the culture, you’ll see the American flag there, you’ll see the African designs. I think they’ll actually be surprised but they’ll also see pridefulness about it.”
Sandra Padilla, a transit operator and another winner from the contest, will have their BLM artwork featuring images of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Aiyana Jones, who was just 7 years old when she was killed during a police raid in 2010, featured on the outside of 200 Metro coaches.
In addition, Juan G. Hood III will have their artwork displayed as posters in various Metro work sites.
Beyond the Black Lives Matter murals, King County Metro mentioned in their announcement of the murals that they have begun working to address the racism that persists within their workplace.
“At Metro, we are reimagining safety, security, and fare enforcement. We are reaching out to members of the community, working with them to envision what a safe and welcoming Metro looks like for BIPOC members, and co-creating a system that serves and treats everyone fairly and with dignity. We are developing regular forums through which leadership can listen and learn from the personal truths and experiences of employees,” King County Metro General Manager Terry White said in the announcement.
These installations represent solidarity, progress, and — most importantly to Horton — pride.
“We’re not ashamed of who we are, what we did, and what happened,” Horton said. “We are Americans, that’s the bottom line. That’s what we want to be all along.”
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
Featured Image: Artist and Metro transit operator Robert L. Horton designed Black Lives Matter artwork that will be wrapped around two Metro bus coaches that debuted in late March. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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