Will Smith may not have been in town to see the unveiling of the new West Philly mural of his visage, but he was touched enough by the project to dedicate an entire video on his popular YouTube account to it.
Located at 4545 Girard Ave., across from the Global Leadership Academy Charter School, artist Richard Wilson’s 60-foot mural of Smith is Philly’s latest large-scale dedication to one of its most famous residents. Finished last month, it is also the first Philly mural to be dedicated entirely to Smith, one of Philly’s most famous natives.
Smith, for his part, was touched by the project, and recalled in his video commemorating the mural that as a kid growing up in West Philly, he was inspired by a mural of Sixers great Julius Erving. With that in mind, getting his own mural was almost too much for him. Ditto for his mother, Carolyn, who called the mural “perfect.”
“The idea that there would be a mural of me on the side of a school in West Philadelphia just wrecked me,” Smith said. “To see my mother’s face when she looked at the mural, that was profoundly moving for me.”
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As Wilson says in Smith’s video, he found the mural’s location on Google Maps and used Google Street View to find a wall tall enough for Smith’s image. After finding it, he set to work on what he called a “65-foot symbol of ‘you can do anything you want to do.’”
“If you’re a kid here growing up now and you see this every day, it can give you a real understanding that ‘this guy is me. He lived here. He grew up here. He had the same chances as me, the same possibilities as me, the same everything,’” Wilson said. “And he’s being painted on a wall because he’s done something incredible with his life.”
For Naomi Booker, CEO of the GLA charter school, the inspiration is important for her students.
“This man, who is an icon, is looking at GLA, so my kids every day will see this image and know that you can be whatever you want to be,” she said.
For longtime friend Charlie Mack, however, it all came down to one highly identifiable body part.
“Let me tell you the main detail,” Mack told Wilson. “You got Will’s ears right.”
To show his appreciation for the mural, Smith and his camp set up a merchandise line to benefit GLA and Wilson. T-shirts and other items featuring an image of the mural are available.