Viajero Mixes It Up for Monument Art NYC in East Harlem

I first found out about Viajero’s LIBRE mural when it showed up in my Instagram feed as part of Monument Art NYC, but what I found at 113th Street in East Harlem blew me away. The chilling portrait of a boy sitting in a paper boat, made out of real newspaper collage, was one of the most unique murals I’ve seen on the streets of New York City.

It’s just one of the pieces included in the Monument Art Project, which brings together international artists to generate large-scale murals in the neighborhood, curated by Celso Gonzalez as part of the La Marqueta Retoña initiative in Spanish Harlem.

NYC-based artist, Viajero, completed this unique mixed-media mural at the corner of 113th Street and 2nd Avenue last month. Viajero, also known as Adrian Roman, was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his largest street mural to date.

As the only NYC-based artist on the project, how long have you lived in the city?

I’ve traveled often since my childhood between Puerto Rico and New York, but I grew up in Brooklyn. I’ve lived in Puerto Rico and Miami on and off for a few years as well. However, East Harlem has a special place in my heart for a few reasons: I have family that moved to East Harlem when they migrated from Puerto Rico in the 1940s, it is a place that has deep historical significance to the Puerto Rican community, and it was the first place I introduced myself as an artist to the community I felt most comfortable in. I view my participation as the only NY artist in this mural festival as a responsibility to make sure I’m communicating and engaging with the community by providing them with a sense of ownership of the mural and helping increase their neighborhood pride.

How do you approach a project at this scale? Is the art inspired by the location or a previous concept you had been working on?

This one was ambitious for me and I wanted to challenge myself because it’s only the third mural I’ve ever done, and would be the largest to date. My process for creating murals has been guided by my process of making art in the studio. Figuring out ways to incorporate my mixed media and three-dimensional style to a mural, when typically murals are thought to be flat paintings on a wall.

The idea of the piece originally came from a project I did in Havana, Cuba back in May for the Havana Biennale. I screen printed on wood and paper miniature versions of an older piece called “Un Dia…”, which is a little boy crouching down holding a toy in his hand. I placed the miniature version of the boy in handmade paper boats for him to sit in. I placed the miniatures all over Havana, from outside the Malecón, to the inside of El Museo de Bellas Artes. For this mural I wanted to create a piece that touched on this concept of the “new” migration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S.. However, it does also relate to the issues of immigration and migration happening globally.

What is the hardest part about working on large-scale murals?

Since I haven’t done many murals, I think the hardest part for me is developing a technique that helps speed up the process and deciding what materials to use. Since I’m used to working in the studio, the time of day/night isn’t an obstacle. When working on a mural outside, there’s many factors to consider…weather, sunlight, public interaction.

“The use of these materials in my mural help connect to a deeper story.”

You have a unique perspective with this mural material-wise. Do you have a background in collage?

I don’t have a traditional background in collage, but I tend to use a lot of different materials and objects in my studio work. I don’t view the objects or materials as solely telling a single story, because though they have a history, I am now reinterpreting them to enhance and give them a new meaning. The use of these materials in my mural help connect to a deeper story.

For example, the newspaper used for the boat is more than just a literal translation of a boat made of paper, but the intention of this boy leaving somewhere by creating his escape with a material, newspapers, that is easily found and readily accessible. The newspaper articles and advertisements symbolize memories and history the boy travels with on his journey.

What inspires you, in and outside of the world of art?

The preservation of culture and history. Anything that has a foundation of storytelling and documenting moments of time. This could be photography, poetry, our grandparents, children, or the grain in wood. Everything has a purpose and story which inspires me to explore their existence, their purpose and how differently things can be translated by different people all over the world.

(Originally published on William & Park)