- Words and Photos by John Domine
NYC Heads to Akumal, Mexico! (Part 1)
In just under a week, from November 9th-11th, a dozen artists from New York City will descend upon a small town in Mexico to join another sixty+ artists from around the globe to take part in the inaugural event of what is known as the "Festival de Artes Akumal", or the Akumal Arts Festival.
And the best part is... SOLD Magazine will be there to catch all of the action! Kristy Calabro and I will be on hand to give you real-time progress of the walls and other events taking place during the festival, so be sure to follow our Instagram stories and daily posts!
The event, which is described as "a weekend of art, making, food, and good company", has a goal to bring a fiesta of art to the pueblo of Akumal, in the Riviera Maya; to enhance and beautify the town with over 70 established street artists from around the globe, hailing from Mexico, the United States, the UK, Colombia, Cuba, Argentina, Japan and beyond.
With such a strong showing from NYC, we have decided to feature them all in a two-part series leading up to the festival.
THE NYC ARTIST CURATOR
Before we get to artists who will be heading down to Akumal, I want to introduce Rena Gray, the artist recruiter and liaison who lives in New York City and curated the line-up of our local artists.
Having grown up in New York City herself, Rena has witnessed the street art scene change over time. By exploring the streets of all the neighborhoods in the city as @walkinggirlnyc on Instagram, she has become a passionate advocate for urban art and the artists themselves.
I caught up with her to learn a bit more about her selection process for the New York City talent:
"The process for me started with the art. With such a vast amount of incredible art, the first handful of people I reached out to about the festival are people I've had personal experience with on some level. They are amazing artists, nice people and are appreciative of their fans. They take time to engage. I'm a fan first, so I scrolled through my [Instagram] feed and started reaching out to what spoke to me. I'm very excited to be able to spend quality time and observe these artists as part of such a wonderful project."
The panel of artists who will be representing New York City is as varied as the melting pot of a city in which we live. Some are very seasoned in the mural festival world, while others will be enjoying their first event. But one thing is for sure, they are all very excited to be part of such a wonderful community-focused event in beautiful Akumal, in the Riviera Maya of Mexico!
It is my honor to introduce some of the amazing artists who will be representing New York City: Damien Mitchell, SINNED, Dirk, Federico Massa, Nadya Voynovskaya, Jana Liptak, and Natasha May Platt .
DAMIEN MITCHELL (@damien_mitchell)
Damien Mitchell is originally from Wagga Wagga, Australia, and has been painting around the world since 2005. He is currently based in Brooklyn and has been lucky enough to develop a style, contributing to a culture and community of art. Damien enjoys collaboration and has been lucky to work with people of all ages from all backgrounds. He gave us a sneak peek into what we can expect from him at the festival.
"There are a couple of ideas I'm kicking around. Akumal is a haven for sea turtles, so I guess they will feature heavily in a lot of artwork. I'm thinking about painting the invasive lion fish and the local fishermen who are trying to combat their taking over the eco-system. (http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2015/05/lion-fish-eat-them-to-beat-them/)
I've been lucky that my work has taken me all over the place. Earlier this year I was able to visit Mexico and paint with friends in Ecatepec and Mexico City. Working in different places, with different people, is a great way to gain new perspective. There are so many great painters out there all with different styles and ideas."
Known immediately by his art-adorned box trucks spotted all over New York City, SINNED has established himself with a vibrant color palette and some whimsical characters. He moved to NYC in 1993 and received an Associates Degree from FIT and Bachelors Degree in Communications Design at Pratt. His recent work has been heavily influenced by ancient tribal rituals, artifacts and various spiritual beliefs. The characters in his work represent multiple layers of emotions, often defending themselves with masks, weapons, and totems or creature companions to guide them.
He speaks about his decision to be part of the Akumal Arts Festival.
"It’s the perfect opportunity to travel and paint with my wife, Maria. The environment and culture of Mexico has always inspired me. I am thrilled to be able to contribute to the visuals of such a beautiful place.
We’ll be painting a creature with armor and tentacles in an underwater environment. I’ve been developing a small army of these characters, especially in the past few 'Box Truck Guardians' pieces we’ve painted. There are about half a dozen pieces on box trucks rolling around NYC.
This will be my first time painting in an international festival. I’m mostly looking forward to spending the time doing what I love in a place I’ve never painted before, meeting new people, seeing new areas. Being with Maria will make the experience even better."
FEDERICO MASSA (@IENACRUZ)
Federico Massa (also known in the global street art world as Iena Cruz) is a university-trained fine artist from Milan who calls Brooklyn home.
Inspired by California skateboard culture and brands like Santa Cruz in the 1990s, Massa took to the streets with the alias “Cruz.” Tagging all over the streets of Milan, he grew to love the rebellious spirit of the graffiti world, especially the adrenaline rushes of painting on moving trains. Moving away from the graffiti style and into Street Art, he began using the symbol of a hyena (Iena). He related to its ability to appear laughing, no matter the circumstances. The alias “Cruz” more frequently became “Iena Cruz”.
Since his arrival to Brooklyn in 2010 he has garnered the EB-1, the coveted U.S. Visa for Extraordinary Ability, along with a number of gallery shows in New York City, Baltimore, and Miami, and commissions for murals in Mexico City, Ibiza, Manhattan, Barcelona, Milan and Brooklyn.
In the streets of Brooklyn’s rapidly changing Bushwick and Williamsburg neighborhoods, the public can see many of the large scale, colorful, technically-layered murals that Massa is known for internationally, such as the wall featured above.
We are looking forward to seeing what he brings to the streets of Akumal.
Dirk has been something of an enigma on the street art scene, with his #WHOISDIRK hashtag emblazoned on his pieces. He is an NYC native and has been heavily influenced by black and white comics. He wants people to walk away from his art thinking, the gears turning.
"I've always wanted to visit Mexico so I jumped at the opportunity. To be able to support a community by providing art and a new perspective to their living space is huge."
I'm painting my psychonaut character with rainbow trails surrounded by sugar skulls. The character to me symbolizes the exploration of thought. Through which we find a deeper sense of self.
I've never painted anywhere but NYC, so I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in a new culture."
NADYA VOYNOVSKAYA (@three6nadya)
Nadya has been involved with the Groundswell Mural Project in New York City. Originally from Russia, she learned mural painting from OG San Francisco muralists in the Bay Area. She has been painting for 7 years, and most recently has been working with young people in NYC to create social justice themed community murals.
"Mexican muralism has had a significant influence on public art in the United States and being able to paint there is a dream come true. I am excited to meet people in Akumal and see how art making and design are interwoven in their daily lives.
I will be painting a piece that reflects the relationship between destruction of nature and oppression of the feminine. While this is a global issue, this piece will center the strength of Mexican women, highlighting the “Ni Una Menos” movement against gender based violence.
While street art is an exciting form of self expression, I believe involving the community and reflecting a vision that is relevant to their lives is an invaluable opportunity to support the brilliance that already exists in the neighborhood."
JANA LIPTAK (@culturedcuttlefish)
Jana Liptak has painted several rollgates for the 100GatesProject in New York City among other pieces on the city streets. Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, she moved to Brooklyn in 2009 after bouncing around Washington State, Scotland, and Southern India for several years. She has always made art, and always been deeply influenced by the natural world. Her paintings and sculptures celebrate love, nature, and interconnectivity.
"I am so excited to be invited to paint at Akumal. It will be an amazing opportunity to meet artists from all over the world, make something awesome for Akumal, and explore a truly unique and fascinating place with amazing history and natural beauty.
I will be painting a design from my “animals in love” series. It is an image of two geckos loving it up. I chose geckos in part because they are indigenous to Akumal, but the image is actually based on a photo I took while living near Thiruvarur in Southern India. These little geckos were doin’ it right on my window sill! The way they wrapped their bodies around each other really stuck with me, and I’m so excited to be painting them now as a celebration of love for Akumal and the world.
This will be my first time painting at an international festival, and my first time painting in Mexico. I got to paint for the Beltline Walls Festival this year in Atlanta, and I’m thrilled to be taking my first international step with the Akumal Arts Festival. I’ve always loved travel and adventure, and it is a dream to be able to combine that with my art. I’ve visited Mexico several times, but never the Yucatan, and I am super excited to explore the area."
NATASHA MAY PLATT (surfaceofbeauty)
Natasha May Platt has created a garden of beauty on the gates and walls of NYC. She is a painter who seeks to see and express the beauty and abundance of nature.
"I paint always with a brush, and with a painterly style of long brushstrokes. I think an artist magnifies whatever aspect they love in their subject, and for me, that aspect is always color. I look and look into whatever I am painting, until my eyes lose focus and I find the colors hidden in shadows or behind other colors.
Akumal is close to nature and has many programs for conservation of our natural resources, so I want to support this beautiful community and bring awareness to this part of the world. When I travel to paint, I always find inspiration that nourishes me and keeps me warm during the rest of my months in NYC.
I will paint plants from both aquatic and land environments, woven together and interconnected. The ocean is not a separate world, but fundamentally linked with the world we experience on land in every possible way. All life comes from the sea, and too often we lose connection with the part of our planet that exists underwater, out of sight and in darkness. It is the life that begins in the darkness of the ocean that continues onto the land, and I want to illustrate that flow.
This will be my first mural festival, though I have painted internationally for organizations and private clients. It will also be my very first trip to Mexico! I am looking forward to meeting local people, seeing the beautiful nature, painting in a tropical climate (which I always enjoy), and meeting artists from around the world to collectively create something meaningful.
AKUMAL, HERE WE COME!
To learn more about the festival and the community behind it, check out the Akumal Arts Festival. And be sure to follow us on Instagram for up-to-the-minute posts of all the beauty unfolding in Mexico's Riviera Maya. Check back to learn from Kristy Calabro about the rest of the NYC artists who will be participating in the event.
For the full list of participating artists, check them out here.