Pictures of Quintin Lopez
As Ricky Heeraman grew up in the Bronx and Paterson, New Jersey, he was surrounded by wonderful graffiti. Every piece he saw on his way home from school inspired him. The vibrant colors were captivating, and as he grew in his own artistic career, these vivid hues became his trademark. We spoke with Heeraman about his roots, designing murals for a restaurant, and how old-school sneaker culture influenced some of his most impressive works.
Do you remember the first time you became interested in art? The first time I became interested in art was when I was a child. I watched my uncle sketch and draw, which made me want to draw. I grew up in the Bronx and later moved to Paterson, New Jersey. Both of these towns were filled with beautiful murals and graffiti. That’s when the real interest arose.
What were your first artistic influences?
My first artistic influences were the communities in which I grew up. On my way to and from school I was able to see live art done in public, from murals to regular street vomit. Also, two of my closest friends and I used to have drawing contests in school, we used to compete to see who could draw better Dragonball Z characters. They added to my initial motivation and influence for my designs and art. Every day we went there. My friend was showing us some cool techniques on how to shade and do certain things to make us better. He was the best artist of all of us, God rest his soul. They certainly played a part in my early interest in art.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist? What medium was your front door? I saw myself becoming an artist when I had the chance to use a spray paint can at 13 years old. On one of my walks home from school, two guys who had just finished painting a mural in the neighborhood left pots behind. I went there and fell in love. Not just with the paint look, but the whole vibe. I fell in love hearing the metallic pea every time you shake the can. I fell in love with the smell of spray paint. And I just loved the aspect of being outside of the painting—hearing the essence of the city, the cars, the people—and feeling the fresh air. I guess you can say my first mediums were spray paint on public spaces and my sketchbook. My sketchbook allowed me to draw, to be myself and to escape a little from my environment.
What drew you to the incredibly bright colors you prefer? I feel like that’s what catches the viewer’s eye first, the dynamism of the palettes used. Also, the majority of my early artwork depicted dark images, so I used the bright colors to offset the tone they set, to show people that something so dark could be bright and vibrant. I like to work with lots of bright colors because I feel like it’s a challenge to make them coexist and blend together beautifully.
Can you tell us about the transition from creating street art to exhibiting in galleries? This was definitely one of my toughest hurdles to overcome. Being a minority man from an urban city who did pure graffiti mixed with street art was not so acceptable at the beginning of my career. I had no contacts or networks in the art world and I had no one to represent me. These people just saw a random guy who paints part-time doing graffiti and street art and wants to be exhibited in a gallery. Back then, I used to Google for art galleries, restaurants, and hotels in New York and the tri-state area. I was calling or emailing hundreds of people a day. Believe me when I tell you that I heard “no” much more than “yes”. It became very daunting, but I continued to reach out to people and took advantage of those who said yes to me. I ended up working with the right people and it got me to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t change my bumpy road, it’s what builds character.
You have just painted an entire restaurant (Panda Harlem). Can you tell us about the challenges of executing such a large project? How does your mindset change when you consider the setting? Panda Harlem, to date, is the largest mural I have done. The whole way from front to back, top to bottom is filled with my artwork. It used to be a former event space and they needed the restaurant setting to be more vibrant and appealing to diners. The only challenge I faced with this mural was the heights and not having proper scaffolding. I don’t do well with heights and there are some parts of the restaurant where I had to paint almost 30-35 feet in the air. I admit there were times when my hands or knees started shaking with anxiety, but at the same time I kept in mind that it’s just me here, I am the only one who can finish this fresco, so it must be done. That bit of motivation pushed me through my fears. After that, everything else went smoothly.
I just went with the flow. I haven’t drawn anything before. I just knew it would be a Chinese food restaurant, which suited the NYC nightlife vibe. I took that ideology and ran with it. I mixed some graffiti with some pop art and remixed some Disney characters. Everywhere you look in the restaurant, I’ve touched and embedded a piece of me into the walls.
Where do you see the future taking you? I definitely see myself collaborating with more brands and companies to incorporate my artwork into their products and environment. Ultimately, more people see and interact with my art. My main goal is to one day make it a museum with my works of art. Being in a museum means a lot to me because when I was a kid I used to take trips to art museums to learn about legendary artists and what they did during their time. . I want to be that artist in a museum where kids eventually go to learn about me, my art, and what I’ve done.