Have you ever found yourself mesmerized by the unsolicited graffiti that dots many urban neighborhoods? Perhaps you wondered what drew you in, why you can’t look away, and in some cases… “How on earth did they get that up there?” Graffiti art has earned more and more respect over the years and is vastly being used in the form of murals as an opportunity to restore the positive feelings of many communities. We decided to speak with one man behind some of these great works of art and were delighted to be invited into his world. Meet – Vinny Alejandro, a Graffiti Artist from Buffalo, New York living in the Old First Ward neighborhood, who found a love in “creating murals with spray cans”.
What type of artist do you consider yourself?
“I would say I was a graffiti artist. I create graffiti style art but in a legal sense in murals and paintings.”
Did you receive any formal training?
“Not so much formal. I attended the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts in high school, and majored in art but nothing after that.”
Can you remember the point at which you decided to become an artist?
“When I was a little kid, me and my mom, during snow days, would sit and draw winter scenes on pieces of paper to pass the time. I always admired seeing those paintings at stores. My mom getting me an audition to Performing Arts after she found out I was ‘tagging’ sparked it, ha ha.”
How would you describe your style of artwork?
“It definitely has a street style to it due to my background, but I think I create impactful images without being overpowering.”
What mediums do you enjoy working with?
“I like to work with spray paint and acrylics. Spray paint is definitely my favorite. It mimics airbrush in a way and you can get large scale detail with cans. I like using acrylics on canvas.”
You recently moved back to the Buffalo, New York area, a move that was highlighted last year in the Buffalo Rising. What inspired your move back?
“I missed my hometown, always have. Recently I’d seen all of the stories about the growth of the city and the big things happening. I had to come back.”
Your recent mural work contributes a great deal to the community? How did you get started with this?
“I lived in Joplin, Missouri in 2011, and was witness to the EF5 tornado that destroyed a lot of that city. I did search and rescue and clean up, but after that I wanted to do more. Me and a friend painted a mural called, “The Hope Wall” to lift peoples spirits. It did and after that I started doing a lot of community based projects including painting a room for the Joplin Extreme Makeover Home Edition episode. Theres no better feeling than giving back.”
How did you get involved with the Extreme Makeover Joplin project?
“As I mentioned, me and a friend had painted a mural there in Joplin that became an inspiration to the city. I had been on the news there, and had donated paintings for fundraisers in the area for tornado relief. A contractor of one of the houses, they built 7 in that episode, had heard about it and wanted me on the project. I painted a Denver Broncos logo in a ‘man cave’ they built for one of the survivors on their new storm shelter of all places. It never made tv due to the Kansas City Chiefs being a big part of the build, but I met some really cool people and it felt good giving back again.”
While conversing with you, we learned that you served in the Army from 1993 – 1997 which included deployment in Bosnia. Do you feel that your time served influenced the way you express yourself through art?
“I grew up in a neighborhood in the inner city, where not too many people leave. Some I know after a lifetime have barely left the state. The Army took me to Europe where graffiti is and has been viewed in a different way – more accepted by society as an art form. I saw beautiful street art there that has always influenced me. The military made me understand respect and to value life day by day.”
What type of preparation goes into doing such large scale projects?
“First and foremost is the wall itself. Just like painting a car, the prep work that goes into the original surface can make or break your mural. A good primer and paint for the large scale areas always helps the process along quickly.”
Do you find it difficult to work outside?
“Sometimes. Weather plays such a huge part in what I do. It could be 75 and sunny out, but if the winds are too high, spray paint just doesn’t cooperate.”
Do you have any special techniques, habits, or tips that you feel might be helpful to other artists?
“Keep trying and find your groove. Once you find it, it’s not the end, it’s the beginning.”
What projects are you currently working on?
“I just recently finished a mural for New Era Cap Company in one of their conference rooms, and I’m currently applying for two more community murals in the works.”
What would others be surprised to know about you?
“I used to build custom cars professionally. From stereo systems to lowering or lifting, wheels, tires and custom paint, just like Pimp my Ride.”
Out of all of your works of art, which is your favorite and why?
“My favorite is ‘Lioness’, it was my first attempt at realism with a spraycan and it steered my art in a new direction. It let me know I was capable of more than just letters. I tried to convey the feeling of being at the bottom of the ocean at that very moment.”
Where can we find examples of your artwork?
“Joplin, Missouri has the Hope Wall and other walls I’ve done on Route 66 near there.
In Buffalo, New York:
- I have three murals in the University Heights near Main St. and Northrup,
- Three in the Old First Ward, including a community garden fence at Oconnell and Vincennes
- A plywood mural on the Master Food Market on Louisiana St, and
- The new Old First Ward Community mural on Republic street along the tracks
Buffalo Rising has done a few articles on me and my journey, and I was on Winging it, Buffalo style a few weeks ago, but if I were to share something I would share this video from a guy named Justin Hines. It shows scenes from the Joplin aftermath and the video ends with my wall. It meant a lot!”
Artists like Alejandro work hard to find the formula that allows them to gain the balance between meeting the demands of work and home, and answering their calling to be an artist – that growing want to do what you love in life.
“Im living my dream right now!” he says “As of June 1st, 2014, I became a full time artist, and so far I’m sustaining myself and contributing to my family as I was working for a company. In five years, I hope to be still doing the same and hopefully made a good name for myself”
(Justin Hines, Tell Me I’m Wrong)