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Sit Downs: Interview with Nepo


Nepo for the 317 gallery

It has been two years since artist Nepo made the move to New York City, leaving behind—for now at least—his native Puerto Rico where he has long been a part of the established street art scene. Like many of his fellow street artists, he got his start as a teenager illegally spray painting graffiti on outdoor public spaces. Today, the graduate of Puerto Rico’s La Escuela de Artes Plásticas is known for his surreal and brightly colored murals depicting all kinds of fantastical flora and fauna.

Recently, we caught up with Nepo while he was creating one of his commissioned projects for 317 Gallery in LES. The result of ST.ART and 317 Gallery owner, Sasha Rales, coming together to make New York streets more vibrant.

Nepo for the 317 gallery

ST.ART: What inspired you to make the shift from graffiti to street art?

Nepo: It was like 2000 and the Internet was just starting. I started discovering artists and I really loved them and I was inspired to try more complicated things and to learn new techniques from artists I admired in Puerto Rico. It’s not something you really learn in school, it’s something you have to learn for yourself. And it was amazing to me, how people can do all these things with spray cans, what?! I was obsessed with learning how to do it, and I was bad at first but I kept learning, you get more pumped and keep doing it. I’m 34 now and I can’t stop doing it.

ST.ART: Why the move to New York?

Nepo: A lot of people stay in PR because it’s a comfortable place to be and you have to do so much to get by here [in New York]. But it comes to a point where you’ve done everything that you can. I can always go back but for now I am just trying to get some work done here.

Nepo for the 317 gallery

ST.ART: What is the difference between the street art scene in Puerto Rico versus New York City?

Nepo: There aren’t many people doing street art here [in New York]. I guess it’s hard to get paint, to get walls. I’ve met a lot of people who are helping me out to get the walls, the paint, but it’s hard by yourself, you have to get permission for a wall, or you can’t find the owner, and you have to keep trying. It’s more complicated than what you think it would be.

In Puerto Rico it’s really easy, and the cops don’t really mind it, not like here. I spent two weeks in jail here because I was caught doing graffiti like two months after I arrived. That’s something that would never happen in PR. The cops will see you doing it and say “that looks nice” or, worst case scenario, “get the fuck out of here, you can’t do that here.”

I have met a lot of good artists here. But coming from Puerto Rico, there’s something about the tropics, the colors, the light, the way that you see things, the weather.

Nepo for the 317 gallery

ST.ART: Lately you have been painting tree houses. What is that about?

Nepo: I started painting tree houses before I came to New York. As a kid I had three different trees in my back yard, I had an avocado one and a mango one and they were huge and beautiful so I spent a lot of time building my own tree houses for them. Then I destroyed them and built them again, it was just something I did in the summer. I spent a lot of time hanging out in my tree house reading or whatever.

I always love that nostalgia of being a kid and you don’t have to worry about anything, just doing anything you want to do, to me that’s like the purest form of happiness. That’s why I do my art, because I want to forget everything for a few hours and just paint.

Nepo for the 317 gallery

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