Editor’s note: This interview was edited for clarity and space.
If you wander around downtown Grand Rapids and its surrounding areas, you’re likely to encounter a mural by Erick Picardo. Picardo has painted a dozen murals in the downtown area, most recently completing the piece “Celebrating Diversity,” located in an alleyway off Commerce Avenue across from the United Way building.
Picardo is a local artist who has been producing artwork since childhood. He moved to the United States from the Caribbean in 1999. He settled in West Michigan and has been living here for the past 19 years. His work stands out due to his use of vibrant colors and hopeful imagery.
In January, Picardo had the opportunity to travel to Kenya, Africa, to work on a mural project.
How many artworks of yours can be found in public spaces or local businesses in GR? There are about 12 public art pieces so far in Grand Rapids, including a monumental art mural in Metro Hospital Byron Center. I have been blessed because I got a lot of beautiful opportunities to work on a few commissioned art murals and some other art projects from local businesses and organizations.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your work? I believe that inspiration comes from action, from experimentation, from the chaos and from a big fail, also. Nothing about a creative life exists on a straight line. I am a full-time artist, so I’ve got to make art anyway. I don’t look for permission; I simply create, whether anyone appreciates it or not.
There is great joy showing in every painting. I am very tied into a lot of my pieces that I produce that carry part of my Afro-Latino heritage because they allow me to share my identity to the world. There are a few other pieces of art that were part of the transition from my land to the United States — full of sentiments and frustration, I guess.
Your style is very colorful and vibrant and seems happy or uplifting, do you agree? Yes. … I am still working hard to find my own voice and to build a unique and recognizable artistic style that is distinct. I am creating pieces of work that are going to invite someone to an open dialogue about what they are feeling both consciously and subconsciously.
Is there any advice you’d give to your teenage self? Don’t doubt yourself, be patient, maintain commitment and critical engagement in your practice. Work hard and work even harder when you are not satisfied. My works serve as a reminder of all that humanity is capable of being, inspiring viewers to strive toward a better self and a better world.
What are you working on for 2020? I’ve got a couple of major and important projects for 2020. Currently, I am working on my U.S. citizenship; that is going to drive me to a big celebration in October because I will celebrate 20 years in the United States. I’m also putting something together for my first art and poetry catalog.
Another important project is to turn The Caribbean Coalition for the Arts & Culture into a formal nonprofit. I have been working with a group of people promoting Caribbean culture through many different events. I believe that I can offer more under a formal organization.
Find Erick Picardo’s work here:
20 Monroe Live
Ambassador Building downtown
Grandville Avenue (2 pieces)
Division Avenue (3 pieces)
Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School
Agave Mexican Grill in Traverse City (six indoor murals)