As he stood in his backyard with his wife observing the movement of birds and insects in flight, inspiration struck artist Ray Arcadio, 43, a North Bergen resident whose work is featured in a solo exhibit, “Life Happens,” at the Secaucus Public Library during the month of August.
Insects appear throughout a number of his pieces as symbols of the transient and cyclical nature of life, in addition to guns and celebrities, which address life’s extremes. The show opens Aug. 3 and runs through Aug. 31. An artist reception is being held on Sunday, Aug. 7 from 1-3 p.m.
“In spite of us, life still goes on and that hit me.” – Ray Arcadio
During that moment in his yard, he recalled the death of his wife’s mother the year before. He recalled all of the deaths from the World Trade Center attacks – which he witnessed first-hand – and said he was moved to create a series of portraitures that capture the brevity yet continuation of life.
The show includes an eclectic mix of Arcadio’s work, 20 to 25 pieces, mostly black and white done in charcoal, oils, and acrylic.
In “Sami’s Distraction,” oil on canvas, a woman is shown smiling at an oncoming bullet with two lady bugs riding along. “This person can disappear in a flash of a moment,” said Arcadio of the significance of the bullet. While the lady bugs add a cute aspect to the painting, they appear in the portrait because of the role they play in nature as predators that eat other insects.
“If I put a gunhead on anything, it makes it look that much more violent,” said Arcadio. The exhibit includes pieces from his “Gunhead” series, reflective of violence as an extreme. One painting depicts a businessman holding a heart with a gun barrel for a head. In another painting a gun barrel is twisted on itself. Paintings of Greek sculptures throughout the exhibit serve as reminders of violent culture, noted Acradio.
Portraits of Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga in various forms of expression appear in the exhibit as representations of extreme celebrity.
The exhibit also includes a few portraits of friends Arcadio has made via Facebook, the popular online social network. The pieces are part of a broader project Arcadio has undertaken, which involves painting all 300 friends in his network.
Ray has been picking up on patterns in life since he was a child watching his mother, a seamstress, draw patterns for clothes and comforters.
“I used to stand on a chair looking down at [my mother] drawing patterns…I remember her starting with a line and a point – for me that was magical,” said Arcadio. “I would try to do what she was doing.”
As he grew older, he began drawing comic book characters such as Batman and Superman. He moved on to graffiti during his teen years in the ‘80s at the height of rap. He gained popularity among local groups within Union City and was often asked to paint designs on jean jackets.
Arcadio obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts from New Jersey City University. He was a founding member of both the culture jamming collaborative group “Artf-x” and the graffiti group IBS (International Bombing System).
Arcadio credits his art teacher, Mr. Carcich at the former Union Hill High School in Union City as a major influence in setting him off on his artistic path.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” said Arcadio. “He was a huge influence even in how I teach today.” Arcadio teaches art at North Bergen High School.
Among his other influences, he mentions visual artist Robert Longo, painters Shelley Reid and David Salle, and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who started out as a graffiti artist.
Originally from Santiago, Dominican Republic, he moved to the U.S. in 1975. He has lived in various parts of Hudson County including Union City and Jersey City before settling into North Bergen, and has shown his work across the U.S. and in the Dominican Republic.
Arcadio has had solo shows at the Jersey City Museum, The Gallery at The Arts Guild of Rahway and the North Bergen Library Art Gallery. He was also chosen as one of 30 artists to represent the state in the “The Visual Imaginary of Latinas/os in New Jersey” at the Center for Latinos Arts and Culture at Rutgers University.
“I’m enjoying today because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” said Arcadio of his plans after the Secaucus debut. Like his art, he has embraced the ephemeral nature of existence, taking life one moment at a time.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.