Global Street Artist Honed His Skills at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School

Global Street Artist Honed His Skills at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School

‘LNY’ eschews mainstream art world for public murals that beautify neglected spaces

LNY's surrealistic murals can be found on walls all over the world.
LNY's surrealistic murals can be found on walls all over the world.
Courtesy of LNY
His artwork has been seen in Germany, Mexico and Korea, but the street artist known as “LNY,’’ for “Lunar New Year,’’ doesn’t want people to know his name.

A chance to share his surrealistic murals on walls all over the world is the only validation he needs.

“It's not about the artist as hero or art as this statement that will last forever,’’ says LNY, a graduate of Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. “Artwork in the streets is ephemeral, like life itself ... and once it connects to the viewer, it fulfills its purpose and the gift is passed on.’’

LNY, who avoids giving his real name to protect his anonymity, studied painting at Rutgers and following graduation decided to bypass galleries and studios for a more unconventional calling. 

His colorful murals -- which sometimes include renderings of imaginary animals and birds of prey -- are usually sanctioned by residents of the communities where he paints, and sometimes they are commissioned. But often, they are illegal, and he has been arrested twice.

Still, LNY doesn’t avoid spots were he’s likely to get caught, he says. “A lot of times I go out to parts of the urban landscape that are neglected and fall outside of the structures of power and control. Then the question becomes, ‘how do I engage this space and community?’ Not ‘is this legal?’” explains the artist, an Ecuadorian immigrant who moved to West New York as a teen. 

“Talking to people, getting to know them, offering them free art and color for their walls allows us to reach an agreement for the work to exist,’’ he says. “In that sense, it becomes legal, but not in a “top down, ‘I’m going to call the cops if I see you painting,’ kind of way. Other times, I’m invited to paint, and then it’s a completely different story.’’

During his adolescence in West New York, LNY was surrounded by the work of local graffiti artists, and while he also painted on buildings and public spaces, he adopted a different style. “I was attracted to making images and not in a traditional graffiti sense. To me, it was as natural to draw on a piece of paper as it was to draw on a wall.’’

At Rutgers, LNY improved his technique and gained knowledge but sought to distance himself from the mainstream art world. “The most useful thing I learned at Rutgers was to question everything. I always found this ironic but very true to the school’s history of radical thinking, considering it was part of the birth of Fluxus  (a 1960s art movement influenced by Dadaism) and the ‘happenings’ of the 1960s, as well as its strong feminist movement. All these influences shaped me.’’

Mason Gross professor and artist Stephen Westfall remembers LNY as a talented student, “a very accomplished realist painter,’’ who was keenly aware of injustice and inequality.

"He always had a socio-political investment,’’ said Westfall. “There’s a guerrilla aspect to his work now, but knowing him, he’d never vandalize anything. I had huge hopes for him and I'm thrilled that he's doing so well.''

LNY makes a living from a string of graphic arts and illustration jobs: designing record covers, tattoo art and T-shirts. “I hustle and live very frugally,’’ he says.

He also volunteers with nonprofit groups such as Young New Yorkers, a Brooklyn-based arts program for teens who have been incarcerated in adult prisons.  

But when it comes to his art, he continues looking for the next blank canvas, whether it’s a cracked concrete wall, an underpass or the overlooked doorway of an abandoned building.  

When he’s finished a mural, he usually doesn’t wait around for a response. “Making the work has meaning for me and once it’s out, I let go of it completely. It has a life cycle of its own. Hopefully, it causes people to either feel something or question themselves and the space they’re in, or just smile.’’