“It's a couple of things hidden in there,” said Arcadio -- an art teacher at North Bergen High School and nationally known artist -- on a recent Tuesday morning. “I refuse to say. I'd rather people stand here and look for them.”
Arcadio's piece, a collage of animal wildlife loosely based on the nearby Woodcliffe Lake, is the very first mural in Braddock Park.
Nearby towns have recently employed local artists and children to paint murals around the towns, particularly in Jersey City, and more recently in Hoboken.
Arcadio’s creation is spray-painted across a building in the park's southwest section. He said he had passed the building’s green walls often and figured they could use something more aesthetically pleasing.
“I figured, let me approach somebody in town and they'll let me do a mural here,” Arcadio said.
In July, he brought some sketch ideas to Freeholder Anthony Vainieri, who greenlights the park's projects.
“He kind of tossed out a few of the ideas that I had,” said Arcadio, who lives in North Bergen. One of those ideas was for a giant squirrel, lying on a branch. But that got rejected, because officials were worried such an image would scare the children.
“He had a little bag of nuts,” Arcadio explained. “He had a little aviator hat. It was cute.”
After some more discussions, Vainieri agreed on the wildlife design in September 2017. An idea to place a hawk in the mural was discarded, because Arcadio believed it would've been too menacing near the smaller animals.
The county paid for the mural.
“It's a couple of things hidden in there.” – Ray Arcadio
Arcadio began work on the mural in late April, running through May. Weather problems delayed what he said would've taken four to five days to complete.
“It rained three days in a row,” he said.
There were also issues with a forklift Arcadio was using. But the reaction has been amazing, he said.
He said people passing by have asked questions about the work. Others have pointed out different animals.
Now, Arcadio wants to pitch more murals for the park. They might include larger animals, but friendlier, so they'll get approval.
Arcadio is also preparing for a few shows in Jersey City. He's creating handpainted tote bags as well, customized to the buyer's content.
“Some people want my paintings on it, some people want superheroes on them,” he says.
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Arcadio is a founding member of Artfux. The collaborative art group, formed in 1990, gained fame at the time for painting over billboard advertisements for alcohol and tobacco products, replacing them with public service announcements or altering them to show the product's negative effects.
Arcadio has also exhibited around the country and world, including at the Museum of Modern Religious Art in St. Louis, Mo., and in the Museo Moderno de Arte in his native Dominican Republic.
He also has work in the Jersey City Museum.
Arcadio designs through multiple mediums, including charcoal, latex painting, pencils, air brush, oil paints, and an iPad. But he's known best for his unique, acrylic crafts showing miniature superheroes with over exaggerated smiles.
“This came out of just basically doing superheroes,” he said. “I always noticed superheroes have a couple of things in common. They either have that angry or tough grin, and they they have a bulge. If they’re male, they have the 'package.' ”
The idea behind the smiles comes from Tiki sculptures in the Dominican Republic, Arcadio said.
'“I wanted to do all the superheroes in a new way,” he said. “I didn't want to do them the way that everyone does them.”
He kept designing and blending the images until they came out “weird and unique, and when somebody sees it, they know who it is.”
Vainieri was highly supportive of Arcadio's plans. “The job came out great. It was fantastic,” the freeholder said.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org