BRONX–BORN VISUAL ARTIST WALTER CRUZ CREATES HIS OWN PATH AS HE ACTIVELY REDEFINES THE WORLD AROUND HIM.
INTERVIEW BY: KILE ATWATER
[Q] Tell us about The Bronx and how it's influenced your work?
It affected me more directly as I got older. I think when I was younger I took it for granted like – this is where I live, this is my home. My brother and I went to this middle school in district nine, which was the worst district for a whole lot of messed up reasons. So I guess somewhere a long the way my brother and I were like, we gotta break this cycle. We convinced our mom to let us leave, and we left at 14 to go to high school in Massachusetts. That made me more aware of The Bronx because we would come home from vacation and it created this double consciousness of – I gotta navigate white suburbia but I still live in the hood.
The Bronx, NY
[Q] How has your twin brother supported you through the years?
The first thing that came to mind is how hasn’t he. Through highs, the lows and everything in between, Kleav has always been there. Whether it was encouraging me to explore art, to going on adventures together, or being roommates post-college. Through thick and thin, Kleav has always held me down. I’m forever grateful!
I've always been into art, I've always liked drawing and immediately after college My brother and I moved to Beijing. Someone paid for us to move over there so I was like alright we out. So we get there and there's this huge art area called the 789 DISTRICT
IMAGINE ALL THE ART GALLERIES IN CHELSEA BUT THE SIZE OF BROOKLYN
When I got back to New York I started going downtown all the time to Chelsea, to the museums. I was going to all these openings like I gotta meet all of these people! I was in it full swing.
"One day I took a step back and I was like yo this art is cool but I never see anyone that looks like me."
I never see a black face I never see it. At first, there was a lot of resentment like – this is bullshit, I'm not going to Chelsea no more, I'm over this! Then I was like that doesn't solve anything so I started painting.
I realized what I saw the least all the time was black women. So I started painting portraits of black women since I never saw them in those spaces. I wanted to help create that space and show respect to them, cause when I did see black women it was anger. I wanted to make portraits of them smiling or laughing cause It's not just the angry black women.
She's happy too, she cries too, she laughs too.
[Q] What has been some of the biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
I really wanted to get into organizing art shows. That fall when I got back from China I started working downtown at this non-profit and I hosted this show. I brought together 20 different artists and I rented out this gallery, everything out of pocket. We did it, we had like 300 people show up and I was like oh shit this is something, we can do this! It just got me so hype, I was like this is my thing I need to do art,
I need to be around this always.
People started hitting me up [saying] I need you to do a painting I need you to do this. It started getting out of control where I would go to work and then be up till 5 in the morning and then go back to work. It got to a point where I had to decide. Either I'm going to be comfortable at my office job, getting paid, I'm chilling, or I'm going to take a chance and try this art thing out. So I talked to my mom and she was like look – if you want to do art and quit just understand that this is going to be the hardest thing you've ever done in your life. So I was like alright, I took the leap. I went to work and put in my two weeks. The rest has been history.
Fear is an illusion danger is real but fear is in your head. Once you get over that you're good and then you just walk away from that because you want to try something different. There are days you wake up and you're like fuck did I make the right decision, should I have just stayed at that job? But it's a constant battle. I'm not at a point yet where I can just sit back and say, alright I did it ya know.
I'm still grinding like crazy.