Interview by T.K. Mills - Images Provided by ThirdRailArt and Calicho
My first encounter with Calicho’s art was in the streets of SoHo. Captivated by the vibrant and whimsical colors, his work struck me as unique and original. As I would learn, the artist too, had a vision unlike anyone else.
When we met for the interview, we sat down in the NoMo SoHo, the temporary HQ of the SoHo Renaissance Factory, a collective Calicho had joined amidst the pandemic. We discussed his background in architecture and its subsequent influence on his style, his penchant for radiant colors, why no matter the obstacles, you have to keep going.
T.K.: Calicho, starting off, when did you first discover your love for art?
Calicho: Since I was a kid, I’ve loved art and done anything I could to feel like I was creating art.
T.K.: When you started out, were you doing more acrylics or were you doing more drawing? How did you dive into the media?
Calicho: My beginning pieces were always with ink. So, my school was architecture. All my drawings and drafting were pencil and ink. And I started to develop mostly sketches.
T.K.: How did your knack for art apply to what you're doing with architecture?
Calicho: I feel like architecture in some points of my life has had a lot barriers and limits, especially for me, in that I feel like I’m a very creative person. Architecture has a lot of people involved that will not allow me to express myself or do what I want. My architecture is also very crazy. I’m futuristic. These things right now are tough. I wanted to do art to have my freedom to live in my imagination and set no limits.
T.K.: You grew up in Colombia?
Calicho: Yes. I was born and raised in Colombia. In Bogotá. And I moved out when I finished my university. I started to travel to different places of the world like Mexico and India. And that’s how everything began.
T.K.: When did you come to New York?
Calicho: I came to New York in 2018 for an internship in architecture. I had the opportunity to take a new experience. And my plan was just come here, do my internship, and prepare everything for my Master’s in Italy. That was the idea initially.
T.K.: New York has a way of changing plans on you. How did your New York experience change your plans?
Calicho: Well, I came back to Colombia and then this company offered me a visa and sponsor. It said I could stay for another 2 years with them. Good salary. Everything. I couldn’t say no. I thought: “Fuck. Okay. It’s fine. I need more experience.” So I accepted. I really enjoyed this company. I was the project manager for construction. And I was happy. It’s a different way than I’m happy right now, but I was still in a happy place then.
T.K.: How did you get involved with the New York street art scene?
Calicho: So, my first opportunity to paint murals on big scale was after a gallery show. I met Majo Barajas. And she invited me to do graffiti on the street at 3 AM. I thought “Damn, I think I should do it.” I went with her, and I really enjoyed the feeling of a spray can. I got invited to other walls and that is where everything begins with the opportunities - I got to paint plywood boards. I realized that I can make things bigger. And I was happy. That was moment for me that changed my mind.
I also got to paint at Underhill Walls, for the book series. I painted Moby Dick.
T.K.: During the pandemic, you took your art to the next level. Could you talk to me a little bit about how the pandemic affected you at first, and how it affected you creatively long term?
Calicho: Exactly. For me, the pandemic was the greatest time in my whole life. First, emotionally, I had the opportunity to spend more time with Britney, my wife right now. And it was a moment that I decided I wanted to be with her in the long term. And for creativity, I felt like I was in paradise. I started painting on the streets when Subway Doodle had this wall on 3rd Avenue. Then I got an invitation after that to paint in SoHo with all materials. I painted the little board in SoHo. That day, I met Jeff Rose King.
And that day is how I connected with multiple street artists. Since then, I’ve painted multiple boards, in SoHo especially. And I think it was the perfect opportunity to build my portfolio and test my skills. People usually have a sketchbook where you trace things, and for me, this was my sketchbook. The city was where I could just dive onto boards and test different spray caps.
Jeff and I began to do a lot of collabs. It was very natural. The 4th of July of 2020 was the first time I saw him. I liked his art. I told him let’s just paint feet with a rose, and then he invited me to paint more pieces. We ended painting 8 different pieces the same day.
T.K.: One of those pieces was picked up by the New York Times. Right?
Calicho: Correct. That was amazing. That day alone, sad things happened in my country because of the pandemic. But I think it was a beautiful piece. But at that time, I didn’t have any storage. So, I never thought about keeping the boards. When you paint in the streets, there’s no feelings. You want to leave everything out. If someone tags it or adds something, it’s part of the streets. Some pieces stay longer. Maybe you got the respect of the streets or maybe someone is brave enough to paint on that place. I had many amazing opportunities to paint with Jeff. We admire the other because we are in the point that we develop an idea in seconds and then paint it in an hour or 2 hours.
T.K.: When did you first learn about the SoHo Renaissance Factory and when did you then join the collective?
Calicho: So, the first time that I saw Konstance was in one of the streets of SoHo. I don’t remember, maybe October 2020. And the next day, she texts me on Instagram. “Guy, someone is removing your board that you just painted. We’re gonna keep it and bring it to my studio. Are you okay with that?” And I was like “Of course, yes. Thank you. That would be fantastic.”
That was when I met them, but I saw Konstance’s art before. And she also saw mine and Jeff’s work. The day she met us, she said “Wow, I’ve finally met you. You are one of my favorite artists.” I try to always connect with people that I see are moving and creating. And I was just near the SoHo Renaissance for every event that they had. To be close to them, I tried. A month ago, I knew that some members weren’t in Soho Renaissance anymore and they were looking for a new beginning. Everything changed because there isn’t the normal SoHo anymore. And so, it’s evolution. I want to express myself and I want space, and also a platform I can use as a bungee jump or a spring to keep myself going. And I feel like with them it’s also a good opportunity to help them with the skills that I have, and maybe they can also help me to move and to connect with more people.
T.K.: Could you tell me a little bit about how your style developed? I've noticed you use a lot of bright neon colors and you tend to paint animals.
Calicho: feel like every artist has a season of their own colors, like, “oh, he’s in his yellows.” I’m in my purples. I’m in my purples. And I try to involve a lot of animals. Maybe in the future I will start to paint more people. But right now, animals are my thing. I go to the zoo and I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I want to take photos of every animal. Zoom in/zoom out and try to connect.
T.K.: There are some animals that became recurring motifs in your work, particularly roosters and whales. What attracts you to those two animals?
Calicho: I try to make sense of everything that I do. Roosters make me think of the question of what was at the beginning, if the egg of the chicken came first. So, I’m giving the answers and I’m starting to do something. That was the first thing that I developed, the rooster. And the second important animal for me has been the whale because these whales, especially the humpback travel from the south to the north. And I feel they identify with my situation. I was from the south traveling.
I also paint animals that live in the city. I feel like I wanted always to involve my two passions like architecture and art. I feel like the coming collections and paintings I do, I will try to involve architecture.
T.K.: You’ve also done a couple jackets and have painted fabrics. How was that experience for you?
Calicho: I like the product, but I got desperate during the slow process. Like one of these jackets that I painted in a collabo with Vanessa Kreytak, I just painted half and she pained the other half, but my half was like 6-7 hours. I was like “What the hell?” I paint a mural in 3 hours in a big size and this jacket 5 hours is still drying. I was frustrated because it was my first-time painting with this weird fabric paint. It was fun. But to be honest, for the coming commissions, I will charge my time. If someone wants it, just pay me what I deserve because it takes a lot of time.
T.K.: Earlier this spring, you were involved in the Sour Mouse NYC Art League. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with that?
Calicho: I think the Art League at Sour Mouse is going to become very popular in the city because it’s artists, art collectors, art critics, and the customers that just love art. It’s the perfect opportunity to join everything together and see the beauty of art and from a blank canvass something happens. And I love that there’s the topic that is a theme that no one knows and you have to create something in a short time. The people can choose. They judge us. It’s amazing.
I had the opportunity to have 2 battles and I don’t know how, but I won both. I feel it was lucky. I’m happy about what the art has been bringing me lately. It’s the way that I want to keep going.
T.K.: How did it feel painting in like a semi-competitive environment?
Calicho: I’m very competitive. I’m a very bad loser. I hate to play Monopoly or UNO with my friends because if I lost, I’m like “No way. No way.” I hate loss and something that I have in my whole life is like if I do something, I want to do it right and I want to be one of the greatest. I spend my time trying to learn new techniques and new things. I want to be good. I want my kids and my family to remember me as someone that wants to give everything for everything no matter how simple the task is in my life. If I must clean the house, I want to do the greatest cleaning. Or if I must cook, I want to learn how to cook the greatest things for the person that deserve it. So, of course, no one is perfect, but at least I’m trying to do the things that I love with passion.
T.K.: Is there anything about you or your art that you want our readers to know?
Calicho: Life never gives you a clear path of what is gonna be or what you should do. But passion and feeling that you’re doing the right by yourself is a good sign. It’s for a reason.
And I just want to keep going. If this is an ocean of opportunity and I’m the surfer, I’m just trying to catch the wave. And in some point, I will be Calicho Arevalo, the guy that tried the best and have at least tons of paints. If you are in love with something, just keep going.