I met with Joe Ficalora who grew up in the neighborhood of St. Nicholas and Troutman streets in Brooklyn. For 30 years the neighborhood was run down, infested with dealers, hookers and abandoned crack houses. In the last few years, Bushwick has been going through a re-gentrification process of converting old warehouses into modern livable spaces. I first started noticing the new, art deccoesque look back in the early 2000’s in Williamsburg. The architectural designs, stucco walls and stainless steel look made Brooklyn look like South Beach, Miami.
Joe saw the change in his neighborhood, seeing the hookers and junkies move out and be replaced with hipsters and artists. However, as the world around Joe was improving, his mothers health was deteriorating. She spoke Sicilian Italian, which is a very ancient and far removed dialect from the proper Italian. Not knowing how to speak English well, she could not fully explain to the doctors how sick she felt and she was constantly misdiagnosed, never realizing that cancer was inside and growing. Two years ago, Joe’s mom passed away and it led Joe into a deep state of depression. All he wanted to do was become a recluse and being awake was painfully agonizing. I knew this feeling, I went through the same thing when my father died. It is the most terrible feeling of permanent loss, knowing you will never see your parent again.
Joe lost his father when he was a child and his mom was all he had left. She was a strong woman who was about bettering one’s self. she was a motivator for positive change, always encouraging to set goals, achieving them and moving forward with a set of new goals. She was all about CARPE DIEM. Last year on Joe’s first Mother’s Day without her, he invited several artists he carefully but randomly choose online to come and paint some murals in the neighborhood for a festival he was having. After watching the process, he was inspired and felt motivated again. This sparked an idea to contribute more art to his neighborhood and he opened up more empty wall spaces, mostly filled with graffiti tags, slurs, profane language and throw-ups, for artists to beautify with professional quality looking murals. Being raised all his life in Bushwick with a family operated business there, it wasn’t difficult for Joe to acquire walls for fine art. He shared with me that spearheading the mural collective has helped him to break out of his sadness and back into living life in a positive light. The light of art extinguished the darkness of depression and he felt the good energy that public art provided to his neighborhood and himself.
The day I met Joe, we walked around as he showed me the murals and the former crack house now as livable apartments. During our stroll through the amusement park of murals, we stopped as Joe, who speaks fluent Sicilian, introduced himself to a hispanic owner of a warehouse and acquired another wall speaking fluent Spanish (which reminds me of my Grampa). Joe gave me a few wall spot choices and when we came full circle back to the corner of Troutman and St. Nicholas, I decided next to Danielle Mastrion’s ‘Biggie’ mural would be my ideal spot. After all I learned about Joe’s mom and her being his inspiration to create positive change in his neighborhood, I was compelled to paint the portrait of his mom. I incorporated the Table Series logo to represent family and how family can be a very inspirational motivation in one’s life. I wanted to incorporate my grafstract designs for the background and had room for a face which I based off of Joe. It took days to complete and I had a lot of fun doing it. I plan on going back to pay tribute to my Grampa.
I would like to say ‘thank you’ to those who came by to visit, those who drove by with a good-energy-beep and pulled over to express their gratitude. I would also like to thank Joe for picking himself up out of the ashes to resurrect himself and his neighborhood as a tribute to his loving mom. He is a good hearted guy full of life and is happy to see the change he has made for us all. It is because of them that we have a special place in Brooklyn called The Bushwick Collective. I said it before and I will say it again…”art brings people together”..in life and death.
Read more about Joe and The Bushwick Collective from the New York Times: Bushwick Gets a Fresh Coat