Former U.S. Marine shows off unique street art at Long Island City exhibition

Courtesy of Rafael Colon


What do Michelangelo, Jacques Louis David, El Greco and ancient Chinese art have to do with urban skateboards and musical instruments? 

Well, all have served as muses for New York City creative Rafael Colon’s remarkable skateboard art, and continue to inspire his entire collection of unexpected, hand-etched masterpieces, which also include embellished violins, guitars and jean jackets.

The artist describes his work as both visual and tactile.

“I’m inspired by everything this world has to show creatively. My style is all styles,” said Colon, a former U.S. Marine who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx. “I studied the Japanese woodblock print masters and the Renaissance master artists, like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, etc., and that’s how my style grew. I also read books on art history, as well as watched documentaries and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, weekly.”

Mostly using mixed media — including oil, acrylic, markers and inks — to bring those art forms to life, Colon said he creates “masterpieces of art history” by “burning the images onto the wood to create a sort of visual Braille — as people can touch the art.”

So, it’s no wonder he has taken street artistry to a whole new level! And art lovers from Queens and beyond have been flocking to his exhibits to see what the hubbub is all about.

There was a full house at last week’s special event hosted by MATTED LIC, located on Vernon Boulevard, where Colon’s solo show — a culmination of all the artwork he had created this past year — was held in tandem with the 10th anniversary of the store and gallery. 

Last year, MATTED LIC had a group show with a robot theme and Colon had two skateboards on display (some pieces sold).

“After I decided to do a big solo show in the East Village and had NY1 News do an interview, MATTED contacted me if I was willing to do another show, and I said ‘yes,’” he recalled.

Sitting at his artist’s table in his apartment studio in Spanish Harlem, Colon begins his painstaking work by sanding down the skateboards and violins. Then, he decides what he should draw on his “canvases” and pencils in the images freehand. Next, using a wood burning tool he burns the pencil images into the wood and paints over them with oil, acrylic and/or ink and marker. 

The result? An exquisite dragon violin based on an ancient 17th century Chinese vase; eye-catching skateboard art à la Jacques Louis David, the French Neoclassical painter who blended Greco-Roman style with Enlightenment philosophy; a Michelangelo-like triptych of that breathtaking Sistine Chapel fresco, “The Last Judgement,” and more.

Additional works include a violin inspired by Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha; another skateboard masterpiece that pays homage to “painter of the spirit,” El Greco; an original creation channeling Swiss-born painter H.R. Giger, who was known for conjuring up that iconic monstrosity — the oozing xenomorph; remember the alien species at the center of the “Alien” film franchise? 

Because Colon was also inspired by stories of the ancient past, as told to him by his Chinese grandfather, as well as his travels with the Marines, some of his masterworks include a series of skateboard decks that depict intricate Asian imagery featuring the artist’s other muses: Samurai warriors, Japanese Geishas and Peking Opera performers.

Having exhibited in Manhattan, mostly, Colon has also shown in Brooklyn and has had solo shows in San Francisco and a group show in Los Angeles; he’s looking into a future show in Miami.

Sometimes, amazing things happen in surprising and unexpected ways.

“I’m a self-taught artist with no formal art training,” Colon noted. “I started the skateboard art seven years ago because of an idea my daughter had at the time.”

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