New Yorkers step up to help struggling artist

Soon after the pandemic started Ralph Serrano accepted defeat. A professional mural artist, now earning hardly any income because his projects were put on hold. He could no longer pay his rent on the Upper West Side  So, he moved out last month, leaving many of his paintings behind.

“I had to leave about 30 pieces behind and it was very painful, very painful, very sad, very tough decision to make but at the end I just felt like I had no other choice,” said Serrano. 

Ralph couldn’t afford to store or ship his artwork. Just when he thought he’d never see his work again, his Instagram page @el_arteomuerte, which means art or death, started getting flooded with messages just last week.

“Shock, like pure shock and I was speechless and then I was scrolling through the messages I even got emotional,” said Serrano. 

“It was interesting to see how many people in the comments really wanted to find out who the artist was and compensate him because it was pretty obvious that this wasn’t like some guy moving and left a bookshelf, this was clearly years and years of work,” said Upper West Side resident Lily Bilgrey. 

Bilgrey was the first person to discover that Ralph was the artist behind the mysterious artwork left out on West 90th street. She’s an avid follower of the Instagram page @stoopingnyc – which lets New Yorkers know about all the unique and interesting objects – from artwork to furniture – that are left outside on the street for anyone to grab.  After seeing this post, she ran and snatched up two of the paintings. A postcard stuck to the back of one of them led her to realize that Ralph was the artist. She let the Stooping community know, donations started pouring in, and the rest is history!

“I did message him and he called me an art-saving angel and it was really, really sweet and I’m really glad I was able to give him the recognition that he deserves,” said Bilgrey. 

“Ralph is now living in San Francisco and doesn’t plan to move back to New York, but he has left a legacy all across this city. In Ridgewood, Queens, a mural Ralph painted covers the walls of a Peruvian restaurant, Cantina 33.

“I wanted it to be related to the whole Peruvian heritage, the background and the roots,” said Kevin Lenis, owner and head chef of Cantina 33. “It’s his colors, it’s vibrant, it shows light, whatever piece he does there’s a meaning behind it and it’s significant in which ever way he does it.”

Ralph’s work has even gotten recognition from the city. The parks department commissioned this mural he painted along with two other artists at White Park in East Harlem.

“I want New Yorkers to remember me for the love and passion and pride of which I do my work, I always felt that they enjoy it and that it inspires them,” said Serrano. 

His next stop is Puerto Rico where he has some big projects planned. New beginnings filled with bright colors.