Celebrated street artist Chico memorializes the late Muhammad Ali in his most recent mural on E. Houston and Avenue B. Ali is seen clenching his gloved fists alongside a butterfly, inspired by his famous quote, with the city’s skyline in the background.
Chico said the idea behind the mural came at a difficult time. While mourning the loss of a loved one, he heard of Ali’s death and saw his predicament as an opportunity to use art as an outlet for his grief. So, with a leftover spray can in one hand and a photograph of Ali on the other, he fashioned the mural in the middle of the night in a mere hour and a half.
“To pay respect, I feel like I should bring people back, in some way, to honor them,” Chico says, “Back in the day, when a person passed away in this community, I used to use the corner wall to paint them. They call me the R.I.P. muralist.”
Chico is continuing to celebrate influential Lower East Side figures through a collaborative project with Vision Urbana director Eric Diaz. Titled Legends of Loisaida, the program is a weekly workshop that teaches local youth about art and more importantly, the history of their neighborhood and how to preserve it.
“Our Puerto Rican heritage is not talked about enough,” says Diaz, “so I wanted to do an art project where we can show them pictures of these leaders and then give them context as to who they were.”
The young participants learn about a local hero and then create drawings from what they’ve learned. In collaboration with Chico, they morph their ideas together to create a canvas mural. Included in the lineup are legendary poet and activist Bimbo Rivas, affordable housing advocates Mary Spink and Ernesto Martinez and Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera.
Diaz and Chico emphasize the importance of youth art programs in the community and illuminate their purpose through projects like Legends to help create and inspire the next generation of local artists.
“My goal as an artist is to see more artwork in the community. You need colors to brighten up your life. We need artists,” say Chico.