Jersey City Street Art

Jersey City Street Art: Enrique Espinal

At the center of his room, the folded desk is laid out with a colorful canvas in the works. The desk itself is stained with paint marks, making it one of a kind. With the lyrics of xxxtentacion blaring through the speaker, the words are almost as overpowering as the smell of the paint markers.

Walking into his bedroom seems like stepping into an art gallery. The ‘artsy’ vibe of the room is predominant. Grey walls, with a red border rim outlining the room, glow in the dark stickers on the ceiling, and drawings by the artist are scattered on the walls. Open up his white closet door and there are various taggings of his name all over.

Canvases from various years, with different graffiti art hang in various angles. Even though each one has a different theme from one another, the canvases do not overpower each other.

Enrique Espinal, or as he likes to tag his artwork with, ‘Eaze,’ is one of many graffiti artists based out of Jersey City.

A recent high school graduate, Espinal works hard in various restaurant jobs in downtown Jersey City, trying to take care of his mom. When he finds free time in his busy schedule, he tags items and paints canvases.

His hard work and dedication to the arts is prevalent in his work—the details speak for themselves. There is a level of devotion and an amount of time that needs to be spent to create pieces like this—a couple hours to 2 days to be exact—and it is evident that Espinal has been doing this for years.

Espinal has had a passion for drawing since he was 6 years old. “I always thought it was something really cool, even though that sounds weird to say.”

“From there, I tried to draw almost every hour and kept practicing. People began to tell me I was good at what I was doing, so that kept me motivated,” Espinal continued. The more he worked on his artwork, the more recognition he got as the years went by.

Espinal expanded his drawing into street art when he was about 12 years old, inspired by his cousin, Andres Espinal, also known as ‘DreTaylor.’ “Andres always walked around with a book bag full of markers and a book to draw with. From there, I was like, ‘let me try this on my own,’” Espinal said.

Andres Espinal commented, “he was my little cousin that I always bonded with, and this was something else that just got us closer. And the fact that he was just really good at it, made everything better. I’m really proud of his work and style.”

Espinal was somewhat influenced by Andres’ work, but, Espinal said, “I have a character that I draw, that is similar to his. I adapted it to be my own. However, I don’t like looking at people’s artwork and letting that influence me. Of course, people get inspired from others, and there is no way around that, but I don’t try to do that too much. I like that my ideas come from me and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Through tagging buildings, Espinal never thought of it as damaging people’s property, but rather, it was displaying his work. He is torn between the thrill of art and the law.

“Knowing that it is something that you can go to jail for, or get in trouble with the law for is not worth the risk, and I don’t encourage others to do it. But it is still very fun to do. The excitement of drawing your work on something that isn’t yours is fun.”

Street art has earned a bad reputation for the defacing of people’s property. Since the art form started in the streets of New York in the 70’s, it has been considered by many as degrading and vulgar.

However, according to an article in Barranquilla Life, the art form has a different feel in modern times. “What was once a stigma has now become youth creativity referred to as Urban Art, which is another way for them to say – Hey! You’re going to do it anyways – so let’s get behind it.”

Jersey City has tried to change the role of graffiti in the town over the last couple of years, especially with the growing population of the town. Since 2013, Jersey City began its Jersey City Mural Arts Program.

Funded by the 2013 Clean Communities Grant, it encourages other local artists to showcase their art in a more positive light, and hopefully reduce graffiti on private property. Walking around Jersey City in 2017 makes it feel like walking through an outdoor gallery.

Police officers still take illegal street art seriously in Jersey City. Public Safety Director Jim Shea said in a statement after an arrest of a 23-year-old man on charges of graffiti art, “Graffiti is a quality-of-life issue that we take seriously.

We hope [the arrest] sends a message that we will aggressively pursue anyone who vandalizes private or public property.”

His mother, Maria Espinal, is not a huge fan of the graffiti art. “He is talented, but the idea of drawing on buildings is not something that I can get behind of. Both he and his cousin have gotten in trouble with the law and it isn’t something I enjoy happening for obvious reasons.”

Recently, he has turned to canvases rather than walls, “the canvases are a bit more detailed than what I draw on walls. The characters I’ve come up with have a ‘ghetto’ influence to them. From the people that I draw and the colors I use, it has that feel to it. It is what I’m surrounded by and that is what I like to draw.”

To the people who don’t appreciate the street art, Espinal has one thing to say to them. “They are misunderstanding what graffiti artists are trying to do.

And at the end of the day, they don’t appreciate graffiti art, or the arts at all.” With a response like that, it is clear to see that Espinal will not be stopping his artwork anytime soon.

PHOTO COURTESY of Jasmine Ramos