WNJ | Q&A: With Bergen County Fine Artist Rafael Guadalupe

Rafael Guadalupe was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York City. Due to neglect and poverty, Rafael and his siblings were placed in orphanages. From age seven to twenty-one, Rafael lived in a Catholic orphanage, group home, and foster home. The impressive church filled with stained-glass icons, sculpture, relief carvings, and classical music left an indelible mark on Rafael. Rafael attended an academic Catholic school and a vocational school which have both influenced his interests in belief systems, crafts, and design.

Rafael Guadalupe poses for a portrait surrounded by his ongoing project that honors the lives lost during 9/11, in his workspace at Studio Leshay Rafael on June 13th, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)

Q. Please introduce yourself?

A: My name is Rafael Guadalupe and I am a fine artist. For me, the journey was quite long;

I was born in Puerto Rico and brought to NYC in 1958. My parents quickly plunged into poverty and my siblings and I were placed into orphanages and were divorced from our heritage and culture. Going from orphanage to group home, to foster care, left indelible scars, but also exciting memories. After a long career as a museum exhibit designer and construction manager, I happily retired to pursue art. I am driven to delve into subjects and themes that affect our humanity and hope that my explorations could shed some light on who I am and where I’m going. Art has a fascinating impact on my emotions and challenges me to understand life, the world, and our place in this universe.

Q. Tell us about your journey on becoming an Artist?

A: Just before turning seven years old, I was placed in an orphanage where I attended academic and vocational classes. I loved to draw, design crafts, and build things like sailboats, lamps, and wood projects. Aware of the poverty and challenges ahead, I rejected my talents for more ”serious” career goals. In high school, I focused on science and math courses and not the arts. In college, I pursued a concentration in medicine and psychology. However, I also took a figure-drawing class. The instructor informed me that I was talented and suggested I transfer to Pratt Institute. I did but struggled with who I was and what I wanted. Frustrated with classes and interactions, I left school and spent 15 months traveling through New Zealand and Australia. When I returned, I went back to Pratt, discovered industrial design, and pursued a career in design. Throughout my design career, I continued to sketch ideas for fine art. As I neared retirement, the freedom to spend my time creating art grew, and then I began painting and sculpting regularly. Now my wife and I have studios and we are able to dedicate our time to art. We often collaborate on works, and provide each other with technical, color, or content critiques. Together, we push each other forward.

Rafael Guadalupe and his wife Linda Leshay pose in front of their work during the Bergen County Arts Amble at their gallery Studio Leshay Rafael which is located in Ridgefield Park on June 13th, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)

Q. Art is constantly inspiring others, but what inspires you?

A: I have many sources of inspiration from the grand to the mundane. From fine art masters to the many talented untrained artists, and from the expanse of the universe to the quantum world. From the secular, to the spiritual. I study the evolution and history of art as a way of learning about humanity. When I work, I love to lose myself in an opera or a symphony. I take emotional roller-coaster rides alongside passionate characters struggling to find love, peace, and meaning as they navigate complex relationships, conflicts, aspirations, and desires. I enjoy visiting art museums and seeing and understanding how artists explore and invent new realities. I also enjoy the art and architecture of ancient cultures.

(Image courtesy of Rafael Guadalupe)

Q. What work do you most enjoy doing?

A: Sketching ideas for art and installations. Sketching allows me to exceed my capabilities, to envision what may be possible. From my earliest days, I loved to work with tools and machines to cut, shape, drill, and finish wood, metal, and clay. I continue to this day and have added layers of textures, symbols, colors, and enthusiastically work in mixed media on multiple panels series.

Q. What is something in your life you would not be able to live without?

A: My wife Linda, my daughter Gabi, my son Julian, and the love of family and friends.

Q. What are the current projects you are working on?

A: I am working on a large-scale multi-panel mural inspired by the events of 9/11 and the recovery. I see the tragic events of 9/11 as pivotal in modern world history. I keep asking myself – "Why did this happen?” – and – "What would bring a group of extremists to commit such a horrific act of terror?" The ramifications are vast, and I cannot rest easy knowing that we must understand this behavior in order to avoid it in the future. I am also translating the figures in my painting to figurative sculptures in metal. A local Buddhist center finds my figures appealing and has commissioned a sculpture.

(Images courtesy of Rafael Guadalupe)

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

A: One of my art teachers at Pratt warned me that since he thought I was talented, that I should not give in to making art or design that just looks good. He told me that if my work lacked depth, nuance, and connection, it would be shallow, empty, and short-lived. He told me that it would be very easy for me to create art, but that I should not stop at the surface, but had to go further and deeper.

Q. Now, what advice do you have to give to someone who’s just starting out?

A: I would suggest to those starting out that if they really love using their mind, heart, and body to make art, to just do it without any expectations. That they should seek to find an honest internal motivation. If they are driven from outside, of course, great art can come of it, but very few achieve it this way. Being an artist is something that can bring a great deal of satisfaction and wonder throughout one's life. An artist is a creator and they must answer for themselves why they want to be an artist. If you want to share your art with others, start with your family, friends, and community. Test your interpretation of your art with what others see. If your art is personal, develop your vision. If your art wants to communicate, develop a language that can be understood.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

A: As we look at the news, we are bombarded by stories that depict the demise of homo sapiens. I see, on the other hand, there is so much beauty, talent, technology, science, wealth and hope, that regardless of the challenges, we have the capacity and capability to overcome them. This allows me to stay positive and motivated and hope we can all work together to succeed.

Rafael Guadalupe prepares his work to be hung in the Ridgefield Park Municipal building for an exhibition on February 15th, 2021. (Photo/Julian Leshay)

How to get into contact with Rafael Guadalupe...

Check out Rafael and his wife’s incredible work here!

Connect with Rafael’s New Instagram here!

For a direct line to Rafael call him at 201-336-2840

(Serious inquiries only)

Editor's note: Julian Leshay is Rafael Guadalupe's son. Follow Julian Leshay on IG. Connect with WeekenderNJ on Facebook, Twitter, and IG.

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