“Adios Amigos” – CBGB Memorial with NANTU in a Famous Back Alley

This summer curator and producer Keith Schweitzer invited Ecuadorian artist Raul Ayala AKA NANTU to paint the floor of the alley behind the old CBGB. The piece itself is integral to the history of the revered club known as an original incubator for the punk/New Wave scene in New York and the US. Inspired by the death of Joey Ramone, the mural took on added significance as an ode to the Antagonist Art Movement and even more emotional weight when the completion of the mural itself was interrupted by death.

In a conversation with Keith and Nantu we learned about the artist’s inspiration for the project and how he collaborates with artists who he respects. The time-honored tradition of the community mural and memorial wall is reinterpreted here with new actors and we’re pleased to present Keith’s interview here today for BSA readers.


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Keith Schweitzer: Let’s talk about the new mural behind CBGB’s former location. Please describe the mural and the ideas behind it. How did it begin and develop?
Nantu: After being invited to do the mural by you with the Fourth Arts Block, the idea was further developed in conversations with James Rubio from the Antagonist Art Movement. We wanted to celebrate the history of the alley, and what it meant to the punk scene back in the 70s and 80s. At the beginning the conversations were all about having the artwork reference specific people, places and events from the neighborhood.

We were going back and forth between being very literal vs metaphorical and then Arturo Vega, Ramones legend and mentor for the Antagonists, turns to us and hands us this poem written by Dee Dee Ramone and it just all came together. Bang, we knew what we would be painting… a visual interpretation of Dee Dee’s poem, something he wrote shortly after Joey Ramone’s death imagining Joey’s spirit being lifted through blue skies.

After sketching the final concept we began to color block to the dimensions of the alley. Around halfway through was when Arturo passed away. This was a very sad moment for all, and particularly for the Antagonists as Arturo was a friend and member of the Antagonist Art Movement. The project changed immediately for me and I was determined to create something memorable, a worthy tribute. I spent about one month painting the line work and color gradients by brush. The mural is complete in it’s current iteration, but I will be doing additive work on it during the next six months or so. The title is “Adios Amigos” and it’s a little more than 1,000 square feet.


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Keith Schweitzer: This was your first mural in NYC since moving here from Ecuador. What were you working on before moving to New York?
Nantu: In the years just before I moved here I had been doing a lot of projects that combine art, community and education to make a final collaborative artwork.

I did a three year series of interventions where I kept infiltrating the Ecuadorian prison system and made art on walls working with incarcerated people. It was completely illicit and unsanctioned, but it was very constructive and a lot of people in prison really got into it. We wore masks to hide our identities and also to remove the individual from what was a group effort. Pretty soon the prisoners’ friends and families began to participate and the project grew, even incorporating video-performances and text message exchanges.

This experience helped me to define myself as an artist who wanted to work with communities. The fact that it was an illegal art practice that brought an entire community together, in a way that the official ways could not, really changed my perspective as an artist.

Recently, in April of 2012, I went to Puebla, Mexico, to a neighborhood called Xanenetla. This was a really dangerous and dilapidated town but soon all the houses were painted with murals and that definitely changed the dynamic of the place. The project was called “Puebla: Ciudad Mural.” There I worked with some really great artists and friends, like Liqen from Galicia and Alexis Duque from Colombia.

Liqen and I did another mural together in Tonsupa, Equador, that I really enjoyed doing, called “Oceangirl”.


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Keith Schweitzer: Is there a difference between Nantu and Raul Ayala? How do you approach your street work vs your studio work?
Nantu: Nantu means “moon” in Shuar, an ancient rainforest language from Ecuador. I was working outdoors mostly at night, and I felt the name gave me some protection, a sort of cloak, while I was painting walls. I never sign my street work as Nantu, it’s more of a mental and verbal thing, so you may have seen my work without knowing who did it. Outdoors I used to work quickly, with a limited tool set, but indoors in my studio I had all of the tools and time that I could want.

My last name is Ayala, which is similar to Ayauma, a sacred Ecuadorian clown dancer with two faces. I have an Ayauma mask that we made during our prison workshops that I still use. For a long time, I saw myself as having two faces or personalities, Nantu Ayauma who worked outside without permission and Raul Ayala who created works to show in galleries. Now the two faces are looking in the same direction and doing the same thing. I’m showing in galleries and doing outdoor work with permission and in communities. It’s a great question that you’ve asked, because I am still trying to answer this very question for myself.


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Keith Schweitzer: Has New York had an effect on your work? What’s next for Raul?
Nantu: When I first got to New York i had a chance to work with Daze, helping him with an exhibit in the Bronx called “This Side of Paradise.” He is someone that I had always known about and it was an amazing experience to actually work with him.

My first contact with NYC was the Antagonist Art Movement. I was in Ecuador, with no thoughts of coming to NYC, and then a friend came by with a box of dolls that were mailed to us from NYC. The dolls were sent by the Antagonists with an invitation to work on them and we did so, even producing more dolls before sending them back to NYC. They really liked what we did and we began to talk about doing a project together. Then I traveled to NYC and my girlfriend and I decided to stay here and that is when the collaboration with the Antagonists really took off. The Antagonists have been really supportive, helping me find work and projects. In late October they are taking a trip to Ecuador, we’re doing a street art festival, producing fanzines and some murals with local artists, musicians and sign painters.

At the moment I have a drawing in an exhibition called “For Which It Stands” at The Lodge Gallery in NYC and I am beginning a new mural near my house in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. I am doing a fellowship with The Laundromat Project, the “Creative Change Professional Development” Program. I am learning a lot and meeting great liked-minded artists that work with minorities doing socially engaged art. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Raul Ayala AKA NANTU. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For more information about Fourth Arts Block please click HERE.



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