NEW YORK, NY — Several years ago, New York City-based artist Ricardo Mulero became part of history as one of the lead designers of the exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Mulero worked to portray the cavernous and monumental scope of the tragedy, hoisting fire trucks to walls and keeping a stark and "empty" feel while honoring those whose lives were lost on that day.
But the Puerto Rican born and raised architect, who also worked on the U.S. Holocaust Museum, is turning inward in a new exhibit in New York City. After the recent death of his mother, he will show audiences a deeply personal side to his story.
“As an exhibition designer I have worked on creating relevant environments around storylines such as 9/11 Memorial Museum.” Mulero said. “Now, I am organizing an exhibition of my own art. I feel a very private and personal part of me will be on display."
Once his mother passed away after a stroke, Mulero found comfort and solace in his painting, which spurred the creation of dozens of oil paintings for the exposition.
“For instance, my painting of ‘Man-In-The-Box’ evokes feelings at opposite ends of the spectrum,” he said. “Some will say it's creepy, and others will comment on how peaceful he seems or how beautiful it is. I am curious to know what viewers will see in my work.”
Mulero is showing 29 oil paintings in a solo exhibition in Soho, New York City from April 8 to 11.
He said he began learning how to paint with an artist who owned a studio hidden in an alley near Ricardo's home.
“I have been painting since I was very young; I trained with Spanish painter Don Luis Bouza,” Mulero said. “Don Luis was a true artist living in an alley behind some businesses in my hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.”
Mulero said he pays close attention to how light within his art interacts with the space around the painting. The interaction with physical and emotional environments not only inspired Mulero’s art, but also how he arranges his expositions.
"Love, loneliness, confinement, strength, humility, my mother's death. There is a certain freedom in what I can do in painting. It’s limitless."
“I find myself in a very interesting place straddling between the world painting and exhibition design,” he said. “I know what inspires me, and I wonder what it will inspire in others.”
After designing the 9/11 Museum Exhibition, Mulero dove into interior design and sold his art in New York City and on Fire Island. In 2005, the Organization of Puerto Rican Artists featured Mulero's work at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center. He also teaches part-time at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
For Mulero, coming of age as a gay man during the AIDS crisis pushed him to portray male bodies with strength and humility, while also emphasizing their vulnerability.
“For some reason people are afraid of male nudes in arts,” Mulero said. “My painting of ‘Hector’ is actually based off of a female nude I did years ago. All of those things make him made of silk, and show a strength brought by the same female beauty.”
As a proud gay man and Puerto Rican, Mulero hopes his identity teaches his viewers and students that embracing "curiosity and individuality" is the first lesson in becoming an artist.
“I will say that our sexuality is only one aspect of many others in our lives," Mulero said. "I would say to LGBT Latino artist to look at all art and learn about all artists, old and new, and experience a diverse life because we all have something in common: we bring our personal experiences into our work as individuals.”