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After vacation to Grand Rapids over 20 years ago, artist strives for citizenship

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Local artist Erick Picardo has called Grand Rapids home for over 20 years, but faces challenges on the road to citizenship.

For Grand Rapids-based artist Erick Picardo, a visit to the United States has turned into over a 20 year stay.

The Domincan Republic native, who often identifies as Caribbean due to a shared culture with places like St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, first came to the United States in 1994. He attended a university in the Dominican Republic, where he earned a visual arts degree. Picardo is also a musician, who says he got his beginnings playing on buckets that he and his friends would collect, but says that art came first for him. He believes that in art, when you get into the vocational process, is when you "get into really good stuff."

Picardo came with plans to visit family members in New York City. On his visit to New York, he made plans to visit a friend in Grand Rapids. Two weeks later, he found himself with a job at a factory making and finishing wood doors.

Picardo says the experience was good for him as an artist. He would paint doors "in a flash" with a large machine, a huge contrast to his work with brushes and paint on canvas.

Six years later, in 2000, the time came for a vacation back to the Dominican Republic to visit family and friends, and for Picardo to announce his decision to move to the United States. The decision was emotionally challenging for everyone, as he says his family and friends share a very tight bond.

Part of Picardo's inspiration comes from challenging the preconceived notions of life in the Domincan Republic. He says that his people are often seen as "third world," a stereotype he fights with beautiful, bold colors inspired by life on the island.

According to Picardo, he uses his art "to show exactly who we [citizens of the Dominican Republic] are."

Since coming to Grand Rapids, Picardo says his art has changed a lot. He recalls one particular experience at his first Grand Rapids showing, "Red Triangle" back in 1994, that opened his eyes to a new direction in his work. A woman, whom he recalls as being "very professional," came into the exhibit and remarked how "pornographic" artists from the Dominican Republic are.

At the time, Picardo says his paintings were much more sensual. Since then, he's moved on in a different direction, which has opened up his work to a new, broader audience.

Part of that audience comes from his involvement for the past three years in the Creston Neighborhood Art Battle, an annual event put on by the Creston Neighborhood Association. The event invites artists to come and participate by creating art live, in front of an audience, which is then auctioned off after the competition.

In the 2012 event, Picardo not only placed first in the competition, but his painting went to high bidders City Manager Greg Sundstrom and his wife. Picardo says the event is important to him, because it allows to him to help the community to be better, and use his art to address situations in society. It's also a great opportunity to collaborate with other artists and support the community, and he is looking forward to competing again in the May 2013 event.

Right now, Picardo is working on becoming a US citizen, but there are obstacles in his way- primarily money. After completing all the necessary paperwork, he says the last hurdle is the financial aspect of the process, which is quite expensive. He views it as an important step in his life in the US, as it affords him a chance to have his voice heard through voting. He hopes the step will help him advance his international career, and allow the Caribbean voice to be heard in the US.

Picardo's art can be viewed on Facebook at his P I C A R D O Art page.  Follow him on Twitter at @PicardoArt.


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