Phoenix artist Harvey Mercadoocasio’s Grand Avenue bedroom is cluttered with tubes of paint, knives, brushes and drinking glasses.
He works intently on a piece, periodically swirling his brush in his cup. He has a habit of rinsing his brushes in whatever he’s drinking.
Mercadoocasio said he paints for usually eight hours a day, every day. He said he starts his days painting, rinsing brushes in his coffee.
“A lot of people want to be an artist, because they think it’s cool, but they don’t want to be an artist. No, it’s not f—ing cool, it’s f—ing tiring. You’ve got deadlines,” Mercadoocasio said. “When people find out that it’s this hard, oh it’s not cool to be an artist anymore, when people see that I’m still up when you’re going to bed.”
Currently, he is working on a series of paintings for a gallery opening at Sisao Gallery on Grand Avenue set to open Feb. 5, and a solo gallery show opening at ArtHaus on April’s First Friday.
Most Monday nights, Mercadoocasio works on art at Jobot with a group of other downtown artists, smoking cigarettes and drinking a cloudy whiskey-and-paint.
Most of Mercadoocasio’s recent work features women rendered using a mixture of digital drawing and physical painting and drawing.
Emily Cimino, a “muse” for Mercadoocasio since this September, said his work tends to portray a beautiful woman with some type of “addictive bend.”
“It’s a common theme in his work that he identifies with or finds inspiration from a female protagonist that’s got this junky element to it, it’s like ‘she’s so beautiful, but she’s broken in this way,’” Cimino said. “He finds a beautiful female protagonist who is ugly in some small way.”
Cimino said she doesn’t feel like the pieces Mercadoocasio has made of her represent her, though they do match his usual themes.
“I think he has to destroy the female protagonist,” Cimino said. “Like the black widow, how she eats the male after she mates with him. I think it’s like that. He might be trying to destroy me for his own inspiration and I would be flattered.”
Cimino said his art and the process he creates it with are beautiful.
“The process of creation is ingestion,” said Mercadoocasio. “You ingest and you ingest and you ingest, it may take you a year, it may take you ten years. But when you’re ready to pop, you’re gonna do some great s—. Because you’re gonna have all this to grab from.”
Mercadoocasio said he has been doing art since he was three, when he drew a large Superman on the back of his bedroom door in Brooklyn.
“And I got my a– beat for it, too, at least that’s what my parents said.” said Mercadoocasio. “But they gave me crayons, what was I supposed to do?”
When he was 13, his art was displayed in the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Mercadoocasio said.
Art, Mercadoocasio said, is about discipline, but he didn’t start learning discipline until three years later.
He said he has traveled the world “four and a half times,” ingesting material for his art.
After emancipating himself from his parents at age 16, Mercadoocasio joined the Marine Corps, where he spent twelve years serving across the globe including in Iran, Beirut, and Cambodia between 1980 and 1992.
During this time, Mercadoocasio said he was hit with an Improvised Explosive Device.
The IED left a piece of titanium in his head next to his right eyebrow, which still rests there today under a thin scar.
In 1993, he spent a week on the doorstep of a monastery in Japan “in the cold and the rain,” wanting badly to be let in.
“I wanted to learn how to hold a brush,” said Mercadoocasio. “They put a sword in my hand.”
Painters in the West paint from the wrist, Mercadoocasio said, but painters in the East paint from the shoulder, and with the whole body.
For more than a year and a half, Mercadoocasio stayed at the monastery learning disciplined movement with a katana, often learning by getting hit with thick bamboo sticks.
Now, he paints with long, fluid strokes, arm extended and elbow loose.
After some of his experiences in Japan, Meracdoocasio said he made 28 paintings of geishas, all stemming from a moment Tokyo’s Ginza district, which is “Times Square on crack, ok?”
“In the morning, that place is like a tidal wave of human beings rushing at you,” said Mercadoocasio.
He said one morning, he looked diagonally across the street and saw a short, beautiful Japanese woman standing in geisha attire, and he thought “I’m gonna paint you.”
“She was the most serene thing, in that sea of chaos,” Mercadoocasio said. “Twenty days later, I came up with 28 of them.”
He said that all 28 of his geishas sold. The great majority of his paintings have sold. Mercadoocasio said he rarely keeps his own work.
“He does great work. He has just an incredible life story. He has tattoos for all the times he died,” said artist David Bessent, the creator of the Jobot drawing night Mercadoocasio attends most Monday nights.
Mercadoocasio has four skeletons tattooed on his bicep, one for each time he has died, he said.
First, he was a stillborn baby. The others happened in some form of combat, he said. During the most recent incident, he was stabbed through the left upper arm, severing an artery. He declined to comment further on this.
“I forget my own age all the time. I’ve been dead so many f—ing times. How old am I, this time? Actually I’m like nine years old now. It’s hard, being that young,” Mercadoocasio said, smiling.
“I’ve never met another person like him,” Cimino said. “Half the time I feel like he’s dying, half the time I think he’s already dead.”
One of his paintings is in the private collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is a pool of art that the Met lends to other institutions, Mercadoocasio said.
Mercadoocasio said that he has stumbled upon his own art displayed in “the weirdest places,” including a museum in Zimbabwe.
Now, a few of his pieces hang on the walls in his house, next to pieces made by the other artists he lives with in their art studio/home.
“I was given a gift and I just ran with it,” said Mercadoocasio. “Artists, you’re born with something that makes you want to do that. At the point that you realize that you have to actually work harder than anyone else to achieve that goal, you realize, do I really want to be an artist? And my answer’s always been yes.”
Art, Mercadoocasio said, is the hardest job he has ever had, but he loves it.
Mercadoocasio said that he wrote visual storyboarding curriculum for several universities, including Duke, University of Advancing Technology, and the Chicago Art Institute, and lectured and both University of Arizona and Arizona State University, but that teaching wasn’t for him.
“I make beautiful things in an ugly world,” Mercadoocasio said. “If you stand in front of it, it makes you feel something, you get lost in that thing, I’ve done my job.”
Hs work is available to view and purchase on his website.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.