Chris Mendoza: A Celestial Spirit
Christian A. Mendoza is the first in a series of five artists who will display their work in the mezzanine gallery of our TriBeCa store. Specializing in both fine arts and product design, Mendoza is a fellow champion of our core mission of promoting cross-cultural understanding and a longtime member of the arts community in New York City.
Born in Nicaragua, Mendoza left behind a country at war when he moved to the Bronx as a kid in the 1980s. As the son of an architect, he grew up learning to notice design and intricacies in the world around him, and New York quickly became his own version of art school.
“The energy of this city is my art supply,” he said, noting the sources of early inspiration that he found in everything from graffiti on the streets to downtown art galleries to the bustling shops of Chinatown that reminded him of the vibrancy and community from his childhood in Nicaragua.
For Mendoza, his residency at the TriBeCa location is a full-circle experience. He found his way to the old Pearl River Mart many years ago, where he would browse trinkets and artisan products that continue to inspire his work. In fact, when visitors to his mezzanine exhibit look at his acrylic- and oil-based paintings, he encourages them to experience the colors more vividly by peering through the lens of a kaleidoscope he bought at the store almost twenty years ago.
The residency came about after he was invited to participate in Ctrl+Alt: A Culture Lab on Imagined Futures, an exhibition featuring more than 40 artists and scholars exploring questions of place, identity, and agency. Presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Ctrl+Alt was held in the former Pearl River Mart location over Veteran’s Day weekend. (We were honored to be included with a small exhibit and oral history encapsulating our legacy and meaning to the Asian-American community and New York City, curated by Ryan Wong and the Chinatown Art Brigade.)
In preparation for showing his work at Ctrl+Alt, Mendoza needed a space to create the large-scale, bold paintings he envisioned for Celestial Gates, his contribution to the endeavor. As is often the case in the tight-knit world of lower Manhattan, word got around that Pearl River Mart was returning with a newfound interest in cultivating partnerships with artists. Just like that, we found our first artist resident and Mendoza found the space he needed to paint, experiment, and create.
“Pearl River has always been about bringing together people from different cultures,” he said, gesturing down to the store from the mezzanine exhibit space. “Coming here is like going to a gallery, where art takes the shape of these items in our lives.”
In addition to his energetic paintings and intricate etchings, he has also been working on an exclusive line of products for Pearl River Mart. Detailing his designs on slippers, pants, and small housewares, this project taps into another area of Mendoza’s expertise: product design. In projects that have taken him around the world, he has worked with brands including Ray Ban and Timberland, among others. These endeavors always incorporate his enthusiasm for mixing materials, working with his hands, and giving back. Much of the product work he’s done has a philanthropic component, where sales benefit causes of interest to him or the company. This has become a staple of his artistic identity.
“I want my work to be an instrument for something positive, and this really gets to that point,” he said. “Art, along with music, is the fastest vehicle for reaching people because it offers a universal language.”
For his upcoming projects, Mendoza has been experimenting with our inventory of Sumi calligraphy ink and brushes, sketching to understand how different levels of pressure transpire on paper. And after touching up the paint on an old, oversized paper-mache dragon in preparation for the store’s opening, he is itching to try his hand at this traditional Chinese symbol.
“There are so many tools to use, and so much to learn,” he said, gesturing again toward the store and the streets beyond our windows. “That’s New York — meeting people, sharing ideas. The city is always changing, but that’s one thing that remains.”
To view more of Chris Mendoza’s work, visit chrisamendoza.com. Celestial Gates, along with more of Mendoza's work, are on display from November 17 to December 5.