The paintings left outside West 90th Street, via stoopingnyc.
By Lily Goldberg
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, the old adage goes. In some cases, however, the “trash” isn’t trash at all, but a suite of paintings by an Upper West Side based artist that have recently found new homes thanks to some splendid stooping.
“Stooping” refers to the long-revered New York tradition of setting old furniture and home goods out to pasture on the sidewalk. Within the past year, an Instagram account called @stoopingnyc has codified stooping by posting updates and locations on the best curbside finds. Two weeks ago, followers of @stoopingnyc were informed of a rare find: 30 colorful paintings, left for the taking on 90th street between Columbus and Amsterdam. Before taking, though, many stoopers commented on the post to voice their hesitation at collecting such beautiful work without compensating the artist, or finding out what had become of them. Could anyone identify who had created these works, and why they were left behind?
For Lily Bilgrey, an avid stooper and Upper West Sider, the answer lay in an old postcard stuck between two of the paintings, a signature (“Artistikz”) and some googling. Putting the clues together, Bilgrey determined that “Artistikz” was a past moniker of Ralph Serrano, a muralist whose address (117 West 90th Street) matched that on the postcard.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Serrano, who posts work on his Instagram @El_ArteoMuerte, moved to New York in the early 90s to pursue a life in the arts. After finding work as a muralist, Serrano moved to 117 West 90th Street, where he has lived since 1998. During the pandemic, however, Serrano, like many, lost work. With commissions grinding to a halt, and mural projects ceased, Serrano struggled to make ends meet. “Unfortunately this pandemic thing put me in a position where I couldn’t pay rent anymore,” said Serrano. “I made the decision to go back to my homeland and operate from there.”
Moving his vast collection of paintings, however, proved difficult. “I sent most of my pieces to Puerto Rico, and I was also able to sell 15 pieces, but I was left over with 30 pieces I could not afford to send, and I was just heartbroken,” said Serrano. “I didn’t have the heart to put them out in the trash myself, so I left paintings in the apartment.” Serrano shut the door on his Upper West Side apartment and left the city, never guessing that the paintings he had left would find their way into new hands. But when Bilgrey connected with Serrano, he was astonished to receive support from the @stoopingnyc community, many of whom had quickly claimed the beautiful work for their living spaces. One stooper, a James Brown fan, sent Serrano his plan to hang a portrait Serrano had made of the singer amongst records, claiming it was like finding “a pot of gold.” And through Cash App, many stoopers compensated Serrano for their finds — Serrano estimates he has received around $800.
“I’ve gotten so many calls for new work and commissions, it’s insane,” said Serrano. “I did not leave it with the intention of any of this happening, I just didn’t have the heart [to leave them]. I’m glad that after what I’ve gone through it’s inspired so many people.”
If you weren’t quick enough to get a Serrano painting yourself, the artist’s work is available for free all around the city — you can even eat under a Serrano mural at Cantina 33 in Ridgewood, Queens. But never fear if Ridgewood seems like a schlep in this heat; one of his murals is right here in the neighborhood.
“If you go to 90th between 117 West 90th and 101West 90th street, the James tower, there’s a playground in between those two parts for an early childcare place and I did a mural there. The elephant is mine.”
Though Serrano is excited to start making art again in Puerto Rico, he will miss the neighborhood and the network of artists he’s met in New York. “I love the neighborhood. I’m very inspired by the people and the energy. As much competition as there is in New York, it’s a great place to be for artists. There’s a lot of great talent in New York and I’m grateful that this has given me exposure.”
Love this story!
It’s terrific that Ralph Serrano was located and now knows that his paintings were appreciated.It is excellent that he received compensation for his creative work. I wish him good luck and great days painting.
I live on West 90th and I am a painter too and I understand how awful it was to have to just leave your work behind. Stay safe, Ralph!
Terrific, poignant, heartening neighborhood story. Good wishes to Ralph Serrano!
This is so wonderful that his art has a new home and is loved and that Serrano is alive and knows it’s appreciated…. and that he’ll even get some financial compensation. I was afraid he had died during this pandemic.
So many artists when they die have not left provisions for their work and it’s thrown out… that’s sad.
Great article and great work Lily Bilgrey! Good luck to Mr. Serrano and continue the good work @stoopingnyc.
Great story which shows a successful edit of an artist’s work as he changes work spaces.
Serrano must have agonized over what to send to P.R. and what to leave.
A wonderful story. It’s heartwarming to know that people tracked down the artist and sent him money for his work. I live in PR part-time. Does anyone know what town he moved to?
Great story too bad he left New York I’m sure he would have made a good living selling his paintings. Well as they say things happen for a reason.