You’ve seen her on 9th Ave. You might even have seen her in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Here’s the story behind Liberty & Disinfectant – the sticker that has become a sign of New York fighting COVID-19.

Her creator is a New Yorker in the mold of Banksy – though, unlike the elusive street artist, he is willing to share his identity. RAD – real name Rick Anthony Diaz – is an elementary school art educator and the rest of the time he just loves to sketch, doodle, and draw. Most of what he creates is driven by his love of LEGO – “my toy of choice,” he says.

W42ST first spotted his stickers on 9th Ave on March 28. Thanks Bridgid!

Since then, the image has been a regular feature of social media feeds around the world. This week the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post included it in their coverage of the reopening of New York. Google searches of Jeenah Moon’s picture (syndicated via Getty Images) reveal the image on pages in Arabic, Greek and Chinese!

RAD created Lady Liberty on his computer, using a mouse and Adobe Illustrator. The inspiration for Liberty & Disinfectant was an illustration he’d created for a poster four years ago that says “Liberty and Justice for All”. He’s used the poster every year at the Women’s March.

“It was the typical Lady Liberty,” he says. “She had the flame, a book in her hand, but without a mask. Then I changed the torch to the disinfectant spray, added a mask and a box of gloves.”

He lives in Harlem, but visits friends in Hell’s Kitchen regularly. At the end of March, his stickers were posted on three lampposts – and suddenly got tagged and reposted. By May, his art had gone global.

“Banksy is an inspiration,” he says. “I love the fact that there’s a deeper meaning to his work. Mine sometimes seems a little bit frivolous and nostalgic for people. There’s always something that hooks you. You get pigeonholed into one thing, and even though I’ve painted other toys, I’m just known as the LEGO guy.”

RAD loved LEGO as a child. He would build TV sets for a fictional place called Raddington Falls (which is now the name of his website). The TV setting was influenced by his mother, who watched soap operas to learn English after they immigrated from Cuba.

His cousin gave him his first LEGO sets of a family room and a kitchen, which led to creating the TV sets, where the fourth wall allowed a camera inside: “I used to take photos of my sets from every angle, until I got them back from being developed to find they were usually blurry.”

When RAD looks back, images of toys and cartoons are nothing new. “I remember drawing a charcoal piece of a hobby horse. In college, I made a large mixed media piece using duct tape of Hello Kitty holding a computer mouse with a speech bubble reading ‘byte me’ above her head.

“I originally created images of toys as a way to speak about the values we are taught as children. Thematically, I’m still working with similar issues, finding new ways to communicate them. The mediums I am using have evolved over the years to murals, digital work, and now YouTube.”

These days, it continues to give RAD pleasure to find art in unexpected places – especially when filled with humor and political overtones: “I’m fascinated with aesthetics and design in its many forms. Whether it’s the graphics on a box of cereal, the interior design of a coffee shop, or the lines of a car – they all have merit.

“In New York, I find that street art hovers on the edge of the mainstream and underground, drawing strength from both camps. Street art is sold in galleries as much as it is direct from artists via Instagram.”

Most of what he does on the street is in sticker form, sometimes paste-ups, and he’s experimented with magnets to allow people to take his art. “People actually take the stickers. They liked them, so I can’t fault them for that. Then there was a period there where I had people leaving me notes, sticky notes, saying, ‘It was me. I took it, I loved it.’”

He’s been selling the stickers online and has given money to charities such as No Kid Hungry, Feeding America and Food Bank for NYC. He’s now working on a project based around an existing illustration of a bodega, updated for COVID-19 times. You’ll have seen some appearing around the neighborhood.

Bodega by RAD – pre-COVID … and now.

Like any artist, RAD hopes to gain recognition for his work. He’s contacted some sites that have given him credit, but bigger organizations like the Wall Street Journal have not. “It should take two minutes to credit an artist,” he says. W42ST gives you full credit – thanks for inspiring us!

As for his day job, COVID-19 has created challenges with remote teaching. But he’s taught himself how to create YouTube videos – which have benefited his young students, and could benefit the rest of us too. He has some great video resources (including free coloring pages) at Go get creative.

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