Colombian-born artist Jo Mar has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for the past 10 years — you might have seen his “Street Commotions” on the wall at FLEX. This is Jo’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia, during the time where Medellin was one of the most violent cities in the world due to Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels. At the age of 19, I moved on my own to the US, arriving to NYC in the 90s. The moment I arrive to NYC I knew I was here to stay. I have lived in several neighborhoods since then and in Hell’s Kitchen for the past 10 years.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
On my first job, I was a busboy at Meriken, one of the first Japanese restaurants in NYC, located in Chelsea. I remember, at the time I didn’t even speak English, but I managed to land the job. That’s where I learned English. I made friends with all the waiters, who showed me around — mostly the nightlife scene. They were patient enough to help me learn the language in the meantime.
My first professional job in NY was at MTV Networks in Times Square. This is years later after earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Since then, I have worked as a Business Analyst and Project Manager in technology in corporate America.
11 years ago, I discovered my passion for art, and I have not stopped creating since then. A few years ago, I took a two-year break from my job to go back to school. I earned an MFA from The New York Academy of Art and currently I’m working on my body of work for my first solo show next year.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
I have many favorites, but I would say, meeting the Guns N’ Roses band members in the early 2000s while bartending at 6s & 8s on Chrystie Street, a lounge bar in the lower east side. It was an exciting moment as I grew up in the 80s listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Axl Rose and the other band members became regulars at the bar for a few months.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Hell’s Kitchen is a very diverse neighborhood and it has an incredible variety of dining options, but most important is the location. It’s in the middle of the city surrounded by Hudson Yards, the Hudson River bike path, Times Square, all the Broadway theaters and Central Park is just a few blocks away. You can’t beat that.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
My artwork and my creativity.
What else should we know about you?
I am an artist, inspired by a fascination with the human figure and the myriad faces I passed every day on the streets of New York. My vision of creating art has become increasingly urgent and central to my life. My approach to the work is painstaking and elaborate; I have an obsession for details that render my work simultaneously real and surreal. Every subject wears a costume hand-made by me. The vision for each work is demanding and comprehensive, and the results are luminous and deep. I explore the subjects from the inside out, rendering every imperfection in a visceral attempt to create a perfect, seamless whole.
Currently, I am working on a full body of work, which includes paintings, 3D sculptures, bas relief sculptures, installations, costumes, to be featured in my upcoming first solo show.
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Jo’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
FLEX — 405 W51st Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
It’s a very down to earth and cozy neighborhood bar and my bas relief sculpture titled “Street Commotions” is on permanent display on their wall.
The Amish Market — 731 9th Avenue (bw W49/50th St)
Love this place. The charm of the establishment is unbeatable and it’s full of great food options, tons of fresh produce, baked goods and gluten-free options
Vice Versa — 325 W51st Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
The food is amazing and it’s authentically Italian. It’s been run by two Italians for the past 20 years.
Pier 84 — 555 12th Avenue (bw W43/44th St)
I love riding my bike to the Hudson River bike path and going to relax by the Pier 84
Empanada Mama — 765 9th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
The food is great, but to be honest, the best part is that the place is open 24 hours all week
Rubber N’ Road — 466 W51st Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I randomly came across it and thought it was such a cool store to have in Hell’s Kitchen. And everything is made in NYC.
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.