SOMERVILLE, NJ – Adrian Collazo grew up knowing Jerome Gonzalez as his older cousin, but as both grew to become adults, their relationship took on a new dynamic.
Gonzalez, an artist and author, became a father figure to his younger cousin as well as his mentor, challenging Collazo, a photographer, to stretch his limits, refine his skills and indulge in the broad expanse of artistic expression.
Gonzalez reached in and yanked Collazo from his comfort zone as a photographer to explore another art form; like his older cousin, Collazo is gifted with multiple artistic skills.
Under the guidance of Gonzalez - who was a writer and published author - Collazo expanded beyond photography, picking up a brush, and later, cans of spray paint to emulate the gritty forms, function, colors and content that had absorbed Gonzalez over the years.
Gonzalez, a prolific graffiti artist, invited Collazo to accompany him to his classes in Trenton where he had started as a student before he became an instructor.
“I took a bunch of photos of him doing graffiti,” Collazo explained. “I began to study his techniques, how he used the spray cans. I bought my own spray cans and got hooked.
“I’m just happy that I got the chance to tell him how much he helped me; he was always supportive, uplifting. He was definitely a positive influence,” Collazo said.
Gonzalez died unexpectedly last week, competing in an endurance run in North Carolina. He was 44.
Friends and family will gather at the Cusick Funeral Home, 80 Mountain Ave. on Friday from 4-8 p.m. to remember their friend; the tribute continues Saturday at Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro, 18 E. Main St., from noon-4 p.m.
Collazo, 33, was moved to create his own tribute to Gonzalez, creating two similar graffiti portraits of his cousin as gifts to each of Gonzalez’ parents, Hector and Sonia.
“I did both Wednesday,” Collazo said. “I got them both wrapped up in 6-7 hours. I took advantage of the beautiful day (it was 75 degrees and sunny) and worked outside in the garage.”
“It was a little hard getting through it,” Collazo said. “I thought of the things we used to talk about – ‘don’t be close-minded, be free in the art.’ That helped me out a lot.”
Collazo said he hadn’t realized just how much the portrait he gifted to Hector reflected the work of his cousin.
“That was unintentional. I didn’t realize I did that,” Collazo said. “When I dropped it off to his father, that’s what he said he said, it reminded him of Jerome’s canvas, the same feel, the same colors.
“Jerome was like a celebrity to me; he was such an amazing guy,” Collazo said.