SOMERVILLE, NJ - Work has begun on a 90-foot mural in a walkway off West Main Street that will pay tribute to Jerome Gonzalez, a prolific artist and author who played a major role establishing the thriving arts community in Somerville.
Workers on Saturday used a power washer to chip away loose paint on the façade of the building before filling in cracks and crevices with cement. Work will continue through the weekend and on Labor Day if necessary.
The wall will be painted white, with artists Leon Rainbow and Alejandro Medina expected to begin outlining the designs which will take shape on the wall beginning next week; the mural is expected to be finished in time for the third day of the Central Jersey Jazz Festival Sept. 15, which attracts thousands to a concert stage erected on East Main Street, not far from the walkway.
Gonzalez died at the age of 44 in February, 2018 competing in an endurance race in North Carolina.
Gonzalez, a talented graffiti artist who was equally adept working on canvas or paper, graduated Somerville High School in 1992.
His good friend, Shaun Daley, co-owner of the Gallery on Main at 30 West Main St., is coordinating the project with partner Michelle Kassick, with a GoFundMe page established to raise funds.
The mural will be painted on the stucco facade of a building near Daley's gallery, alongside a walkway that leads to Municipal parking lot No. 6 behind the Main Street buildings.
Medina created a poster of Gonzalez which is being sold at the gallery, with all proceeds donated to the project.
The Borough Council and the Arts on Division organization have given their approvals for the project, according to Daley.
The father of a young son and daughter, Gonzalez was truly a modern-day Renaissance man, according to Daley.
Gonzalez was a high-profile, enthusiastic supporter of the arts in Somerville, eager and willing to pitch in wherever help was needed, from cleaning up a vacant store to host a pop-up gallery show to contributing his considerable artistic flair. He was also the author of a self-published book, "Pothole."
He played a key role in attracting fellow artists to produce graffiti murals for display during the annual Arts on Division outdoor shows the past two years.
Donations can be made to cover the expenses of the project online at https://www.gofundme.com/jerome-gonzalez-mural-project
The Gonzalez mural will be the second to be painted on the side of a West Main Street building.
Last October, a mural three stories in height was painted on the brick façade of the Redelico’s Paint and Decorating Center, alongside United Reformed Church at 100 West Main St. as a tribute to Raymond Brown, Jr., the son of retired Somerset County Parks director Raymond Brown and Roseannn Woods Brown, Chief of Staff to state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman.
Artists Doug Hoekzema and Bhakti Baxter traveled from Florida to paint the mural as a tribute to their friend.
The Brown's son was working on a giant mural three years ago on Oct. 24 on the side of a high-rise building in Hollywood, Fla. when the scaffolding collapsed, with Brown and two others falling 40 feet. Brown perished; the other two survived, including Hoekzema, his good friend and a prolific artist whose murals have been created on the sides of buildings throughout the world.
Brown, 32 when he died, was well-known in the Miami-area arts community and in addition to his art, was a gifted guitarist who performed at several venues in southern Florida.
Brown was born in Somerville and was a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School. He was honored by the Somerset Patriots during the 2017 season; players wore a patch on their sleeves in memory of Brown, who had been a batboy for the team.