The annual Jersey Fresh Jam Festival — the state’s premier hip-hop festival — returns to Trenton on Saturday, August 28.
Organized by noted Trenton-based artist Leon Rainbow, the one-of-a-kind, day of aerosol painting, music, and spoken word takes place at the TerraCycle headquarters on New York Avenue.
Attracting a spectrum of artists — including those from Europe and around the nation — the festival also involves regional artists who arrive and complete murals live to test their skills, inspire one another, and share art with the public.
One of the artists participating again this year is Trenton-based artist Liz Amaral, who in the following interview talks about her art and provides a glimpse into Trenton’s active art scene:
“I do abstract expressionism, contemporary abstract expressionism,” she says about her approach. “Most of my art has a lot of line work, and I involve shapes. A lot of it is done intuitively unless, I’m doing a commission. With my line work I just let it flow in wherever it wants to go.”
Thematically, she says “most of my work is spirituality based” and deals with traditional images that reflect spiritual growth, such as Buddha and chakras points.
“I’ve always been going towards that route,” she says, adding that she also works in the healing arts as a reiki practitioner.
She adds that there was also a spiritual element in her family. Her father was a Boston-born Catholic priest in the Philippines when he met her Filipino mother, a nun. They eventually found work in New Jersey — he as a state corrections officer and she as a state taxation office employee — and settled in Ewing. Amaral mainly attended school there but because of a rebellious time eventually graduated from Hamilton Township.
Raised Catholic, Amaral says she follows a different spirituality that involves meditation, daily appreciation, and a belief that “everything is connected.”
She says that she always painted, did well in art classes at school, and was interested in the graffiti art her older brother was doing. But she didn’t pursue an art career, electing to study skincare at the Rizzieri School for health and wellness and worked as an aesthetician in Lambertville and Princeton.
She also picked up work at restaurants and found herself connecting with art.
Amaral says it was around 2000 when she took a job at Trenton Social and began meeting the group of artists who were working together and creating a movement that included the SAGE Coalition beautification projects and the Jersey Fresh Jam.
Yet, she adds, her spark to become an artist came from one involved with another group in the area, sculptors moving to the region to work at the Johnson Atelier, when Hopewell-based Rory Mahon stopped into the café one night and the two struck up a casual conversation.
“He asked if I was an artist, and I said I used to be. I said I had stopped painting for some time because I had a block. He said to find a place in my room and leave the paints out and the canvas up and do a little every day until you feel you can do the painting.
“It was serendipitous that we met. He got me to set up my paint stuff and a few weeks later I ran into Will Kasso. He was doing live portraits during the week, and I sat for him. That’s how we started our friendship. I painted a portrait of Bob Marley that he liked. We exchange paintings.”
She says she began learning by interacting with Kasso, whom she calls her first mentor. She also points to learning art approaches and techniques through her involvement with the Hive, which grew out of the Trenton Atelier, working with Leon Rainbow, and being active with other artists on various projects.
“Working at a bar in the Trenton community at that time you met a lot of artists and made a lot of connections and got pretty much involved with everything going on around town,” she says.
While still picking up healing art work and some substitute teaching, she has been creating murals for Trenton business like the One Up, One Down coffee shop and Championship Bar, selling works on her website, creating custom painted skateboards, and recently had a work accepted in the Trenton Transit Center arts project.
Then this autumn she will be an artist in residence for a school mural project in Vermont, where Kasso now coordinates community and educational institution-sponsored mural projects.
Summing up her involvement with art, Amaral says she wants to be an inspiration to people who say they always wanted to be an artist. “People forget that you don’t have to be serious all the time; you should just play more. Art flows better when you just play with it.”
Jersey Fresh Jam, TerraCycle, 121 New York Avenue. Saturday, August 28, noon to 7 p.m. Free. www.jerseyfreshjam.com.