THE DRiF, a New York-based abstract expressionist artist, was one of four artists asked to create a Pride-themed mural for the WorldPride Mural Project featured in Macy's Herald Square's windows.
My name is Reynaldo Rosa. I was born and raised a New Yorker. I currently reside in the East Village with my husband of 14 years.
My artist name is THE DRiF.
Since the age of 14 I have loved being a creative person. I went to high school for culinary arts for four years and then, also in that time, I joined a traveling choir, which took me from Canada to Virginia to LA. And then when that ended, I dived into sound engineering and focused on that in college.
My partner and I are art collectors and we became big fans of artists. Those were the people I looked up to and who pushed me to become who I am today. People just really encouraged me to do my own thing and have the confidence to be me.
Having support is really important. My [adoptive] dad is super proud. When I’m second-guessing myself, he’s always pushing me to create and just have the confidence to not fail.
I think street art has evolved to the point where people don’t even think of it as street art anymore. They think of it as contemporary art—rather than something aggressive.
Street art is an installation that you really let go of. You put it out there and you have no responsibility for it—you can’t really care about it. For me, I started out with stickers and characters but that’s nowhere near where my work is at now. My work ended up evolving into ‘don’t think just do’ and that’s how it came to have the abstract nature it has now.
To be an artist and put your art out there, you have to first be willing to let it go. You can’t be attached to it and be worried that someone will mess with it because that is going to happen. Some murals I painted were in direct sun. Over the years the colors started to fade, and they took on a life of their own and just became part of the city. I’ve put up stickers where the ink faded off completely and they became blank.
I use spray paint, acrylic paint. Sometimes, I just spray paint into a cup and I flick it on the wall and it has a kind of Pollock-esque kind of vibe. But I’ve learned that that is not very liberating because my wrist will hurt. Now I choose to use oil sticks and acrylic. The work is about the nature of movement and not about thinking in shapes. I also use quotes and things that pop up in my mind from past memories. Like my dad might bring up something from when I was kid—something that I had totally forgotten about—and I’ll put that in a piece. One of my favorite sayings that I usually live by is: “Keep on keeping on.”
The scale of the art
I started off small and now the work always seems to be on a large scale, mostly huge, wide and long murals. My biggest mural to date was 50 feet wide and 40 feet tall. It’s located on Elizabeth and Broome. Working at that scale really works out your brain because when you get to the space you have to figure out the size and where the lines will go. And if it’s off you have to redo it. So it’s really just an incredible workout, including going up and down the lift and brushing and using the spray cans.
I’ve gone into junk shops and found whatever I think is rusted or looks the oldest or the coolest. I’ll ask the owner where the piece came from and to tell me the story behind it just so I can make those two connect in my work.
Artwork for the Macy's Herald Square window
The artwork I did for the window is about having an open heart but also about being strong and standing up for yourself one hundred percent and just being you. I feel like everyone should be open and it’s all about equality for me. That’s the one thing I realized growing up as a Puerto Rican who was born HIV positive and also happened to be gay. Both my parents were drug abusers before I was born; that’s how they contracted HIV and gave it to me.
It was very difficult growing up. People have their own assumptions about how HIV can be contracted and don’t realize that people can actually be born with it. I wasn’t born here in an age when the medicine was available to me. So, for me, the mural was about expressing my feelings about all this, digging deep into some really depressing memories and putting all that on the paper.
I usually work with black and red and maybe a couple of bright colors. For this piece, I wanted to mix them to have a light and a dark aspect. Half of my mural is really bright and the other half is really dark to represent the open and the closed and how bringing them together is me just being me, trying to not be afraid.
More generally, being able to be part of a movement that’s evolved and being able to share that with my friends and show the world that times are changing felt very important to me. When I heard about the project it was a really freeing moment, a chance to let it all go and live.
How it felt to be part of the Macy’s window project
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I know what Macy’s is. I know how much it means to the city. And as a shopper as well. I can’t tell you how many things are in my closet that are from Macy’s. Macy’s Herald Square gives you an opportunity to experience the grandness of what Macy’s is. It’s just a stop everyone has to make whether they’re shopping or not. But it’s a twofer because you also get to shop.
We artists came out the first night we found out the murals were up. And we were just so giddy, hugging the windows. It was a great time. We were just super excited. When you finally come out and you see your work for the first time you don’t think it’s going be right there and on such a massive scale. It's fun to see people come upon it just as they would street art. They’re so excited and my dad can’t stop telling everyone at his job about it.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Watch the inspiring stories of members of the LGBTQ+ community who live authentically and help others to discover and express their true selves.