BY WENDY VARELA, CLASS OF 2014 —
In a hauntingly dark, smoke- filled room filled with the people that your mother always warned you about, sits a young man, surrounded by the closest ten people he knows. It’s a no name bar, hole- in- the wall not particularly appealing to the masses. It boasts a Grade B sanitation sticker, and that usually would turn any passerby away.
The bar is in a quiet East Village street in New York. It has a bouncer with numerous piercings that flashes a cold smile, as he ushers you inside. Once you walk in the mood changes, because the first thing you see and hear is the commotion in the back room. Immediately, the sounds of revelry erase any scary preconceptions initially established about the place. It could be like this every night, or maybe it is just tonight because the bar is hosting a very special guest. His name is Pedro Baez, senior at The Cooper Union Advancement of Science and Art, otherwise known as the highly desirable school of art and architecture, Cooper Union.
Baez sits in the back room with people surrounding him, reminiscent of the scene in the bible where Jesus gives a talk at Mount Sinai; he has all the people around him hanging on to his every word. As he speaks, he lets himself be affected by everyone in the room. This sense of openness is what probably has everyone in the room mesmerized. Or it could also be that they recognize that they are in the presence of a distinguished member of the Cooper Union class of 2013. He speaks of worldly things ranging from the Venezuelan government to trivial things such as how to draw vomit. His peers laugh at his vulgarity; an honest laugh of content in his ability to be just as weird as they are, but somehow different. He expresses himself with cuss words and crude remarks but somehow intertwines this urban edge with raw appreciation of beauty that only an artist would understand. Baez paints and draws in the same manner he speaks.
Baez is an artist in every sense of the word and it pours out of him from the way he expresses himself to his style of dress. He wears black patent leather boots from Doc Marten and pairs them with green cargo pants and a black army jacket with a snapback hat that keeps you from telling a corny story. It reads “Cool Story, Bro”. He fits in perfectly with all the other aspiring artists and rich kids that attend Cooper Union. What make him unique is his background and the odds he has faced to land in one of the most prestigious school in the country. For years Cooper Union has made the top 10 list of the “Most Desirable Schools in the Nation” according to Newsweek.
Born to a Venezuelan mother and a Cuban Father on March 4th, 1989, Pedro and his family moved to the United States from Venezuela. His father left the family when Pedro was young and his mother relocated from the South American country to Iowa to raise her two sons alone. It is here where Pedro found his inspiration to become an artist.
“I clearly remember my mother in our backyard with an easel and canvas painting flowers and landscapes. Very different from what I paint, but nonetheless it inspired me at a young age to paint and draw,” Baez explains.
After Iowa, the Baez trio relocated to several different locations including Florida and North Carolina before settling in New Jersey. He graduated high school from a small suburban town in Central Jersey. In high school, Pedro had big city dreams that didn’t belong in a small-town. No one in his close-knit community could mention art, without having Pedro Baez come to mind. One Christmas Holiday he painted all of the store-fronts in his local down town area with snowmen, Santa Claus and reindeers. And if there was one person who didn’t know who he was then, there was no denying it now. Those paintings lasted well into the summer.
Baez’s circle of friends growing up was not of the ideal kind; many of them did not understand his dream of becoming a respected painter. Many of them were joining street gangs; others creating extensive criminal records ultimately gaining lengthy prison terms. There was something strong in Pedro, however, that kept him motivated throughout his formative years that helped him stay on the right path.
“My mother has always been my inspiration,” said the 23 year old. “I have people tell me Wow! This is amazing and out of this world, but when I show my mother she’d be like WTF? This beautiful but this, what is this?” HE expresses this with the most expressive smile and warm eyes. The strong critique gave him the motivation to rise above the rest.
He came across Cooper Union after a high school art teacher suggested he apply his senior year. He was accepted shortly after. He made it his goal to leave New Jersey. “I never belonged in Jersey,” he said. “I always felt that you need to work hard to play hard, but where I was at in New Jersey I was surrounded by kids that would rather party than to work. People don’t realize you are going to be older, way longer than being young. People had it backwards.”
His attitude has made him a respected figure in his art school. Professors love him and students speak highly of him, and anticipate his next work of art. The interesting part of this story is that not only is Pedro an exceptional student of art, he has also found a way for his art to be prolific and noteworthy enough that people are banging on his door for him to draw. He is a popular tattoo artist in the school and surrounding area with clientele paying hefty prices for a piece of his art to be immortalized on their skin.
“I’ve seen him do some sick stick and poke (tattooing) and think like damn that’s hot, but I have never decided on one tattoo because when he makes something cool today, tomorrow he will make something else way more impressive.. I see him do cool sh** every day and I will feel dumb when he makes some cool sh*t the following week,” says a peer of Baez, Aaron a first semester junior at Cooper Union.
“Technically and artistically he is on point…formally this man’s work is up there,” says James, senior at Cooper Union with a voice that gives the hint of not often being used to praising others.
Baez has no reason to work in a tattoo parlor that would take %50 of his earnings with believers in his art such as his. It takes good work and dedication to develop clientele good enough where you are making more than in a shop. Baez has definitely achieved this. He currently funds his nieces and nephews dance and karate class while also helping out his single mother maintain her home in the suburbs.
“I’m a business man; I have this ability to create things esthetically…make it look gorgeous and sell it…but I would like to create an atmosphere where people come to me to get a tattoo because of the experience.”
But he has already created the experience. It is obvious he is the glue of this meeting tonight at the local bar. He moves the conversation of the group as he pleases; his contemporaries poke fun at him and accuse him of being a cheapskate that doesn’t pay back money that he owes, but it’s all out of love. Throughout the night he is bought special after special, which is a signature drink at the place that consists of a rolling rock beer and a double shot of whiskey served in a 3-inch votive. It’s like they don’t want him to leave.
“What I want to leave behind as my legacy is to inspire the future with my art just like the artists 300 years ago inspired me,” he says in his native tongue of Spanish. “I want to be remembered as a man of art in a universal way…I would love to someday be remembered as someone who mastered multiple skills in different realms of art.”