His murals explode off walls with ferocious energy and seem to draw their strength from the urban life around them.
Consider the little girl making a funny face, her hands raised like lions’ paws and her braided hair swinging outside the frame.
Or the mural of Derek Jeter, his glove hand extended and the elbow of his other arm a compressed spring, ready to hurl the ball in his hand.
Or even the image of a taciturn star of a hip hop duo.
It’s all work by Jeff Henriquez of Newark, New Jersey. In June, the 45-year-old will transform a wall in downtown Janesville into a tribute to Black Hawk, one of the leaders of the Sauk American Indian tribe. His canvas will be the brick wall on the north side of the building at 27 S. Main St., which is home to the restaurant 27 South.
The work is being sponsored by Nigella Ryan and the owners of the building, George and Karen Collas.
Ryan got the idea when she was visiting her sister in Boston and they took a day trip to Salem, Massachusetts.
“Salem is going through something similar to the ARISE in their downtown,” Ryan said.
There, the North Shore Community Development Council created the Punto Urban Art Museum. In 2017, the museum hired artists to create massive outdoor murals as part of a neighborhood revitalization project.
It was there that she saw Henriquez’s work.
Henriquez was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. He received a degree in painting from Bradford College and attended graduate school at Howard University but later dropped out. He works as a full time artist in a variety of mediums, including spray paint and pen and ink.
Henriquez plans to create his image of Black Hawk by combining the handful of known images of the Sauk leader and then make his own depiction. He has sent Ryan five mock-ups of the mural and she picked the one she liked best. He will be working in spray paint.
Henriquez will start work June 13. Weather permitting, he could be done in eight days.
This will be his first visit to the Midwest, although he assured a Gazette reporter he had “been in rural areas.”
It will be a change for him. Most of his work is on walls in Brooklyn and other boroughs of New York City. How will it translate in Janesville, where the energy is entirely different?
“When we’re talking about street art, we’re talking about muralism, we talking about fine art muralism. When we’re talking about the rebellious nature that artists have—that’s a blessing and a threat at the same time,” Henriquez said.
But he also knows that an artist can “break all the barriers without breaking anything.”
It’s all about being in accord with the space you’re in and the people you’re with, he said.
"If you show love and respect to your environment and make your artwork connect to the people in your environment, that’s the first and best way to get people to open their eyes and mind to new ideas," Henriquez said.
Ryan also hopes Janesville resident Billy Bob Grahn will do some drumming at the site. Grahn sang in his native Ojibwe at the opening ceremonies of Chicagoland Speedway’s NASCAR race in 2018.