NEW YORK — For street artist Efren Andaluz — better known as “Andaluz the Artist” — being Latino means everything.

Since 2014, the New York-based artist has made it his mission to represent his Latino community through his artwork. 

“I had a different flare to me,” Andaluz said. “It was more hip-hop. More edgy.”

He became immersed in hip-hop culture in Queens as a kid. The frequent sightings of graffiti tagged on the walls of his Richmond Hill neighborhood inspired him to later incorporate the art style into future work. 

Then, when he was 10, Andaluz moved to Long Island.

“When I started creating art on Long Island, it was frowned upon at first, but then turned into something that everybody wanted,” the street artist said. 

Andaluz the artist paints Aaliyah mural as tribute to the late R&B star.

Born to a Dominican mother and an Ecuadorian father, Andaluz knew his family would always support him. Still, he didn’t feel that art as a career was in the stars for him.

“They would always tell me, ‘There’s no money in art, you know that?’,” he said. “In my head, I’m just like there has to be money in art and if there’s no money in art, then I’m going to be the first person to make from art.”

Andaluz was determined to carry out that promise to himself. But it wasn’t until 2016 that his artwork started to really gain traction.

His first viral mural was a 25-foot high painting of Pokemon characters. Painted on the side of his storefront, the mural in Greenlawn, Long Island featured 155 of the popular video game critters.

“My Pokemon wall… was my first wall and that was the start of me as a street artist,” Andaluz said.

Eventually, Andaluz moved from creating pieces on Long Island to painting vibrant collage-like imagery across New York City.

From murals of DMX, to Aaliyah, to Kobe and Gigi Bryant, to memorial tributes for fallen neighborhood teens like Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, Andaluz found a way to give back to his New York community through his work.

Andaluz the artist paints Kobe and GiGi Bryant to honor the victims of the deadly helicopter crash of 2020.

Combining his knowledge of realism, pop-art, portraiture, graffiti and graphic art — Andaluz developed a unique style that allowed him to tell a story through powerful imagery.

And while his work was being noticed across all of New York, Andaluz made it a priority to inject his culture into his art, so that his roots aren’t forgotten.

By signing his last name on every piece he does, he says he hopes to stand as a symbol of Latino representation within the community.

“I want people to know my Hispanic background, my Latin heritage,” Andaluz said. “When you see the art and the name, you know I’m Latino. I want a lot of other Latinos and Hispanics to see my work and go, “Wow, I can’t believe someone that looks like me did this and created this.”

PIX11’s Alex Batenko and Larry Rochman contributed to the production of this piece.