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Raúl de Nieves is an American Artist

April 28, 2017

What does it mean to be an American artist today? From his basement studio in Ridgewood, Queens, artist Raúl de Nieves creates an epic stained glass mural for the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Born in Mexico, de Nieves immigrated to San Diego at the age of nine and has been living in New York since 2008. “Growing up in Mexico was really magical because I got to see a lot of forms of celebration,” says the artist. “I got to experience death as a really young child. That’s what my work is about: it’s like seeing the facets of happiness and sadness all in one place.”

His commission from the Whitney Museum of American Art gave de Nieves the opportunity to experiment with the tradition of stained glass, and combine this new light-infused installation with existing figurative sculptures. With gaffers tape, paper, and color gels, de Nieves created a narrative that begins with personal struggle and self-doubt, but ends with “a celebration of life.” In reflecting upon his father’s early death and his mother’s courageous decision to move their family to the United States, de Nieves sees the installation as a form of remembrance. “The mural talks about this experience—this journey,” says the artist, “I feel really happy that I could put so much emphasis on this idea of ‘a better tomorrow’ in my artwork.”

More information and credits


New York Close Up Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director: Ian Forster. Editor: Morgan Riles. Cinematography: Andrew Whitlatch. Additional Cinematography: Ian Forster. Sound & Production Assistant: Nicholas Vore. Design & Graphics: Open & Urosh Perisic. Artwork Courtesy: Raúl de Nieves, Rafa Esparza, Aliza Nisenbaum & Whitney Museum Of American Art. Thanks: The Dreamhouse, Friends Of The High Line, Christopher Y. Lew & Mia Locks. © Art21, Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

New York Close Up is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; VIA Art Fund; Lévy Gorvy; and by individual contributors.

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Raúl de Nieves

Raúl de Nieves was born in 1983 in Michoacán, Mexico and lives and works in New York. De Nieves, who works in sculpture and performance, attributes his art practice to his childhood education in Mexico, where he was taught to sew and crochet. He makes intricate sculptures using plastic beads that require intensive manual labor, and has gained recognition in both the art and fashion worlds.

“That’s what my work is about…seeing the facets of happiness and sadness all in one place.”

Raúl de Nieves

Seen at the Whitney Biennial

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America Now

How are artists answering the question: What is America today? Historical markers continue to shape the discourse of the new-normal and artists are responding with powerful works that are representative of the times. This playlist showcases how artists are responding to the dynamic nature of the United States and its parallels.