Pop-up art gallery G53 ALT takes over downtown Meriden space

MERIDEN — Vacant commercial space downtown has been transformed into an art gallery — temporarily at least. 

Local artist Eddie Rivera is the latest to be exhibiting his paintings at what Rose Devlin, digital communications chair at Gallery 53, calls G53 ALT Exhibit Space. G53 ALT is a streetside rotating exhibit located on the first floor of 24 Colony St. The extra space has allowed Gallery 53 to showcase more local artists. Permission to use the space has been granted free of charge to the art gallery. 

“We were granted permission by the housing authority and Westmount Management to use the space until it’s no longer available,” Devlin said. “They have been really supportive and it’s been really nice using this space.”

The G53 art exhibits will be running until November of this year, and start back up again next year. The space must be available for the annual holiday event YuleFest. Thus far, the ALT space has featured the artists Michael Miller, Alex Ranniello, Ryan Rosario and Voltori. 

Rivera’s work will be on display through August.

Rivera, 38, born in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, was happy to have his artwork showcased on Colony Street. He moved to Meriden at the age of 3 with his mother. As a teen, Rivera dropped out of high school due to bullying, he said, and the stress of his home life. 

He then got mixed up with the wrong crowd and started using drugs to deal with the stress. At age 20, Rivera was in prison where he would give haircuts and draw art pieces for other inmates in exchange for food. Turning 21 incarcerated is what woke Rivera up. After spending a year in prison, he decided it was time to build a life he always envisioned.

Rivera’s wife, Kate Rivera, and four children are his current motivators. 

“I wake up every day blessed to have them in my life,” he said. “My wife is my biggest supporter. She’s been with me through the tough times.”

Rivera’s artwork represents his vision and his past, captivating his pain, struggle, depression, inspiration and motivation. His mascot, NewStyle, can be seen representing his life. 

What is NewStyle?

Twelve years ago, while Rivera was enrolled in a barbering program, he created NewStyle, the face of his brand. NewStyle can be seen in most of his artwork and is the logo of New Style Hair Studio, the barbershop that Rivera opened in 2020. 

NewStyle represents Rivera’s childhood and adulthood. In one painting, NewStyle is dressed as the DC Comics superhero Batman. Surrounding him there are quotes that say “Courage,” “I Wanna Be a Superhero” and “I love Mom.” 

“That painting brings me back to when I was a child wanting to be a superhero,” he said.

In another painting, NewStyle can be seen saving the animated cartoon character Betty Boop. Rivera’s mother, who died last year, loved the cartoon. 

“My mom was my No. 1 and she always supported me with my art,” he said. “She would buy all my art supplies.”

Help from a mentor

In middle school, Rivera says that teacher Gary O’Neil was another big influence in pursuing art. 

“He was my mentor and one day he came by my barbershop and told me I should connect with Gallery 53 again,” Rivera said. 

Five months ago, Rivera started selling NewStyle Collectibles. Each month, he sells 10, but in September, Rivera is set to have 50 available for purchase. The large collectibles are $500 while the smaller ones are $100. The collectible that are at the Gallery 53 exhibit are available for purchase.

NewStyle Collectibles was created by Rivera to represent inclusion, equity, innovation and love.

“Attached to NewStyle is a boy who just never gave up,” he said. “Even through all the trials and tribulations, he made it out on the other side. All the hard work was worth it in the end.”

Aside from barbering and painting, Rivera continues to make music under stage name Eddie NewStyle. He recently dropped a hip-hop EP called “Dear Failures” which talks about his personal life and inspirations. 

“With someone who has ADD, I don’t find it overwhelming to have three different passions,” he said. “If I get bored with something, I know I have something else to do. It’s the opposite for me. It’s calming.”

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