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Artist Narvicto DeJesus employs a cast of characters to explore emotion

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Artist Narvicto DeJesus employs a cast of characters to explore emotion
Narvicto DeJesus at work on “Burn Baby.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Local visual artist Narvicto DeJesus grew up in the company of a large cast of fictional characters. He laughed along with the adventures of Calvin and Hobbes, raised an eyebrow at the dramatics of Marvel superheroes and won gold stars with the beloved eponymous explorer in Super Mario 64. Now, the artist has created his own cast of characters that represent deep-seated emotions and his Puerto Rican background.

“A lot of my stories are very emotional, which when you look at my art, you might expect, because they’re very quirky characters,” says DeJesus. “But I definitely do my best to incorporate feelings and personalities into all of the characters and colors that I choose.”

“Burn Baby,” acrylic on canvas, by Narvicto DeJesus. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Over the years, DeJesus has created many personas in acrylic paint, but a few recur over and over in his work. Burn Baby, as the name implies, is a baby still in diapers with a flaming head. Don’t be alarmed — Burn Baby wears sunglasses and strikes a pose, implying that the situation is totally cool.

“A lot of my characters have both sides of the coin. So there’s like the positive and what you might call the negative,” says DeJesus. “I would say the positive of Burn Baby is thriving in chaos, and the negative is having to put on the sunglasses and be cool when it is the opposite of cool.”

This is one of the hallmarks of DeJesus’ work. The characters are fun and playful at first sight, created in a cartoon style with bright, primary colors. But as the layers are peeled back, it’s revealed that each character represents a deeply emotional and universal human experience. Burn Baby looks funny and fun, but most people can relate to the feeling of having to keep it together when it seems like the world is on fire.

Tongue Master General is another recurring character in DeJesus’s artistic world. The orange-hoodied figure has a long pink tongue that he’s often holding. Short written words like “yes” and “yup” replace his eyes. In many cases, he’s also submersed in water up to his chest. Tongue Master General is a positive character; DeJesus uses a lot of yellow here to indicate happiness. The long tongue is an indicator of emotion spilling over, of having a lot of feelings and a lot to say. Unfortunately, he can’t always say it.

“Frogress” by Narvicto DeJesus. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

“He’s a character of blind optimism. He doesn’t have eyes, he just has a big smile,” says DeJesus. “But the tongue is super long. If he tried to speak, his tongue would get in the way. And he’s trying to support it, trying to support his truth and back his expression while wading in this pool of everything.”

What comes out isn’t the onslaught of emotion that Tongue Master General has, but that monosyllabic response we see where his eyes should be. This illustrates how difficult it can be to express emotions, even positive ones.

Currently, DeJesus works at a video game repair shop in Allston and creates his artwork on the side. Over the next few years, his goal is to create immersive experiences in galleries or other venues, perhaps using animation to break his characters out of their canvases.

DeJesus says his Puerto Rican background also has an impact on his work. Growing up, listening to long-honed family stories was like listening to a comic book. The characters struggled and triumphed, worked hard and loved harder. In his passionate family, these stories were told on a heroic scale.

“As life goes on, we face challenges and learn lessons,” says DeJesus. “These characters are an opportunity for me to try to make sense of what’s going on inside of me, around me and everything in between.”