FLUSHING — Before street artist Efren Andaluz picks up any paint can to start a mural, he prays to God to guide his hand. Those prayers were answered as he reimagined the entryway to St. Mel’s Catholic Academy.
Now, Instead of plain white walls, as soon as students or parents walk through the front doors at St. Mel’s, they are welcomed with the larger-than-life face of a girl, illuminated in neon pink. If they turn slightly left, they’ll see the image of a soaring rocket fashioned from crayons. Turning the other way, they see the face of Jesus and Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments.
All of these images represent the efforts of St. Mel’s to foster the spiritual and intellectual growth of the school’s 230 kindergarten-through-sixth-grade student body.
It took Andaluz, 36, a little over three weeks and an array of colors from 100 different paint cans this summer to create the piece, which, he explained, represents the intersection of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and faith. The two aren’t in conflict in the artist’s eyes.
“There’s no science without God,” Andaluz believes. “God created everything mathematically in balance in the form that it needed to be created.”
St. Mel’s third grader Harley Leo, 8, said that when she saw the mural for the first time when she arrived for the first day of school, she was “really shocked at how beautiful it was. It was so beautiful it almost made me cry.” Its religious imagery reminds her, she added, that God is always watching over her.
Another third grade student, Jacob Morgan, was equally impressed, and welcomed the change of scenery at the entryway, proclaiming: “It’s a new year, so you’ve got to get new stuff.”
Andaluz said he followed his creative instincts in crafting the mural, choosing radiant colors for the educational aspect, and more solemn tones for the religious imagery, highlighted by a glowing cross.
He said he’s been an artist since his adolescent years, starting with exploration into comic book sketches. His decision to focus on street art was sealed after a 25-foot Pokémon mural he created in 2016 in Huntington, Long Island, garnered widespread social media attention.
In 2020, he once again gained national attention after creating a mural across from Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn that commemorated Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant after they died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.
A member of the St. Mel’s board of directors found Andaluz through the internet, where he can be found on Instagram @andaluztheartist and his website andaluztheartist.com. With this year being the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, “Andaluz the Artist” has spent 2023 painting famous artists in the genre.
St. Mel’s Catholic Academy was slated to be closed in August 2020. However, a creative solution presented by principal Amy Barron and Church of St. Mel Pastor Father Joseph Fonti resulted in the then-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school being transformed into an early education center, teaching through third grade. Another grade level has been added ever since, and school officials are hopeful they’ll be able to once again return to K-through-8 status.
The new mural symbolizes St. Mel’s revitalization, said Barron, who has served as principal at the academy since September 2019.
There is a focus in the school’s curriculum on STEM education, she said, which is highlighted in the mural, along with a continuing emphasis on cultivating Catholic faith and morals in the students through their education.
“We educate minds, bodies, and souls. We wanted to make sure that was reflected in the mural,” Barron said.