Creative, courageous, colorful and peculiar, illustrator and painter Ricky Mestre enjoys a provocative view of life on display in Connecticut’s most populous city.
You’re more likely familiar with his work than to know him personally. Key example: his idea to launch a gay themed art show called “SameSex” hosted at the City Lights Gallery Downtown. The SameSex show in June 2013 landed a spot in The New York Times featuring a color photo of Ricky’s painting of a gay boy scout called “A Scout Is Proud.”
Ricky is a Puerto Rican artist born in Bridgeport. At the University of Bridgeport he majored in Illustration and also took courses in theatre and photography. It was during this time that his work-study job put him in Bassick High School where he worked as a tutor and mentor for students pursuing a college education.
Ricky has also participated and curated different shows for several galleries in the Bridgeport area. He started with a show called “heavy-heARTed” which featured several artist friends who created pieces which were inspired by human emotions.
Ricky continues to produce his artwork, photography and video work and has begun combining different elements for live art performance pieces for various fund raising shows across the state.
With a major assist from OIB correspondent Bob Fredericks, Ricky is our latest interview celebrating Bridgeport’s Bicentennial.
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Q. What is your first memory of Bridgeport?
A. I was born in Bridgeport so I guess my earliest memory should be opening my eyes in the delivery room in Bridgeport Hospital. But my earliest childhood memory was when I was about 4 years old watching my father mow the lawn in the backyard of our Ridgefield Avenue house and finding one of my Fisher Price people later in the grass sliced up from the lawnmower blades. The next early memory was my mother getting a Peanuts gang encyclopedia from the grocery store (which might have been the Shop Rite on Barnum Avenue) and wanting to draw the characters. My first drawing that I can remember making was the character Lucy Van Pelt from that book. I didn’t realize at the time that that comic strip would later become my favorite one as well as serve as the inspiration for my own characters when I started to develop my own style. My family would get the Bridgeport Post every day and I’d only be interested in the comics section to read my favorite one first which was conveniently located at the top of all the others.
Q . What are your ties to Bpt., and what do you do, either work or volunteer work, that benefits the city and its people?
A. I spent all my elementary and high school years studying in Bridgeport Catholic schools. Kindergarten through eighth grade were at Holy Rosary School and then on to Kolbe Cathedral. It was during this time that I had created my own cartoon characters called “Amigos Chiquitos.” Many people will remember buying calendars with my characters which was also a coloring book. I can remember bringing a box of calendars to my father’s store on East Main Street, Almacenes Galo’s, and checking daily to see how many sold. The money raised went to help my old grammar school and also put towards college when it was time to go. After graduating high school, I decided to continue my education at the University of Bridgeport where I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. After graduating I found myself working in many of the schools in Bridgeport including Bassick, Harding, Luis Muños Marin and The Bridge Academy.
After many years working in the schools, I left to work for Sound View Community Media, the Public Access television station in downtown Bridgeport. This place was introduced to me by a student I was assigned to work with in Bassick High School from my first year working there. It was here where I produced my own half hour variety show called The Ricky Mestre Show.
Q. What do you like best about Bridgeport?
A. Upon learning of a building dedicated to provide studio work spaces for artists and took all my paints, my easel and anything I used to create out of my bedroom into the third floor of the 305 Knowlton Street building, now just called “The Knowlton“. It’s one of my favorite places to be. My studio has a great view of [the Pequonnock] river that a couple of swans can regularly be seen swimming in.
Q. Where is your favorite spot in the city to visit and why?
A. The City Lights Gallery will always be special for taking on and collaborating with me on starting up what we now know as Bridgeport Pride which consisted of an art exhibit, street fair, a Pride March around Downtown and a entertaining variety show at one of the local theaters for the LGBTQ+ community. We are currently on our 11th year.
Q. What’s your favorite Bridgeport eatery and what do you like there?
A. Growing up, when my family were celebrating an event like a graduation or if was a holiday we would always go to American Steak House on Boston Avenue. It was the fanciest place we went to for a meal. Any time I go there now I still have flashbacks of a time I was thinking I was grown and strong enough to carry my own tray to the table, dropping everything on the floor and holding my head down in shame with tears falling down my cheeks.
Q. Where do you see the city going? If you had a magic wand and could make a miracle happen for the city, what would it be?
A. So many of my family and friends live and work in Bridgeport. Its diversity in its people is something really special about it. It is my hope that one day this great city with so much potential will pass that potential and be a place people would be willing to travel to to see what it has to offer. When I was in college, one of my assignments was to design an ad for Bridgeport as a vacation spot. I remember thinking this was an easy assignment as ALL my vacations were spent in Bridgeport up to that point.
*** He seems to be a much better painter & illustrator than he was a comedy show actor, producer, etc. ***