Spread across a variety of buildings and walls throughout the City of Trenton are large murals and paintings. As a creative city, Trenton is home to an array of artists that seek to share original artwork across the tight-knit community. One artist in particular uses his talent to capture individuals and their personalities with his massive portraits plastered around town.
Dean “RAS” Innocenzi, graphic designer, videographer and artist, has been painting the town with these infamous portraits for over 12 years. The 37 year old, who never intended on pursuing this pathway, has exceeded even his own expectations when it comes to his artistic talents.
“I kind of just gravitated towards it,” Innocenzi said referring to his portrait creations. It wasn’t until Innocenzi began working for TerraCycle, the atypical recycling company, that he began to venture into the realm of street art.
Before TerraCycle, however, Innocenzi was always involved in the arts in some way. He said, “Throughout school I was in the advanced art classes.”
After completing high school, Innocenzi attended Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) for Graphic Design. “I always kept up with my fine art (that was) mostly pencil and oil paintings,” he said.
In 2007, while working at TerraCycle, Innocenzi discovered the massive community of street artists Trenton has at the annual Jersey Fresh Jam event. “I saw that there was a whole art scene going on that I wasn’t aware of around here,” he said. At that moment, he made it a goal to one day paint like the local pros at the Jersey Fresh Jam.
Maybe a little too ambitious, early on, Innocenzi attempted to try out the art of graffiti illegally with a couple of friend. After getting in trouble with the law, he realized he could use his job at TerraCycle as practicing grounds instead of creating artwork unlawfully.
With the help of the blank canvases TerraCycle offers artists on the sides of its buildings, Innocenzi began to work on mastering his new craft. “I started to progress really fast,” he said.
By the time the Jersey Fresh Jam came back around in 2018, Innocenzi met his goal. That year, he painted along side of many locally-known artists at the event.
As Innocenzi reflects on his beginnings in graffiti, he thanks the accepting and motivating street art community of Trenton for guiding him along the way. “Looking back, I don’t feel like I would be where I am today if I wasn’t accepted early on,” he said. “These guys kind of took me under their wing.”
When it comes to Innocenzi’s current murals, he hopes to inflict an emotional response in those who pass by as they come across his work. He said, “I’m just trying to do things that will mean something to people other than just look cool.”
Although a lot of Innocenzi’s earlier works were murals of celebrities and icons, he has now matured his craft and is interested in painting murals of individuals he understands on a deeper level. “I paint people that I feel deserve to be painted,” he said.
Over the past two years, Innocenzi has had a lot of close people to him pass away; one of which, was his mother. He said, “Last year, my mom passed and then one of my good friends, Pro, another artist, passed… Sometimes things just happen that kind of dictate what I do.”
When working on these personal murals, Innocenzi refuses to let paint be just paint. “I always pay very close attention to detail and try to capture the spirit of the person, not just paint a picture, but try to capture almost, like, their soul,” he said.
He continued, “When I’m working on a portrait, I’m very intimately connected with it, but then the moment I’m done and decide I’m no longer working on it, I feel like the piece just takes on a life of its own.”
Today, Innocenzi continues to push his craft further. According to him, he tries to make each new piece better than the last. He said, “I’m kind of past where I had envisioned, but also, every time you kind of level up, you have to see what’s next and try to just keep pushing it.”
Innocenzi hopes to keep the art community of Trenton alive and thriving with his work. “I’m about trying to do things in my own area and make something of my own area rather than go to New York or Philly and hop on a scene that already is existing,” he said. “It means a lot to me to paint things that mean something to my community.”