Oscar Garay (Steinhardt ‘24) decided to attend NYU because New York City is the art capital of the world, and the young painter wanted to be where the action is. But until he arrived, he didn’t realize just how extensive and far-reaching the city’s art scene could be. “No matter what corner you turn, there's a gallery, a museum, a nonprofit for arts, a granting organization,” says Oscar, 21. “There are so many opportunities here.”
Oscar, who hails from San Fernando, California, paints large-scale canvases in bold colors and patterns inspired by Mexican textiles. The paintings depict workers, family members, and cultural activities he photographed during summer visits to his grandparents’ ranch in Veracruz, Mexico, which sits east of Mexico City, along the gulf.
“My practice is about representation and identity, and personal relationship to my culture,” says Oscar, who starts his fourth year in Steinhardt’s Department of Art and Art Professions in the fall. “[But] it’s not just about Mexico. Crossing borders, ideas of memory, and family. It functions universally.”
While music was always playing in his home and his grandparents would sing and dance, Oscar says museums and art galleries weren’t a part of his childhood. That could explain why his favorite class was “Intro to Galleries and Museums,” a first-year course in the department that nurtured critical thinking, viewing, and writing.
“That class was pivotal because it introduced us to galleries and institutions in New York and got us to write a lot,” Oscar says. “So much about being an artist and having an art practice is seeing what your peers are doing. It had us engaging not only with specific artists’ practices but also with how to look at art and understand it.”
NYU’s liberal arts offerings also appealed to Oscar, who describes his family as artistically-inclined, although he is the first to pursue art as a career.
"I wanted arts classes, but also access to friends and peers who weren’t artists,” he says.
When not in class, Oscar tries to make the most of the city by sampling all kinds of food, shooting pool or bowling with his friends, and visiting galleries near and far. His favorite artists include Kerry James Marshall, Henry Taylor, and Jordan Casteel, and his favorite museum is the Noguchi Museum in Queens.
Oscar spends about 40 hours a week in the BFA studios in the basement of the Third North Residence Hall, where he paints and works as a senior studio assistant. The job provides him his own studio, a privilege usually reserved for seniors. It’s also the perfect fit for his six- and seven-feet tall paintings.
Oscar plans to stay in New York City upon graduating in 2024, and he credits his professors for preparing him to follow his dream. They treat him like a fellow artist with a practice, Oscar explains, and they have encouraged him to be fearless and to view himself as part of the city’s vibrant arts community.
“Being adventurous and outgoing and not being afraid to fail, or to try new things…that has been pivotal,” he says.