Jump high or stay home: San Juan was too small; I wanted something bigger from life. I came to America and studied architecture because I wanted to do something creative, but the work wasn't as creative as I thought it would be. They stuck me in front of a computer all day long, and creativity went down the drain. When I was a kid, my dream was to create a high-rise on top of the earth, like a trophy. But tall buildings are a team effort; you can't just go build one. So I thought, "Why don't I just paint what I see?" It gives me more freedom than someone handing me a plan and saying, "Here, draw this building." And "Are you done yet?"
About that ball with the cross on it: I wanted to create a symbol that would inspire me to become a better person. It's a symbol that's been used for centuries, representing the union of male and female and also representing God. I picked it as a reminder to have more enlightened thinking: not to choose black or white but to think beyond the obvious.
What's with all the nuns? In reality, it's not about nuns. It's about the trouble I have choosing things in life. I can be starving, and by the time I get to the counter to order the hamburger, I'm a mess. There's a burger, there's chicken, there's fish. Then there's all manner of drink. I hear a lot of people punishing themselves for making the wrong decision, and I don't want to do that. The thing with the three nuns is my Roman Catholic influence, and the discipline that nuns have to have, and the very large choice they made in their lives. I have to bring that to my art and my life. Nuns can go through life this way; why can't I?
Okay. But why is that nun smiling? In the nun paintings, there are always three of them, to represent the holy Trinity as well as other things. And I always have one of them doing something different from the other two, like if two are solemn, then one will be smiling. She's saying, "Open your heart to new things. Don't let the big decision be the last decision."
Goodbye, Sister Mary Tempera; hello, Phoenix: The nuns was something internal, something very personal. I thought, "Why not paint something that's about everyone, not just about me? Why not use my background in architecture to create a gift to the city that shows the city how beautiful it is?" I'm in love with the skyscrapers and older buildings downtown. There's a time of day when I stand out in front of my studio, Cob4lt Blu3, and all the high-rises are lit up by the sunset. It's amazingly beautiful.
The politics of art: Politicians like the high-rise paintings. I have paintings in the offices of Terry Goddard, Skip Rimsza, Neil Giuliano, Phil Gordon, and Steve May. [Phoenix City Councilman] Tom Simplot has my painting in his office right next to a Dale Chihuly. I'm next to a Chihuly! All right!
On why he sees the beauty of Phoenix when we don't: I'm an outsider. I see the constant renovation and how clean and bright all the buildings are -- the desert heat preserves them beautifully. In Puerto Rico, the humidity turns the buildings a kind of gray color. Many people who live here, they have nothing to talk about except how hot it is. What about the million-dollar buildings that are here for us to enjoy? People sometimes look at my paintings and say, "This building is here? Where?" And it'll be a landmark, like the Westward Ho. It makes me realize how we take this place for granted.