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Hiero Veiga is an artist who values the truth at all costs, even if it means being minutes away from losing the opportunity of a lifetime. Twenty minutes into his scheduled interview time with the Crown Our Prince selection team — no Veiga. Texts were frantically being dispatched to his cell phone. Maybe he forgot. Or changed his mind. Where was he? What happened?

A team comprising members of Prince’s family, Paisley Park officials, and art and marketing consultants (including myself) worked hard for the city of Minneapolis to approve this tribute: a 100-foot mural of Minnesota’s most famous son, right in the heart of downtown. After hours of reviewing talented artists from across the country, was the final interview of the day going to be a no-show? What could have possibly made him late? Maybe he was the wrong choice. Perhaps we should move on.

Artful Living | Behind Hiero Veiga’s New Minneapolis Prince Mural

Photography © The Prince Estate | by Jeff Katz

And just as the search was about to wrap up, Veiga called in. He made it just in time. But now with the spotlight on him, he had to win over a group who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

With a little humor and a lot of humility, the 33-year-old self-taught artist from Brockton, Massachusetts, recounted a bad week that concluded with the abrupt and painful end of a relationship. In short, he told the truth. Because as an artist, he says the truth is the sum of who he is: “My work is about honesty. It’s about who I am. It’s all I am.”

Artful Living | Behind Hiero Veiga’s New Minneapolis Prince Mural

Photography provided by Hiero Veiga

Veiga talked of creating spaces for communities like the Twin Cities to heal. Spray painting in neighborhoods from Canada to Jamaica. And being an artist of color like Prince, he understands his great responsibility to use his art to encourage change. He won the commission on the spot.

So from mid-May through early June, the artist known for his bold, vibrant colors and hyper-realist imagery began to scale and paint the seven-story wall of the A Parking Ramp, where the mural will soon be revealed. The image of Prince will face the adjacent business district, including the nightclub the Purple One made famous: First Avenue.

Visiting from his home base of Miami, Veiga recently sat down with us to discuss what Prince means to him, how he captures the soul of a genius, and why he prefers painting on the streets to painting on canvas.

Artful Living | Behind Hiero Veiga’s New Minneapolis Prince Mural

Photography by Andrea Swensson

Was your selection to create this mural a complete surprise?

Yes, absolutely! Because I am used to hearing “no” and I only know how to brace for the impact of “no.” This is my first big “yes.”

This is a town where everyone has two degrees of separation; everyone either grew up with Prince, worked with him or is related to him. How do you capture him and fight that hometown pressure?

I feel the pressure, but I have been reminding myself to simply paint him like I paint everyone else: as honestly and as truthfully as I can. It isn’t my job to paint an exact picture; it’s my job to tell the truth.

Photography © The Prince Estate | by Jeff Katz

What does Prince embody for you as an artist? As a Black man in America? As an artist of color?

That’s easy: freedom, identity and truth! When I think of Prince, I think about not playing by the rules, but playing by my own rules.

When did you start spray painting? Was it a natural progression from drawing and sketching or was there an instant attraction to it?

I started spray painting around 1999 after seeing somebody do it, and that same individual ended up teaching me how to paint. It was not a natural progression; it was difficult, and I struggled with it. No matter how bad I was, though, I loved it. It also fulfilled a need in my life; it still does.

I was drawn to graffiti specifically because it gave me a sense of purpose and an understanding that the world around me couldn’t refuse me. No one could judge me on what I looked like or what town I was from. They could only judge my talent based on my work. It made me brave when I didn’t feel brave, and it made me strong and gave me courage. Now I can share with like-minded individuals.

Artful Living | Behind Hiero Veiga’s New Minneapolis Prince Mural

Photography by @voomcreative

Your colors are explosive and vibrant. They give out a lot of energy. Are they an important feature of your work?

Whether or not I’m working with a sophisticated palette, color is everything. Colors are significant in the sense that they convey tone, plot, theories and ideas. Every color is important; every stroke matters. And depending on how I use colors, they help me say what I’m trying to say.

Not many spray artists can capture the soul of a person. Is it something you can teach, or is it something you have to feel?

I think that anything can be taught if someone wants to learn badly enough, if they really want it. While I don’t believe in innate talent, I do believe that some people have built their skill set, and you have to pay attention to those people who are doing things that you like and want to be able to do as well. It can be uncomfortable for both you and the person, honestly, but you have to do it.

It’s a visceral experience that isn’t for everyone, but anyone can do it. Anyone can duplicate something, but for something to feel real, you have to be able to capture personality and essence. It’s an intuitive muscle that can be grown, but not without demanding practice.

Artful Living | Behind Hiero Veiga’s New Minneapolis Prince Mural

Photography by @kaleidescapingmiles

Why do you choose exteriors over canvases? Does a wall allow you more freedom as an artist to create?

Coming from graffiti painting, I always thought bigger was more attractive. Now because I feel like I have a lot to say and I am used to painting in the public eye, I feel like I use the spray to slay a dragon and say what needs to be said. Walls are big and hard. That’s what I like. That’s what I want. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Murals are everywhere today. Why do you think they are important?

Public art should reflect the communities and people who live in them, and artists’ work should reflect the times. People have a lot to say, whether it’s emotional or not, and graffiti is the language of the unheard.

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