What do you want to be when you grow up?
For most of us, the answer to that changes throughout our lifetime. When you’re, five you may say “firefighter,” in high school “psychologist,” in college you may switch majors often and when you graduate may not even work in your degree’s field.
But not Victor “Range” Zarate. Since he was a child, he knew exactly what he would be when he grew up: an artist.
Since picking his graffiti tag name in third grade, he’s worked tirelessly and passionately to perfect his skill and share his talent with the world, and he’s worked on several community pieces that hardly go unnoticed.
He’s lived in Rochester all 43 years of his life, but if you haven’t seen him around you’ve probably seen his art in places like on firetrucks or on memorial murals. His work is plastered on countless walls in Rochester and he’s traveled to work with artists in other cities and on larger projects. He also sells his work on two Instagram accounts: @range_fua and @hustlersandscholars, a lifestyle brand that focuses on being “socially conscious” and “respecting the grind.”
He took the time to talk with OM about the need for art in schools, inspiring teachers and some of his favorite works.
Answers have been edited for length.
Alyssa Pressler: When and how did you first get into art?
Range: It’s funny because I grew up kind of like in the heyday of the hip hop era. In the early 80s I was in elementary school, influenced by breakdancing. I was introduced to this book called “Subway Art” by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper. It was a history of subway graffiti. Ever since I saw that I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
AP: So you always knew graffiti and subway art was the style you wanted to go with?
R: I was born with a birth defect in my face and I had a lot of surgeries when I was a kid – like a lot of surgeries. My mom wasn’t trying to sign me up for football or boy scouts or whatever. Growing up in the hood, we had to make our own entertainment going around the neighborhood rapping or tagging. I like art, I like drawing. With me I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. We would have like career day at school and firefighters would come in, police officers, all kinds of occupations, and you couldn’t convince me of anything. I always wanted to be an artist. I grew up in a large household; I’m Mexican. During semesters when we would have awards ceremonies, my brothers and sisters would always get honor roll and I would always get the art award. To me, I was good with that.
AP: What do you typically work with?
R: Honestly, I like illustrating a lot. I started with graffiti, but a lot of that is just the result of growing up poor. A can of spray paint is 99 cents, but paint brushes and acrylics and stuff, I didn’t have money for that. I had a teacher at East High School: Mr. Barry. He would lend me his air compressor. He would let me take it home over winter recess.
AP: Do you have one favorite piece you’ve ever done?
R: Some outdo the others, because, I mean, that’s why we paint. I’m a member of the FUA crew, which is an acronym for From Up Above. We’ve been around since 1989. We do murals for ourselves but we also do murals for the community. It’s sad, but it’s rewarding when we get the opportunity to do memorial murals. I did the “in control” mural on Main Street, which is a more youth-oriented premiere. That one was pretty rewarding in itself, where I know it could influence a lot of kids. Not everybody is athletically inclined, some kids are into the arts, and it just sucks that those programs are the first to get cut, you know what I mean? I actually painted a firetruck for the Hudson Ave. fire department, truck 6. From what I know that’s the only truck in the nation with graffiti on it.
AP: What are you hoping people will get out of your community art?
R: I try to motivate and inspire as many young people as I can. When I was growing up it was kind of the opposite. In the graffiti world, amateurs are called toys. For people who are higher up on the chain, they don’t like associating with the rookies. You kind of learn on your own and ‘when you’re good, come see me.’ To me, that sucked. I just wanted to paint with the good guys, like the good artists, and be accepted. I know how that is so I try to break that cycle and let these kids know whatever I can provide as far as knowledge or skill, I want to give it to them. It’s part of longevity. Everybody has that favorite art teacher or regular teacher that you can remember making a difference in your life. Everybody has one – I have one. I have a quote, it says, “He who learns, teaches.” I just think that’s important. What’s the sense of harboring that knowledge that’s not going to go anywhere after you’re gone.
AP: On that note, any advice for young artists just getting started?
R: I started out illegally. I painted plenty of illegal pieces and tagged stuff I shouldn’t have, but it it put me where I am today. I use my talent for more positive things now, but back then we didn’t have a lot of resources available today. Like social media. You don’t have to necessarily tag up a neighborhood to get a ton of people to see your name and your work. You can put your work on social media and reach a lot more people than you could back then. My father was so against me being an artist. We bumped heads until I was in high school, it wasn’t until late high school he was like, ‘okay, this guy isn’t giving up.’ I always tell parents: obviously every parent wants their kid to be successful and make a lot of money, but if you have a child and you know they are talented, try not to limit their creativity. Buy them that pencil set or markers. You never know, that could truly be their calling. Just push it to the limit, support your kids.