Gaby D’Alessandro is a Dominican illustrator who emigrated to New York with the dream of making her art known, and she has succeeded.
At 34 years of age, she has adorned with her work the most important magazines and newspapers in the United States, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Oprah Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Magazine and the Library of Congress.
The Dominican’s works can even be seen on the New York train. She was also recently commissioned to illustrate the mural in honor of the Dominicans that Target has placed in its store located in Washington Heights.
-Tell us about your academic career, where did you study?
I started studying graphic design at Unapec and after two years I transferred to Altos de Chavón, where I graduated in Fine Arts and Illustration.
-Why and in what year did you decide to move to New York?
Altos de Chavón is affiliated with Parsons School of Design in New York. After graduating from Chavón in 2008, I was awarded a scholarship to complete my studies at Parsons School and so I ended up moving to New York.
“My work is a reflection of me and I believe that every experience becomes an inspiration. At the same time, there are certain things that I’m drawn to and they often manifest themselves in my work.”
-When did your passion for illustration begin?
Since I was a child, I enjoyed expressing my emotions in different ways, such as theater and writing. A few years before entering college I became interested in drawing and a friend told me about the Fine Arts and Illustration program in Altos de Chavón. In my last year of high school I started taking drawing classes in the afternoons, getting to know the work of professional illustrators and learning more about that world.
-Do you remember your first job as a professional illustrator? What was it and how did you get it?
After graduating from Parsons I got a job as an assistant at an illustrator’s rep agency. Despite being surrounded by art, my work at the agency did not involve illustrating. I kept working on personal projects and pro bono illustrations in my spare time and, little by little, I improved my portfolio. Finally, almost two years after finishing college, the agency where I worked started representing me. I remember they sent an email to different clients promoting my work and that same day one of them responded saying that I had a project for which I would be perfect. It was an illustration for a magazine called The New Republic and it had to be ready the next day.
At that time I was working at the agency and my bosses gave me permission to go home to work on the illustration. Excited and nervous, I ran to the subway and, on the way home, I read the article I was to illustrate. I had to stay up all night to finish, but I was very happy to complete my first assignment, and even happier when I received a copy of the magazine and saw my work published.
-What inspires you when you create?
My work is a reflection of me and I believe that every experience becomes inspiration. At the same time, there are certain things that attract me and are often manifested in my work. For example, I really admire the beauty of plants and animals and the connection that exists between all living things. I think moving to New York and not being able to interact with nature, as I did in the Dominican Republic, made me become more interested in it and start integrating it into my work more often.
-How did you find out that you were going to paint the mural to the Dominican Republic and what inspired you?
I received an email asking me if I was interested in making a proposal for a series of three murals to be displayed in a Target store that was about to open in Washington Heights. They explained that, due to time constraints, they were soliciting ideas from three illustrators and then choosing one. I had a virtual meeting with the team in charge of the project and quickly got to work. The same day I submitted my proposal, I received the news that I had been chosen to do the artwork.
When I spoke with the team at Target, they explained that the main goal of the murals was to be a celebration of the Washington Heights neighborhood, so the neighborhood and its residents, largely fellow Dominicans, became my main inspiration.
I used various symbols, such as clouds paying homage to the neighborhood’s location founded on a row of hills in Upper Manhattan. I also included a combination of plants and birds from the Dominican Republic and New York as a way to allude to the cultural mix that has thrived in what is now known as “Little Dominican Republic”. The murals are a collection of vignettes of daily life in El Alto, references to Dominican culture and include a sampling of local businesses and iconic neighborhood landmarks.