The Latino Artist Behind the Kobe and Gigi Bryant Mural in Brooklyn


The world was stunned on January 26, 2020, when news broke that Kobe Bryant had died. Hours later we learned that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna also perished on the helicopter, along with seven others. It was devastating for millions around the globe. It was something that could only be described as an ongoing nightmare.

An NBA legend, a world icon and a childhood hero to so many — gone in the blink of an eye. For 33-year–old Efren Andaluz, who never met Kobe but was greatly impacted by the loss,  it was important for him to share with the world what the legendary athlete meant to him. Art was how Andaluz dealt with and expressed his feelings. 

“The death of Kobe was my main inspiration, but I’ve always been a Lakers fan my whole life, which growing up in New York has been a little difficult,” Andaluz tells HipLatina.

Many of us have seen the now-viral mural of Kobe and Gianna across from the Barclays Center but the painting didn’t get there coincidently. Andaluz wanted to use his talents and honor his favorite player. For him, a mural was a perfect way to do that.

“I told myself I was going to create a tribute. I just needed a wall.”

 

He wanted something in Brooklyn, specifically, near the Barclays Center. “I went onto Google earth and canvassed the area for a place to do it. Then I called up real estate agents until one finally called back,” he says. 

Once he had a canvas to work on, the next step was figuring out what to put on it. Andaluz faced hurdles with the condition of the wall. Although he usually only uses spray paint, regular paint and a roller were needed to get into the deep grooves of the wall. Especially for when it came time to draw Gigi’s face. “She has a smaller face and there are so many details that you want to come out well — like her teeth,” he says. 

With the wall being a landscape instead of a portrait, he wanted to showcase a grander Kobe. “I wanted it to be dramatic and still reflect the vibe that I was feeling at the time,” Andaluz adds. He’s also a proud #GirlDad, as Kobe so famously put it, so he wanted a way to honor the Mambacita as well. “I have a daughter myself so when this happened, it was devastating. It was the first time that I didn’t know somebody personally and I started crying over them dying,” he says. 

Andaluz loved the fact that Kobe’s daughter was following in her dad’s footsteps. “I was going to just have her shooting a basket but I knew people would complain that you can’t see her face.”

After some careful deliberation, he decided Gigi’s face would be placed on the top right of a pensive Kobe, laying on a basketball. “I knew I wanted to use that image of him. It’s like Kobe is deep in thought and he’s thinking about Gigi”, Andaluz adds.

He also wanted to make sure he portrayed Gianna with a smile. “You always would see her smiling. I used an image of her with her father, smiling,” he says. It took Andaluz five days to finish the mural. One thing that he felt was important was to incorporate the names of the other victims of the fatal helicopter crash. To the left of Kobe, are the names of the other victims. Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan were added.

“I wish I could have added their faces too but I didn’t have much room on the mural and also they are not public figures,” he says. “I wanted to put their names there because their lives aren’t less than a celebrity’s life.

The amount of love and praise that he has received since the mural was completed can sometimes be overwhelming to take in,  but he gives all the credit to God. “Before I paint anything, I pray. I ask him to move my hands and my thoughts to do this correctly,” he says. 

Andaluz will eventually do a mural dedicated to every victim of the helicopter crash. The artist of Ecuadorian and Dominican descent has loved art since he was a child. He credits his success to being a result of his family’s support over his artistic abilities. His grandfather actually bought him his very first sketchbook as a child. He later made a promise to him that he would use art to make something of himself.

Andaluz loved every aspect of Kobe. His mamba mentality and his mentality of putting 120% into everything he did. He especially loved that Kobe was a family man, something that he prides himself in being. This experience has solidified what his Latino background has taught him. The value of family.

“It’s all about family. It’s all about staying together even through the toughest times,” he says. He plans on continuing to spread love through art. For now, he loves that people are stopping to appreciate his work of art. 

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