Rejoy Armamento is a freelance illustrator by trade and educated as a graphic designer, but the murals she’s painted are perhaps her most vibrant, recognizable and accessible work.
Armamento’s pieces often celebrate women and diversity, sometimes on part of a wall inside a local business and sometimes outdoors across the entire side of a building. Some of her recent work focuses on women of color who work as food vendors in Anchorage.
Armamento says it is a melding of art and design that’s given her a voice, and with murals, that voice is heard in a more public space.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rejoy Armamento: I don’t know, there’s just something about, like, seeing someone’s marking on public landscape, you know, just seeing someone’s energy. What was their relationship with the space? What was their relationship with the people in that neighborhood or something. And so, I don’t know, it’s just one of these things that I would always kind of think about.
After I went to school, I was like: You know what? I really want to travel. And every place that I went to, wherever I traveled, there was always something consistent for me, and it was murals, it was the street art that I would see. And I remember just always running into, like, maybe hidden street art, you know, in an alley or something. And it was always just such a treasure hunt. It was like a gem to see.
So I moved up here, of course, it’s like a very similar story to everyone else’s, you know, I was only supposed to stay here for a summer. And, you know, you end up sticking around longer. So I’ve been here for six years now. And it’s crazy to say that Alaska is the place that had everything that I needed to make murals.
Casey Grove: I wanted to ask you too about how that happens. I mean, do you approach people with a big wall that you might want to paint and ask them about it? Or do you they come to you? Maybe it works both ways?
Rejoy Armamento: Yeah, exactly, it goes both ways. I would say in the beginning, you know, I would ask people who might know people that might want a mural.
I remember, one of the first things that I did here, it wasn’t necessarily a mural, actually. It was just a series of lettering. Like I painted some letters on the outside of Uncle Leroy’s coffee shop. I painted their storefront. I painted all the windows. And that was my first time really working with a client that wasn’t an editorial piece. It wasn’t a T-shirt, you know, what I used to be doing. It was my first time creating a piece in public, like somewhere where everyone can see it.
And then I think a friend helped me out to get one of my first big murals, which is the Hunter S. Thompson piece for this dispensary downtown. And I think from there, you know, it’s a small town and it became kind of word of mouth after that, you know?
Casey Grove: So I saw this press release from the Anchorage Museum about work that you were doing. It mentioned that the idea was honoring working women’s labor with street art. And I wondered if you could tell me about that.
Rejoy Armamento: So I went on a trip to South America. I did a backpacking trip there for like five months. And I was definitely inspired by a lot of the art there, of course, tons of street art. But I was definitely very inspired by a lot of the street vendors, you know, and it’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling somewhere. I love eating street food. I love checking out outdoor markets.
So my family’s from the Philippines. And whenever I go visit them, they would take me to these outdoor markets and everything. And so I already had this like desire to create a series centered around markets and outdoor street vendors.
And so when I got back to Alaska from that trip, I got this really cool opportunity to do a residency with the museum. And so I was like, you know, I’m gonna explore this idea, but I want to make it local. I want to explore the food vendors here.
And then another part of that too, a lot of my work, you look at most of my pieces, they’re all female portraits. I definitely love to celebrate women, women’s voices, women’s bodies. For this piece, I definitely wanted to specifically highlight women of color who worked in the street food business.
And, you know, it was like kind of part journalism too, just understanding their stories, learning where they’ve come from, what inspired them to do what they do, to create the food they do or to sell the food. And so it was really fun to, again, get the different pieces, the elements, the patterns that you would hear in their story and create visuals that represent their stories.