New York is a city of art; artists of so many different backgrounds, styles, and motives come out to the city. I’ve often wondered whether it’s the existing network in the city of artists or it’s the city itself that leads to new artists arriving here. Both are probably the case, but there is something about New York that undeniably inspires many people. One New York City artist that I’ve recently spoken with is Santiago Villegas, who has created a collection of pieces called Lost in the City. His work is something that speaks to his experience in New York and I think that a lot of New Yorkers can also identify with.
Lost in the City is a collection of art in the form of stickers, prints, and more that features a character who is a rat…and also is lost in the city. Santiago started developing pieces featuring this character late last year after deciding to take a break from his job in order to focus on his artwork. He’s almost completely self-taught and he said that this collection narrates his experiences in the city. Why did he choose to feature a rat? He says that the rat is an animal that is often associated with New York City, but it is also an animal he can see himself as—a little misunderstood, however very curious and eager to explore its surroundings.
Santiago moved to the city about two years ago from Colombia, and like many somewhat recent transplants, found that while the city is beautiful in its own right, there was a certain set of challenges. As he reflected on his experiences of living in New York, he decided that capturing these experiences through a series of drawings would be an interesting project. Over the course of several months, he drew the rat in a variety of settings such as at a subway station or at the New York Public Library in Bryant Park. He also drew the rat having classic New York experiences, such as enjoying a hotdog or taking a dip in a blue paper cup of coffee.
The rat, according to Santiago, was designed to be a point of view character for anyone looking at his work. It doesn’t have a name, gender, or any other specific identity or characteristic, and he says that the intention was for anyone and everyone to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the character. For me, I think that is the appeal of his work. I love the style of his drawings, but as someone who moved to the city barely as an adult six years ago, I can see myself in the rat. My personal favorite in this collection is one where the rat is stuck in the hole of the bagel, kind of enjoying itself but also kind of confused as to what to do. I had never had a good bagel until coming here (I grew up in the Midwest) and I did feel very excited but also very lost back then. So this is an image that is both relatable and somewhat nostalgic for me.
The last question I got to ask Santiago when we spoke was “What does New York mean to you?” He replied that New York is a bit lonely yet adventurous, melancholic but full of wonder. The magic of Lost in the City is that the artist himself puts himself into the art, so it’s full of emotions and memories. And still, he leaves enough room for everyone else to see themselves in it as well.
Check out Lost in the City at @lostinthecity_ny
Shop Lost in the City prints, stickers, and more here