Dean ‘Ras’ Innocenzi works frequently in black and white. Here he is pictured with a mural tribute to the late skateboarder Brendan Wilkie.

The Jersey Fresh Jam — the New Jersey celebration of hip hop art and music — returns to Trenton in a modified safety-conscious event.

This year a smaller number of masked street artists from around the state and beyond will gather to paint the walls at the headquarters of the internationally known maker of recycled materials and Jam partner, TerraCycle.

The point is to bring street artists and the public together to share street art and music and build an engaged community, says Leon Rainbow, coordinator for the event celebrating its 15th year.

Also returning is artist Dean Innocenzi, an active street artist who uses the tag name “Ras” — “I wanted to come up with a three-letter name . . . With influence from reggae and Rasta music/culture, I tried the word RAS and liked how the letters flowed together and stuck with it.”

Innocenzi credits the Jam and its founder for his status as a noted member of the region’s crew of street artists.

“I just started working at TerraCycle,” says Innocenzi about his first experience with the event in 2007.

He had recently been hired as a TerraCycle graphic artist and a videographer. “I was there as the video guy. I designed the flyer for work and met Leon,” Innocenzi says.

He says he saw dozens of artists descend on the complex and begin painting and “was blown away. I didn’t know there was an art scene this close and wanted to be part of it. I was always into art and art classes. When I saw this, I got into graffiti right away.”

That included “painting illegally for a while to get my skills up so I could paint (at the Jam) at TerraCycle.

But after he and a fellow painter “got in trouble” with the law and despite the adrenaline rush he got from painting illegally, he chose to get serious and approached street the more accomplished artists Mek, Leon Rainbow, and Will Kasso Condry.

“I got better,” he says.

Innocenzi’s mural of Mel Leipzig on the walls of TerraCycle.

Innocenzi is a graduate of Hopewell Valley Regional High School, where he took art before studying with Mel Leipzig at Mercer County Community College and getting a degree in graphic design from The College of New Jersey. “I already had an art background, so I was able to progress quickly. I really painted nonstop and put in that 10,000 hours they say you need to put into something before you can master it,” Innocenzi says.

“Then the next year I painted at the jam. And by 2009 I was in the Vicious Stylez Crew,” the group of artists that provides the artistic soul for the Jersey Jam.

“It was kind of crazy,” Innocenzi says. “I surpassed where I thought I was going to be” at that time. “I met these guys by getting a job and got psyched on it. I was also lucky they took me under their wing. I was lucky.”

He says another connection was skateboarding, where he began making skateboard videos and met Mek.

“I knew someone who worked at TerraCycle, and they wanted someone who could do graphics and who could make videos.

“I was always into art,” he says. “But when I picked up a spray can, it was like an activity, a sport —where I had to move around. It was the physical activity that made painting more fun. I started progressing fast.”

Innocenzi says that unlike painting on a canvas, “You can do a lot on the wall, especially with spray paint. On a wall you can paint anything.”

Now noted for his photographic-like aerosol images — ranging from celebrities like Marilyn Monroe to local figures such artist Leipzig — Innocenzi says, “When I got into the realistic kind of portraits I felt like I had my own thing going. It is not that common in graffiti. It is like what I did when I was a kid. I tried to draw skateboarders and Rocky Balboa — realistic.”

He recently finished two black-and-white photo-like murals for the Trenton Downtown Association’s New Jersey State Council on the Arts-funded public art project. “Every time I finish something, I feel like I want to improve,” Innocenzi says.

That includes his arts expression. “I stepped away from stuff that looks cool for some personal things to give back to the community or be a memorial. Lately I have been painting a lot of people who have passed away.”

A tribute to Richie Cole on Front Street.

He then names his mother and the two TDA murals honoring New Jersey skateboarder Brendan Wilkie and the internationally known Trenton jazz saxophonist Richie Cole.

“It gets emotional,” he says. “But I’m trying to use my skills to create an emotion. I’m painting things that have meaning and evoke emotional responses in people —move them or have them relate to something. ”

He is also working to create something that exists on its own. “The moment I’m done, the art and I are no longer connected. The art takes on a life of its own. I step away, and people come and see it.”

Although he grew up in Hopewell, Innocenzi says he was born in 1983 at Helene Fuld Hospital in Trenton, a few blocks from TerraCycle and near where he lives in Lawrenceville.

He says his father was a teacher turned lawyer, and his mother was a teacher’s aide at a Montessori school.

Both had attended Ewing High School, where his father played trumpet in the school band and got to know fellow band member Richie Cole. Innocenzi says his dad would take him to hear Cole perform and even visited him at his home. “(Project coordinator Leon Rainbow) specifically asked for me to do Richie Cole. It felt good to get to honor him,” Innocenzi says.

Innocenzi says while his father “did write some songs, he wasn’t so much of a musician. He’s not an artist. But he randomly did some art that was cool. He had an ability I got from him. My mother was kind of similar — artistic. Both my parents had some art abilities.”

He says the difference was that he committed to it. “It is all practice,” says Innocenzi. “I have some ability. If I had not put in so much time practicing I wouldn’t be as good as I am.”

About his process, Innocenzi says, “It depends on what it is. For murals you’re going to have a method to get the proportions right. You can use the bricks on the wall to create a grid. Like on a canvas, grid things out. We all have methods. Leon uses a projector.”

A close-up on canvas of Michelangelo’s ‘David.’

“I simply glance at an image on a cellphone or on a piece of paper for reference,” he says about creating the image. “I look for details. I am trying to pay attention to everything I can. I may use some artistic freedom. But if you’re trying to paint something realistically, it’s looking at the reference and not missing any tones.

“You have to think about not only layering the color but the structure of the face and have to understand what you’re doing — feel and create an image like a 3-D rendering. It is all paying attention to detail and not being lazy.”

He says he likes doing black and white photos images because “I just like how it looks. I wish I had a deeper answer. The gray looks more real to me. I have done some stuff in color. But with the gray you have the perfect range of values — you can get the blend so perfect.”

But that depends on the weather or time of day.

“Humidity can make paint come out funny,” he says. “When it is hot, the paint comes out faster and it is hard to blend. The winter starts to get weird when it gets cold. When it’s under 40 degrees, the paint runs out differently. Spring and fall are the best. When I was painting the Wilkie wall downtown, by four o’clock the sun was making weird shadows where I couldn’t see what I was doing.”

Innocenzi painted a tribute to his late mother.

Combine those problems with unusual wall textures, Innocenzi says the various or combined conditions “can be fun. When you’re painting out in the wild you have to be a problem solver.”

He then touches on the impermanence of an art work that will be covered over or removed, “Sometimes it is hard to see certain pieces that I liked get gone over. But I think graffiti is unique, because of how it mimics nature in the way everything is always changing and nothing lasts forever.”

Looking forward to the jam, Innocenzi says his next image features “this guy — a street person — who helps out and carries stuff for us. We call him Dollar Bills. I am going to paint him. I think he’ll be psyched up about it.”

Then he looks at the event and his involvement, “Leon and Kasso got it going. If they didn’t, I would still be making skate videos. The whole movement grew so much. And Leon pushes it. He’s like a machine. I give him tons of respect. I think people in the arts owe a lot to Leon.”

Jersey Fresh Jam, TerraCycle, 121 New York Avenue, Trenton. September 12, noon to 7 p.m. (Rain date, Sunday, September 13). Free. For more information, go to

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