Q & A: Rafael Colon on Metropolitan Opera Painted Jackets & Violins

By Francisco Salazar

Did you know the Metropolitan sells jean jackets inspired by some of its productions? Did you know that it also sells painted violins with unique designs?

For three years the company has now been selling Rafael Colon’s unique designs which include the aforementioned jean jackets and violins.

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, NYC, Colon is a former Marine and artist who is inspired by History, Art, and his travels. He creates art pieces that are visually impactful, innovative, and imaginative and this year released a “Medea” inspired jacket that Sondra Radvanovsky endorsed on social media.

OperaWire had a chance to speak with the artist about his jackets, his process, and what it means to have his art sold by the Metropolitan Opera.

OperaWire: Tell me a little about your background and how you started working in this type of art.

Rafael Colon: I am a self-taught artist. I did not go to an art school or any art programs. I read books as well as visited museums in NYC on renaissance masters and Japanese woodblock print teachers. I began to appropriate their style of painting. I started taking art seriously late in my life. I was 39 when my daughter gave me the initiative to draw and paint. That hobby turned serious at age 43 when I started with skateboard art. I’m now 49.

OW: When did you start working with the Lincoln Center theaters?

RC: I started with Lincoln center in 2019. My fitness training client (I’m also a fitness trainer), is Lenore Grossman. In 2019 I had a masterclass on art history at a skateboards art show and had too many skateboards. I wanted to break it up with another medium. I saw a violinist on tv and decided to buy student violins online. I made 4 violin art pieces for the show and they were the first pieces to sell. I made 4 more and Mrs.Grossman walked into the met opera shop and spoke to the buyer who happened to be in the shop. She showed photos of the art and the buyer liked them, showed them to the managers and they decided to test them for a season. They sold in the first month. They then asked to create opera-based violins. They kept selling so from a season its now been 3 years.

OW: Were you a classical music lover as a child? How did opera and classical music come into your life? Do you watch a lot of opera?

RC: I grew up in South Bronx. There was no classical music or opera in my life at all. I started listening to opera and classical music when I started working on art for the Metropolitan Opera. That was when my education in that genre of music began. I now watch A LOT of opera to get ideas for the artwork I paint.

OW: Tell me about your process when designing one of your violins, skateboards, or jackets. How long does it take? How many do you paint?

RC: The hardest part of the art process is the concept. What will I paint on this violin that I would like, others would like to look at and eventually purchase and that would look cool. The pieces each are already unique and one of a kind, that’s already an allure to them. Now the visuals have to be of interest. I will watch the opera in different forms, from different countries, posters, and finally the grand Met Opera productions and start incorporating all that together. The pieces usually take one to two weeks depending on my speed. I usually only do one piece of each.

The violins I have made multiples of one opera due to its popularity. I make them all slightly different to keep the uniqueness. Just like a collectible. The jean jackets just started this April 2022. I have made multiple of certain operas already. This fall is the official season for the jean jackets. They were just a test that now became a new product.

OW: With this “Medea” Jacket, besides the Met’s artwork, what inspired you? Were you able to see any of the production elements?

RC: For “Medea,” the mythology of what the opera is about was the first lure. I love that opera uses a lot of mythology. Then it was the photos of Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea and then it was Sondra herself. She was so kind and friendly for a superstar and her voice is so powerful that I was sold! I WANTED to do “Medea” at any cost.

OW: What does it feel like to have your jackets and violins sold at the Met?

RC: My art selling at the Metropolitan Opera feels like I have been given a rare platform to a world that has history and countless fans. I feel beyond honored, super lucky and constantly inspired by everyone at the opera. From the security guards to the shopworkers to the orchestra players. They inspire me. That’s why I try with my best ability to make the best items I can. Every sale helps in keeping the Met Opera alive and I’m so glad to be a part of that. We are all a team and I’m lucky to be part of it.

OW: What was it like to meet Sondra Radvanovsky and what was her reaction to the jacket?

RC: Sondra Radvanovsky actually surprised me at the shop. I knew she was in rehearsal and would be picking up her jacket but did not know it was at the same time I was dropping it off. She loved the jacket and was so animated and started showing it off. She’s a real ham and funny. Meeting her was like seeing a friend. She hugged and kissed me like we were old friends. She is a true star and humble.

OW: What are some of the next designs you hope to do?

RC: The next designs depend on what’s the next opera. The Met will give a small list of what I would like to do and I pick a few. They give me complete artistic freedom also which is a godsend. I believe the next pieces will be “Aida,” “Rigoletto,” and possibly “Tosca.” I try to contact all the main actors and singers and ask for their permission to paint their faces which I started doing this year with the jackets. Now it’s a prerequisite for me. I believe that word got around that I paint their faces on items and I get quick replies.

OW: What do you hope people take away from each of your unique designs?

RC: What I hope they take away with my pieces is that they are getting a piece of history. That their item helps keep the Met Opera and opera in general alive. That each unique piece brings them joy and makes them remember a great time in their life, a great opera, and a great institution. Let’s hope that each piece as I become known in this art world will also be valuable. Like a rare baseball card. And the violins are playable so the music stays alive too.


Behind the ScenesInterviews