Derek Tunia grew up in a rough neighborhood in Jersey City — it’s commonly known as Greenville, but residents call it “The Hill.” Like many others his age, that was a strike against him, as far too often, young people who live there don’t always succeed as adults.
There’s crime. There are drugs. There are temptations beyond what anyone who doesn’t live there could ever imagine.
But for Tunia, life on the mean streets of The Hill were instead a motivating factor to succeed — and not to succumb to a life that could have been filled with the aforementioned.
He says he knew he had a talent for art — painting especially — and even though his high school alma mater, St. Anthony High School in Downtown Jersey City, didn’t have a formal art program when he was a student there between 1997 and 2001, he developed his skills on his own, at first designing clothes for an urban audience.
But then something clicked — and he decided to turn his attention solely to painting.
And now, the aspiring artist, who spent 10 years of his life as a clerk in a law firm’s mail room, has his first-ever solo art show Saturday, May 21, from 6 to 11 p.m. at Kearny Point, 78 John Miller Way, in South Kearny. He’s done shows before with other artists, so in no way is he a novice — but for the first time, it’s just his work … and no one else’s.
“I’ve titled the show ‘Mixed Feelings,’ ” Tunia said. “In it, you’ll find some of my work that explores the positive, the negative — things I like and things I don’t like.”
He says it’s been a long road to get to where he is now. It started slowly when he was a teenager — and has progressed to where he is now, 15 years after getting his high school diploma.
“In high school, I always doodled, but never thought much of it,” he said. “After high school, though, I wanted something different for my life. I started out designing clothes for me, my friends — and I was taking a lot of orders. But it eventually slowed down. When that happened, I needed something different again. For the last two years, it’s been at the canvas.”
And at the canvas, he’s seen some great success.
He’s sold numerous paintings, including some for at least $1,000 each — one even sold for $1,500. So he ultimately decided on Nov. 3, 2015, to give up his 10-year career in the mail room. He was going to make a go of it — dedicate 100% of his professional life to painting.
So far, despite a not-so-strong economy and all the struggles that often go with being a young and aspiring artist, it’s paid off.
“I love being creative. I have a big imagination, which is important in painting,” Tunia said. “Since that day last November, I have not looked back. It was surreal to me that I sold a canvas for $1,500. I thought to myself, ‘Where did all of this come from?’ I knew I had the talent, but really?”
Tunia says he knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life sorting and delivering mail to lawyers and others employees at the law office. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy his work at the law office either — he really did — but he wanted more.
“When I’m at the canvas, I try to take it all in,” he said.
Over the last two years, Tunia estimates he’s created 15 to 20 pieces. His largest was 5-feet high by 4-feet long. He hopes showing off his work in Kearny will be a way to influence people who might not necessarily care for art.
“I really hope to turn people into fans of art and turn them on to my work,” he said.
His favorite piece
Tunia says his favorite piece is about a successful guy who had a lot of people in his life he called “friends.” But in reality, the guy didn’t have many friends at all, because people would often smile at him, face to face, but in general, all they ever really did was bring him down.
He says that’s something he, as an artist, faces quite often.
“I still see it myself, with so-called friends,” he said. “It really applies to a lot of people in this world though. There have been plenty of people who showed some interest in my art, but when push came to shove, they didn’t show up for the shows I’ve been in.”
But he’s certain some of his friends will come to this show — his first one all by himself.
He gives a ton of credit to his business manager, Will Baisden, also of Jersey City, and also an alum of St. Anthony HS, for pushing him.
“Will’s a lot more organized than I am,” Tunia said. “He’s excellent with time management — I’m not.”
Yet for five hours at Kearny Point on May 21, Tunia will be there, showing his work to what he hopes is a large crowd. If you’re a local artist, he wants you there. If you have a slight interest in art, he wants you there, too. And even if you have no interest in art, but might have some kind of artistic talent, that’s the type of person he really wants at the show.
“Maybe I can open the eyes of someone who has artistic talent but just doesn’t know it yet,” he said. “There will be plenty there for people of all ages and ability to see. I really hope to see a lot of people out at the show.”
Aside from the art you see in the photos included with this story, Tunia has a lot of his work online on Instagram. Check it all out in two locations: www.Instagram.com/mrdt201 and www.Instagam.com/dtuniaartportfolio. The art portfolio is where you’ll find most of the paintings he’ll display at the show.
If you go …
What: ‘Mixed Feelings’ art show with Derek Tunia
When: 6 to 11 p.m., Saturday, May 21
Where: Kearny Point, 78 John Miller Way, South Kearny
Cost: Free with music and refreshments
More details: www.Instagram.com/dtuniaartportfolio and /mrdt201.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.