June 4, 2019

Have you heard the latest BuZzz? Artist Kingbee Bee-utifies UNHP Buildings


Honeycomb mural at 45 West Tremont Avenue by artist Royal KingBee

UNHP teamed up with noted street artist The Royal Kingbee to beautify two of UNHP’s affordable housing buildings. 1982 University Avenue and 45-67 West Tremont Avenue, once abandoned and vacant, were reclaimed and renovated using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) in 1990 and 1993. These apartment buildings provide affordable rental homes to 71 low-income families. UNHP works with our management partner, Dougert Management to ensure that the properties are well maintained and upgraded as needed. Fifteen years after the initial gut renovation, the buildings were improved with significant energy efficiency upgrades including new boilers, windows and roofs. Both buildings were a target for unwanted graffiti. UNHP sought out and engaged the renowned Bronx Artist KingBee to create murals for the properties in his iconic Bee-utiful style. Community residents, partners, press and KingBee ( of course) are invited to a ceremonial “unveiling” on June 19th at 1 pm at the West Tremont Avenue mural.

The wall on the corner of West Tremont and Kingsland Plaza (before and after)

From bad to beautiful – the wall at 1982 University Avenue

A few UNHP staff members, including Director of Finance, Johanna C. Kletter, a long-time KingBee fan, sat down with The Royal KingBee to discuss his work and career. Photographer Dana Ullman, another artist that UNHP has been lucky to work with, captured the colorful honeycomb mural at West Tremont and KingBee himself.

“B is for Bennett and there’s no such thing as a king bee. Your tag has to be short or you get caught.”

The Royal KingBee with just a few of his trademark bees

His parents named him Alfredo Bennett but he is better known on the streets of the Bronx as the artist KingBee aka The Royal Kingbee UW LAW ( Urban Warriors Logos and Walls). Alfredo grew up in the Bronx with his four siblings and as a child, he expressed an interested in drawing. He started tagging while he was in JFK High School and many of his childhood friends remain in his UW crew today. Alfredo attended NYC Technical School for commercial advertising and gained skills that he uses today as a street artist. As for the Royal KingBee name, Alfredo explained that “B is for Bennett and there’s no such thing as a king bee. Your tag has to be short or you get caught.” Over time his trademark image of the bee has become more artistically complex and KingBee has learned more about bees and their endangerment; “there are more bees to discover and bees come in a lot of colors – that made me so happy.” He developed the #savetheswarm hashtag in response to the environmental threats that bees face in the US and around the world.

Alfredo Bennett, AKA The Royal Kingbee, having some fun in front of the honeycomb mural he created for UNHP.

Alfredo got his start professionally with the garages and mechanics on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. As mechanics moved to other spots or opened their own garages his business grew.

At first “I would do whatever the owner wanted – they’d say draw a tire or refrigerator for my sign, but as I started getting better I would make suggestions and the business owners liked my ideas. That’s how I started to get more creative control. It took me about 5 years to get good at what I was doing”

The Royal Kingbee got his start by creating advertising signage for the garages and auto parts stores on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.

In the beginning, KingBee got paid enough to buy paint and do the next job. Growing up he hid his graffiti from his strict immigrant parents. That changed once he got jobs with Rite Aid and other brand name businesses. His parents became less concerned about his finances. His Dad, who is deceased now, was happy Alfredo was making money but would worry about his son’s safety. His Mom has become proud of his work and appreciates her son’s work for its originality, vibrant colors, and beauty.

Some of the murals Royal KingBee created for Rite Aid in the Bronx.

The Royal Kingbee has a large body of work in the Bronx, including a collaboration piece on gentrification with the artist known Tito Na Rua, or “Tito on the Street,”. Alfredo Serrano AKA Tito and KingBee knew and worked with each other in the Bronx when they were kids. In 2015, Tito felt compelled to address the issue of gentrification in art. Tito and Kingbee teamed up to create a comic-book style mural that illustrates the threat of gentrification to the Bronx neighborhoods where they grew up. The mural received much praise including an article in the NYTimes and The Gothamist.

Artist and childhood friend, known as Tito Na Rua, asked Kingbee to collaborate with him on this comic-book style mural which denounces the frivolity with which Bronx gentrification is discussed in the media. Rising rents are depicted as a pesticide that can kill the bees until Royal KingBee rides into #Savetheswarm. Current Bronx residents are feeling the pressures of rising rents and stagnant incomes. Stories about gentrification and new housing plans only fuel the existing housing insecurity in the borough. #ViewsNWBX

RiteAid had problems with graffiti and tagging on their stores. The manager, impressed with his artistic skills, asked KingBee to do a mural on his store. The mural looked great and stayed looking great – other Rite Aid stores followed suit and engaged KingBee to do wellness murals on their stores.

KingBee dreams of nice smooth walls, but he’ll work wherever the job takes him. His brother and manager, Guillermo, takes care of the business end and KingBee enjoys painting freely with creative control, mostly on walls, but on canvases as well when things are slow. His dream – doing something big- perhaps in collaboration with Tats Cru – maybe at the Bronx Zoo or the NY Botanical Gardens. Why not? Royal KingBee, like the Bronx Zoo and Botanicals, is a Bronx institution too!

On left is a picture of the mural on 45 West Tremont Avenue, an affordable housing project once vacant and now home to low-income families. At right, Brendan Mitchell, UNHP Asset Manager, Jose Lainez, the superintendent of the building and artist Royal KingBee. UNHP works to preserve the affordability of properties like these and to ensure that the building provides safe, decent housing for Bronx residents. Jose maintains the building and the mural signals to all that the tenants, and staff take pride in their home.

Superintendent Jose Lainez lives in 45 West Tremont Avenue with his wife and toddler daughter, “KingBee’s mural represents our neighborhood, makes us proud to have a local artist transform the least desirable places in our neighborhood into art. Thanks King.”

KingBee and his work continue to draw well-deserved attention; In May, he was featured on Bronx News 12 for his recent work at our two buildings as well as an oasis mural at 1750 Grand Concourse, sponsored by the community and Bronx Care Health System.

UNHP will be “unveiling” his colorful honeycomb mural and hosting a Community Resource Fair at 45 West Tremont Avenue on June 19th. The event, Reclaiming our Neighborhoods thru Housing, Art and Service, highlights the spectacular KingBee mural, UNHP’s commitment to create and preserve affordable housing for Bronx residents and our work to bring resources to the community. The unveiling starts at 1 pm and the Community Resource Fair with free housing and financial resources for tenants, senior citizens and homeowners is from 2 pm until 6 pm. UNHP and our partners, Legal Aid, NYC Department of Finance, POTS, Chase, Capital One, Amalgamated Bank, Ariva Ready to Rent, Human Rights Commission will be available to offer a range of services and information. Reclaiming our Neighborhoods thru Housing, Art and Service is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Royal KingBee’s work is scattered throughout the Bronx. Just look for the iconic trademark Bee and you’ll find it!