Hide and seek with an LI artist's work

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Andres Gallardo is in his Brentwood garage, which doubles as an art studio, putting finishing touches on four portraits of actor-rapper Donald Glover that he will give away in just a few hours.

He cuts out a stencil of Glover and spray-paints it onto an old vinyl album that he had picked up at a thrift shop. At 9 p.m., the portraits -- "gems," as he calls them -- are done, and the scavenger hunt for people to go out and find them is about to be on.

"Gem dropping time!" Gallardo posts on photos of the finished work to his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

THE THRILL OF THE HUNT

It's a freezing December evening when Gallardo, 25, heads out with his brother Adam to place the first artwork for the hide-and-seek adventure in a tree outside Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant at the Westfield Mall in Bay Shore. A photo clue goes up on @artofandres with just a snippet of the restaurant's sign in the background.

Within 5 minutes, his phone blows up with 50 responses.

Less than nine minutes later, the first "gem hunter" screeches to a stop by the tree, grabs the portrait and hugs Gallardo.

"It's fun getting here," says Kim Contrera, 19, of Brentwood. "It's this adrenaline rush."

Contrera has found four of Gallardo's "gems" over the past year by following the artist religiously on social media. She loves his work, she says, but also loves the chase.

Six more people show up within a minute or two and are disappointed they missed the gem. One was in the restaurant and ran outside with her toddler daughter without a coat. There will be more, Gallardo reassures them.

"See the woman in that Prius?" he says about a car pulling away. She's out here all the time looking for gems, he says.

At his studio, which he calls the Gem Factory as homage to Warhol's Art Factory, his work includes a striking, 5-foot-tall painting of Beyoncé and an even larger one of Kanye West's iconic pose in a red ski hat. Gallardo says he paints celebrity artists and activists who are committed to their own business, and "who have a work ethic."

"I recently did a Nelson Mandela," he says of one of his giveaways. "About 60 or 70 kids came out that night."

GIVING AWAY ART

It's 10:02 p.m. when the second drop gets hung on a fence at Touro College. It's maybe 9 minutes before the lady in the Prius pulls up.

"I got it!" yells Pia Sepulveda, 23, of Islip. She's been driving around, just waiting.

"He's amazing," Sepulveda says of Gallardo. "His work is so creative."

Since he started last January, Gallardo has given away almost 500 gems. He has 3,000 followers on various social media sites.

The idea came from a visit to Times Square, where he saw an artist creating quick paintings and selling them on the spot for $40. While Gallardo, who works as a valet manager for Oheka Castle in Huntington, sells some of his pieces for hundreds of dollars, an idea formed to gift art to people who most likely would never buy it.

"People say it was a marketing genius thing for me to do, but I never looked at it that way," he says. "My intent was to give away free stuff."

Much of his work is inspired by social issues. During last summer's Trayvon Martin rally in Manhattan, Gallardo spray-painted dozens of T-shirts and handed them out. When he ran out of paint, he started to pack up, but people at the rally ran to get more for him. A photo of his hand spray-painting the shirts made it into that week's Time magazine story on the rally.

"I love that art can be used for activism," he says.

LAST GEM DROP OF THE NIGHT

Gallardo makes one more trip to drop off his last two gems of the night.

This time, he's outside the Southside Hospital annex.

Again, it takes less than 10 minutes for two cars to come around the corner, almost at the same time. Jennifer Navarnjo, 26, of Bay Shore, gets the first choice and she goes for the Glover painting done on the vinyl record. Mario Mendez, 15, of Brentwood, scores the last Glover canvas painting.

It's past 10:30 now and Gallardo needs to head home to get ready for an art show he has the next day. But the time spent creating the giveaways and a few hours out in the cold hiding them have been worth it.

"I get so much enjoyment from it," Gallardo says, particularly the enthusiasm his work gets from the finders. "They really celebrate the art."


WHERE TO CHASE THE GEMS

Bay Shore artist Andres Gallardo posts clues to where his art giveaways can be found under his social media streams:

Twitter @artofandres

Facebook facebook.com/andres.gallardo.167?fref=ts

Instagram instagram.com/artofandres

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