January 24, 2019

New Murals in Los Angeles: 'Shared Roots (Unity Threatens Inequity)'

These are my most recent murals for the City of Los Angeles, produced with the support of Art Share L.A. and Meta Housing on the exterior of an affordable housing project in South Central LA, just below the DTLA Fashion District.

The initial inspiration for the agricultural theme of these murals came from a neighboring community farm run by the All Peoples Community CenterRoots For Peace and the American Friends Service Committee.
Farming or gardening imagery can carry an extra significance in this context considering how much of South Central Los Angeles (like many low-income urban areas) lacks easy access to healthy fresh food.
The figure on the left was modeled by Rigoberto Jimenez Oropeza, and the figure on the right was modeled by Ron Finley. Both are Los Angeles residents and both grow food from the soil.
Rigo began his workers' rights activism long ago with the United Farm Workers after being hospitalized for exposure to pesticides while working in California orange fields. Now in his eighties, he is still stubbornly working the land when not helping out with his son's art gallery.
Ron has become a prominent and inspiring community leader and advocate for social justice, food justice, and urban farming. He has also been a friend ever since Retna and I met him and his two sons while painting a mural in his South Central neighborhood over a decade ago. I'm grateful for my friendship with Ron and his sons, Kohshin and Delfin, who are both extremely talented young artists, and it's been an inspiration to witness their development over the years.

The choice of subjects came about partly in response to our current national (if not global) social and political climate, as well as a more local history of poverty and black-brown conflict in South Central Los Angeles. In these confusing times of demagoguery, racist scapegoating and social division, as wealth has been increasingly redistributed upward while the working poor are further disenfranchised, and organized labor has been largely weakened after decades of assault, I feel even more urgency to create conscientious and relatable public art that elevates common working people and promotes ideals of compassion, unity, equity, and interracial solidarity.
I would like to think of these murals as contributing to a proud tradition of humanism and social realist art that promotes the importance and dignity of all ordinary working people.

This project ended up taking a great deal more time than anticipated, with many late nights working into morning, but I enjoyed the process and am proud of the results. Though at a glance these murals may appear simple and straightforward, a tremendous amount of thought and care went into them. As usual for me, painting these walls was a meditative and devotional labor of love.

Many thanks to Cheyanne, Liz, and Art Share L.A. + Chris, Frannie, and Meta Housing for making these murals possible, thanks to Ron and Rigo for modeling, thanks to Eric Heights for all his help and late night grilling skills, Josh Rhodes for the gifts, and thanks to everyone else who supported in one way or another.
(1st photo courtesy of Tim Jentsch, 3rd + 4th photos by Eric Heights)

July 27, 2018

New mural on the US/México border: 'Abuelita of Presidio (Desert Rose)'

This is a recent mural I painted on the US-Mexico border, commissioned by the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE). It is on a roughly ten-story high water tank in the remote border community of Presidio, Texas, facing its southern neighbor Ojinaga, Chihuahua.
Along with two other excellent articles about this project, from John MacCormack for the San Antonio Express-News + Bayla Metzger for Marfa Public Radio, this article written by Sasha von Oldershausen for the Texas Observer describes the project much better than I could:

In Presidio, a New Public Art Project Crosses Borders
The new mural is a small binational gesture reminding those who reside in the margins that they are not forgotten.
On the northern outskirts of Presidio, a series of modest dirt hills offers a view of the small border town delineated by the meandering Rio Grande. Just beyond, the Mexican sister city of Ojinaga — many times bigger than the Texas town — sprawls along the foothills of the Sierrita de Santa Cruz. 
On one side of these crumbling hills is a gridwork of housing for Border Patrol officers, surrounded by chain-link fencing and topped with barbed wire. On the other side of the hills is the city’s water tower, a lone white tank that juts above an otherwise unassuming and dusty landscape. It is the only apparent landmark in a town whose inhabitants have figured out ways to fit their lives discreetly into the rugged desert landscape. 
A month ago, a face began to appear on the water tank. She emerged over the course of two weeks: a Latina woman, clutching the stem of a red rose in her thick hands. Her brow and cheeks are lined with age. Her gaze, deep but benevolent, looks out beyond the Rio Grande into Mexico. 
The sudden appearance of this face felt out of sync with the pace of the town, where not much changes fast. The change was monumental enough to warrant a field trip by Presidio’s elementary school. Each day for a week, teachers paraded their students up the hill to see the face and asked them, “¿Qué piensa? What do you think?”
The mural is a gift from Mexico to the site of its smallest consulate. Amid the hyper-politicized rhetoric that surrounds the border, it was a small binational gesture reminding those who reside in the margins that they are not forgotten.
The Mexican government commissioned Los Angeles muralist Miles Mac, known as “El Mac,” whose work has appeared in the border cities of Juárez and El Paso, as well as myriad other places across the globe, from New York City to Agdz, Morocco. 
El Mac had never worked on a federally sponsored project, and if he had concerns about it feeling propagandist, those fears were immediately assuaged. “It was the kind of project I would do for myself anyway,” said El Mac, who often paints with an implicit social message in mind. “No part of it ever felt uncomfortable to me and I think it was clear that everyone behind it had good intentions. This is a general gesture of goodwill.”
He added, “I think they were making a point that even the smallest and most remote town is still important and still considered, still relevant.”  
El Mac’s large-scale murals — composed of circles and lines that register as realist portraits from a distance — often feature everyday people. In El Paso and Juárez, he painted the faces of those who had lost family members to violence. “I paint regular people, normal people, and that’s something that I’ve been doing for a long time,” El Mac said.“The work isn’t super explicit. I’m not painting works with the intention of hitting people over the head with some ideology.”
Some residents recognized the face on the water tower as that of Linda Lujan, a 62-year-old Presidio resident who owns and operates a small secondhand shop just a stone’s throw from the International Port of Entry. Originally from Mexico, she emigrated to the United States more than 30 years ago to work and put her children through college. In many ways, her face was meant to be more broadly representative of the average person who resides in this border region. “It’s definitely based on her,” El Mac said, “but it’s a composite.”
Others have come up with their own interpretations of the image. “I see my wife’s mother, I see one of my aunts, I see one of my old teachers,” said city administrator Joe Portillo. “More than anything, I see a mother. They are the glue and they are the love.”
“It’s a beauty kind of like the desert itself,” said the town’s mayor, John Ferguson. “This shows somebody who probably worked hard her whole life, had kids, raised a family.”
El Mac spent two weeks in Presidio, interviewing and photographing possible subjects. He might have chosen a more politicized subject, and for a moment he considered painting two female relatives of Esequiel Hernández Jr., the 18-year-old who was mistakenly gunned down in 1997 by Marines stationed near the border as part of a drug reconnaissance mission. Ultimately, he chose Lujan, whose warmth offered relief from the caustic desert. “She had these warm cheeks,” he said. “She looked like she’s used to smiling.”
El Mac would experience the kind of kindness Lujan seemed to represent throughout his stay in Presidio. On days he spent painting for 10 or 12 hours at a time, perched some 100 feet off the ground in a mechanical lift that quaked against the howling spring winds, staff from Don Jose Panaderia, the local bakery, delivered pumpkin empanadas in a basket rigged with a pulley system. “That mural was fueled by those pumpkin empanadas,” he said. 
The face on the water tank is visible from both sides of the border, a reminder of what many in the town already know to be self-evident: that Presidio is inextricably tied to its Mexican neighbor, and that its well-being is rooted in their mutual goodwill."

Many thanks to the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) and Mónica Cortina Mariscal for making this project happen, and many additional thanks to Guido Mascherpa, Eduardo Romero, and Eric Heights for all the assistance and good times. They helped rig a protective structure for the lift basket out of cardboard, duct tape, pvc pipes and canvas--a small Mexi/Italo/Salvi/US engineering project that was crucial in helping to block the constant strong winds there and ultimately made the painting possible (it also included a pulley system that allowed burritos and empanadas to be hoisted up to me during my long, sometimes 14-hour painting shifts). Extra thanks and shout-outs to the Mexican consulate in Presidio, Mariana Da Silva, Austin Saya & their teamDon Jose Panaderia, the Bean Cafe, Oasis Restaurant, Three Palms Inn, Enrique Madrid & the family of Esequiel Hernandez Jr., Brad Newton, Terry Bishop, John Ferguson, Trisha Runyan, Linda Luján, and to everyone else in Presidio who showed support or kindness. Presidio/Ojinaga, in all its remoteness and smallness, felt important, familiar and alive--I'm grateful for my experience there, and the opportunity to share my art with its people.

July 17, 2018

New mural in Belgium: 'Mural for My Father'

'Mural for My Father' is the title of my most recent mural in Europe, commissioned by the City of Antwerp for Antwerpen Barok 2018, and the Baroque Murals project curated by Yvon Tordoir, part of Antwerp’s yearlong celebration of Baroque art and culture. This piece is an interpretation of a depiction of Saint Joseph from the mid-1600s by Flemish painter Michaelina Wautier (this painting is currently on display in an exhibition of her work at the MAS museum in Antwerp).

Belgium is a special piece for me for a number of reasons. The first time I came to Belgium was in 2003 to participate in a group show titled Young Primitives with the nearby Groeningemuseum in Brugge, where a handful of other aerosol/graffiti artists and myself painted pieces around the old city that were inspired by the museum’s collection of work by Flemish Primitive painters. This was a hugely impactful project for me and made me fall in love with Belgium, so I was excited to return to Flanders for another project with a similar theme. This is also a continuation of my finding inspiration in the work of often underrepresented women painters of the past—including my ‘Phoenix Goddess’ mural painted in 2004 in downtown Phoenix, which was inspired by an 1826 painting by Belgian artist Elisa de Gamond.

'Mural for My Father' is located in the heart of Antwerp, between the Rubens Museum and the 14th-century Cathedral of Our Lady, and this area is filled with small statues of religious figures (mostly Madonnas) affixed to buildings overlooking street corners. I was inspired and impressed by these, seeing them not only as a beautiful form of public art but indicative of an exuberant cultural embrace of a Mother archetype--seemingly everywhere you go in Old Antwerp you are watched over by symbols of maternal benevolence. 
Considering the abundance of religious imagery in this place it felt appropriate to paint Saint Joseph, who is the patron saint of Belgium, as well as of fathers, expectant mothers, families, workers, and immigrants. He is traditionally portrayed in Western art holding lilies, which signify purity, though for many they might have more funerary associations. In the current context of declining labor rights, growing xenophobia, and migration crises around the world, I think even this fairly traditional representation of this patron saint of workers and immigrants holding lilies can take on an extra weight. However my primary intent with this piece was a little bit more personal. I've painted so many symbolist pieces honoring mothers, this might be my first large scale work honoring fathers, and this one is modeled after mine. I have been immensely fortunate to have a kind, loving, intelligent, hard-working father to exemplify for me an ideal of what a man and father can be. This mural was produced with great love as a dedication to him, as well as good fathers everywhere. (The title is a nod to one of his favorite songs, Horace Silver's 'Song for My Father' from 1965.)

This project was made possible thanks to Stad AntwerpenAntwerpen Kunstenstad, Yvon 'Rise' Tordoir + Aerosol Kings, Lieselotte De Beer, and Dré Demet. Additional thanks to the many kind people of Antwerp who showed support and appreciation, including the mystery donor who left that impressive bag of snacks for me!
Photos are my own except (from the top) #3: Manuela Geypen, #8:Jasper Léonard

March 22, 2018

New mural for the San Jose Museum of Art: 'Sophie Holding the World Together'

‘Sophie Holding the World Together’, 2017
Mural commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art, in collaboration with The Propeller Group.

In these times when fear, inequity and divisiveness are so prevalent, this mural is intended to convey hope and empathy. The figure is based on an inspiring young activist named Sophie Cruz, who represents mixed-status families and advocates for immigration reform in the US.
When I met Sophie to shoot reference photos of her I asked if there was anything she wanted to hold for the photographs, and she came back holding a globe. This seemed perfect, while the lotus was added to symbolize the beauty that can grow from humble origins. .
I’d like to thank everyone who helped make this mural happen, and everyone who came by offering positive feedback. The response from the people in San Jose was some of the most encouraging and supportive I’ve received anywhere, I’m very grateful.

Many thanks to Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Matt Lucero, The Propeller Group, Lauren Dickens and the San José Museum of Art, Empire Seven Studios, Will Moran, the Children’s Discovery Museum, The Knight Foundation, University Art, Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell, Beverly and Peter Lipman, Lubliner, Dipti and Rakesh Mathur, Ian Reinhard, and SGSR. Additional thanks to Sophie + su familia, Eric Heights, Yosi Sergant, Define American, Yosimar Reyes, Bích Cao, and everyone else who helped or showed love.

“No Te Rindas
Esta es la Hora y el Mejor Momento/
Don't Give Up
This is the Hour and the Best Moment/
Đừng Bỏ Cuộc
Bây giờ là phút giây và khoảnh khắc tuyệt vời nhất”
(-M. Benedetti)

January 22, 2018

New EL MAC prints: "Purgatory"

New print release this Tuesday, January 23rd. Purchase info will be posted sometime after noon Pacific Standard Time at http://elmac.net

Print details:
Signed, titled, and numbered by the artist.
Hand-pulled serigraph by master printer Tony Clough at Serio Press in Pasadena, California. Printed in five colors/layers.
Printed on acid-free, 100% cotton, 290 gsm, Coventry Rag paper.
18.25in x 20.25in paper size
(16.25in x 17in printed area)
This print has the same exact dimensions as the 'Los Campesinos' prints from 2015.

There are two slightly different color editions of this print:

edition of 47, darkest brushwork layer printed in black

Purgatory II:
edition of 25, darkest brushwork layer printed in dark teal blue

Artist's statement about the work:
'Across ancient cultures from around the world there are concepts of a period of postmortem atonement, with associated traditions of prayers and offerings made for the souls of the deceased so as to relieve their expiatory suffering. This artwork is also, in its own way, a similar kind of prayer or offering.
In these times of fear, confusion, nativism, and worsening inequity as more and more wealth is distributed from the many to a few, I painted this piece partly as a meditative gesture of support for the marginalized and scapegoated amongst us who live and work in a metaphorical state of purgatory.
"As brothers in the fight for equality... Our separate struggles are really one -- a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized." - Martin Luther King, Jr., in a 1966 telegram sent to UFW leader Cesar Chavez

November 12, 2017

New mural in Los Angeles: 'The Mother Creator II'

More devotional work for the great city of Los Angeles, painted last Summer. Putting some serious time, soul and energy out there for the people; striving to create good, uplifting public art in these strange, troubled times. This is a companion to my 2016 mural for the City of Montreal, 'La Mère Créatrice' -my homage to feminine creative force. This one's a tribute to artistic mothers, and their capacity to not only make people but art as well. I am an artist largely thanks to the influence of my mother, who is a great, inspiring painter. I've benefited from a lifetime of great conversations about art with her. Also, my mother-in-law, who passed away recently, though she probably wouldn't have considered herself an artist was as prolific and creative as any. The figure depicted in this mural is based on my reference photos of Jane Choe, the fiery artistic mother of my friend David Choe. It was a pleasure working with my talented young crewmate, brother, and local neighborhood resident Aise Born who assisted with the extra Alphonse Mucha-inspired acrylic embellishment on the halo designs.