August 2, 2020

New mural in Tucson: 'Desert Soul'

Painted this mural at the beginning of the year in downtown Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. The figure is holding a Saguaro blossom, and is based on my wife. The mural is on the outside of Cobra Arcade Tucson, commissioned by its owner Ariel Bracamonte–my compadre and one of the best people I know.
Tucson has been a special place for me ever since my first visit as a little kid when I caught a sunrise with my parents at Mission San Xavier Del Bac–the same place where I would eventually marry my wife and baptize our son decades later.
In the late 90s and early 00s I painted some murals with NG crew in downtown Tucson including behind the old Chicago Music Store. I remember there was a mural downtown from the early 90s by visiting NYC graffiti OG's Futura, Lady Pink, Lee, Stash, and Chico collaborating with locals Fyce, Such and Tackz, which symbolized to me back then just how hip this sleepy, dusty desert city was.
I associate Tucson with a certain warm spirit of love and creativity, a tranquil Sonoran vitality, and I hope this mural can capture or transmit some of that desert soul.
Thanks to Ari + the Bracamonte family, and the Cobra Tucson crew for helping make this mural possible, thanks to Kim + Máximo for putting up with me, and thanks to the good people of Tucson.
(Photos 2, 3, 4: Fernando kAZual)

May 18, 2020

New EL MAC murals in Miami: 'A Love Supreme (Wynwood Saints)'

These are my first murals in Miami since 2009, and some of the largest and most visible in Wynwood. They're a permanent public art work commissioned by the Related Group through Primary Projects for the Wynwood 25 building (next to Wynwood Walls and the Museum of Graffiti). They were created with thousands of spray cans, no painting assistance, and months of long, hot, often rainy or windy nights from dusk until dawn, high up on a swing stage. Every line and pattern that these figures are composed of was spraypainted with the hope that together they might transmit to the viewer some of the love and soul that went into them.

Returning to Miami for this project was a pretty big deal after having last painted murals in Wynwood with Retna during Art Basel in 2007, 2008, and 2009 as part of Primary Flight. I was very proud of those murals but, after seeing how saturated the area was becoming with what was starting to be labeled "street art", it seemed time for a break. Ten years passed and then this opportunity came along to paint some of the best and most visible walls of my career in this place that had, for better or worse, become a world famous epicenter for public art. I was a little hesitant to take on such a massive task around the same time I was becoming a father, but I couldn't say no to such an epic platform. Although there were already a number of art spaces in the Wynwood area when I first painted there in 2007, it was still mostly a blue collar, working class area so I was blown away to see how much had changed. I take my responsibility to the communities I make art for seriously and approach every project with conscientiousness, especially so with this project considering the scale, location and context. I wanted to paint something representative of this place, its history, and its people, while conveying strength, dignity, balance, solidarity, and love. To begin, through the assistance of some local friends and contacts including YoungArts, I met and photographed a number of awesome local young folks for references. I eventually ended up painting three: the figure to the left was modeled by a young woman named Mandolina who helps run a nearby community garden, the figure in the middle was modeled by a young ballet dancer named Jamaii, while the figure on the right was modeled by a local Seminole boy named Kyle. While the paintings do carry the likenesses of those three, they've also been generalized in such a way as to resemble many other young people as well. These figures might be seen as either imploring or offering, funereal or uplifting, mournful or hopeful. If nothing else, they portray monumental, everyday saints—prayerful, resilient, and representative of upliftment, beauty, and loving kindness.

I faced a great deal of stress and difficulties working on this project, including delays that sometimes lasted for weeks due to lift equipment problems, unexpected expenses, persistent rain, heat, and wind, and worst of all long periods of separation from my infant son during his first year of life. There were many challenges, but for the most part I was able to maintain my patience, focus, and joy in my work. I’m thankful for the opportunity, and extremely proud of this project and the tremendous amount of energy, persistence, and sacrifice that went into it.
I strongly feel that the creation of art can be, at its best, a spiritual vocation, a means of responding to the world in service of truth, beauty, and goodness. The artist can be, in the words of John Coltrane, a force which is truly for good. Another great jazz musician, Mary Lou Williams, famously said that she was praying with her fingers when she played, and I approach the act of painting in a similar way—I hope the prayerfulness that went into the creation of these murals shows through in the results.

Many thanks to the teams at Related Group + Primary Projects for helping make this possible. Thanks to mis amores Kim + Máximo, and my right hand man Eric Heights, for hanging in there... Further thanks + shouts to el mero mero JP Pérez, Patti, J. Yormak, East End Capital, Cristina, Books, Sheila, Tamz, Hoxxoh, Veny Zorrilla, Jessica Goldman, Troy Kelley + Wynwood Walls, Mandolina, Jamaii, Kyle, Evan + Chadoe Grant, Breeze, Louis Coupal, Dejha Carrington + YoungArts, Reggie O'Neal, Axel Void, Alexis Diaz, Reinier Gamboa + Linda, Alan Ket + the Museum of Graffiti, Carlos Mare, Rage Johnson, Atomik, Komik, Typoe, MSG, TCP, InkHeads, Dos Alas, Futura, Muta, Odobo, Michael Vasquez, Jason Joshua + Mango Hill Records, the buena gente at La Fama Cafeteria, Los Bobos, and Zak the Baker, Squirrely Fleetwood, Joseph Treaster, Rose Cromwell, and any others I'm forgetting here.. Much love to all the artists and supporters of art in the great city of Miami. Respectful remembrance of Ray Brown, RIP

"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory... Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape."
-Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1965)

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.