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  • Arsenio Baca

The Art of The Mural: Part 1




I remember being in 7th Grade when I was given my first opportunity to paint a mural. My middle school had a great art program where every year they would select a few students to design murals for the school hallways. My art teacher asked me if I wanted to do it, and I didn't hesitate for a second! I absolutely wanted to paint a wall! Murals always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I was always captivated by the extensive murals plastered all over the Mission District growing up walking through the neighborhoods, one that always stood out for me was the one over the House of Tires of Mardi Gras in the City. Never would I have imagined I would get to meet and share stories with that amazing Artist years later.


I always just felt like that would be something awesome to do, to paint whatever I wanted on a wall. I never thought I would get such an opportunity to do just that! My first mural believe it or not was of Bob Marley!



I learned right way about the battle of censorship and art on that very first mural. The principal of my school had to approve of my design before I started so I had to draw a mock up of the mural before I could start. I drew a portrait of Bob playing a guitar and a lion laying by listening. Both Bob and the lion would be in all black and white paint with the background being the rastafarian flag colors of red, yellow, and green. Across the top I had written a line of Bob's that I really loved, "Just can't live that negative way, make way for the positive day!" Everything about it seemed harmless enough to me (not to mention my art teacher as well) but when it got to the principal's desk for some odd reason he told me I had to take out the lyrics because they were drug related! Being a kid my first reaction was to immediately question myself. What about that line referenced drugs that I didn't understand? I felt anger and got really frustrated. I remember my Art teacher getting frustrated as well and really tried going to bat for me but the principal was going to have it his way, either I remove the writing from the design or I had to do something else. I remember feeling hurt because I didn't understand what was so bad about it and it didn't feel right taking it out for a reason that didn't make any sense to me. I was only 12 at the time and I really wanted to do the mural so I swallowed my pride and own sense of self justice and took out the lyrics.


To this day I think about that decision.


There's no way to tell what could have happened if I would have held my ground and fought harder to keep the lyrics in there, what I do know for a fact is that if I did I probably would have never finished that mural that year. It took me the whole year to complete it. Having only a couple hours to work a couple times a week during my art class it literally was the biggest test of dedication I had ever experienced to that point and certainly one of the top lessons STILL for me, to this very day. and it was a good 15x8 foot wall too, so no easy task by any measure for my very first mural. Despite the initial let down of being censored and the incredible amount of time spent on the wall, it was the most amazing feeling once I finished that mural. To this day that Mural still covers that wall at Sequoia Middle School, over 20 years later. What's crazy too is that the following year that principal ended up dying and I was asked to do a memorial mural of him by the office, I thought it was very strange that of all people they would ask me after what he did to me, but looking back I'm glad they did. I learned a valuable lesson very early on that I wouldn't realize til much later, its not the Artist that picks the Art, but rather the Art that picks the Artist.


l didn't paint another wall for 12 years after that. I was ready to graduate college when I decided to pick up a paint brush again. My roommate at the time in New Mexico suggested to me one night when we were hanging out in the living room (possibly smoking some illegal plant at the time) staring at the walls talking about how white they were. He told me "You should paint something on them." Just as I had jumped at the opportunity as a kid I did so again as an adult! We wasted no time and went straight to the art store and bought paints and supplies and I started painting that very same night. Guess who I painted? Yup, Bob Marley once again. This time I got hooked. I knew that I needed to keep painting and not let up. I think it's fitting that the murals I've done of Bob have happened at very significant points in my life and career as an artist. Bob has always been a gage for me of how to live life.


Always find the love, the Spirit.

In all circumstances bad or good, there is always redemption.



Back then to paint a mural for me was all about figuring out proportions. It was so difficult to be able to depict subjects so big without distorting the look. My Art teacher in Middle school gave me a great tip to get started. He suggested that I grid out the wall with tape into equal squares that I could then divide up into sections on my drawing. Then I could redraw it on the wall square by square, therefore it wasn't too big and I could keep the proportions more accurate. That was a game changer for me! It gave me that little bit of confidence I needed to get started. So years later when I did the murals at my house in New Mexico I used that method once again. Thank you Mr. Boyd for that little gem of advice. After that I never used that method again because the next mural I did was a collaborative effort with my friend and mentor. An incredible artist who completely changed the way I approached art and even life. Everything I thought I was capable of as an Artist was about to be completely transformed and I was about to learn how far Art really could take me.


To be continued...


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