San Diego

Neomuralism at the Border

El Bullying photo courtesy of El Norteño.
In Partnership with Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center
Mexicali Rose is a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California.

By Marco Vera


For decades, the U.S.-Mexico border has been the breeding ground for an original form of muralism, one that breaks the mold from the original Mexican masters and disassociates itself from the Chicano muralists of Southern California. Absorbing influence and multiculturalism, but also emphasizing and creating a unique style often found on the border, the prolific protagonists of its fences, walls and buildings seek to besiege their metropolis and its citizens with eye-catching visual stimulation and information. Not to say these muralists are not political or socially minded, their murals seek to incorporate community in common areas, outdoor spaces, occupied landscapes. With a healthier disposition than previous generations of artists who locked in gallery careers and institutions who see street art and its engagement with an audience in a more traditional sense, this vital generation of urban social artists has been perfecting its legacy and creating an animated language on its own terms.

Predestined for comparison with the nationalistic, social murals of the post-revolutionary Mexican maestros, the evolution of the form and its protagonists have recently been labeled as "Mexican Neomuralists." In a contemporary Mexican society devoid of civil consideration by the government, where society needs to take matters into its own hands on various fronts, the departure almost seems logical. The revolution is internal. The colors of the landscapes are now kaleidoscopic, mind-expanding, drenched in a florid sweat, informative, yet inclusive.

Relaciones de Poder | Photo by Jorge Villavicencio

Había una vez una niña que vivio en la casa de los pajaros | Glow +El Norteño

"Border Neomuralism," a pigeonholing term based on geography and tradition, will more than likely be flipped on its head by its innovative artists to signify assimilation, mischief, empowerment, identity. Freestanding due to cultural centralism, these unique bordertown happenings, in the vicinity of an artistically porous boundary, are creating a proper system of imagery and a defiant set of beliefs. Aside from these factors, it is an art full of urgency, humanity, and freedom of expression. In embracing these characteristics, all the while elevating the value and excellence of their work, they seem to share everything with the Mexican masters.

Artbound caught up with four of the border neomuralism scene's most prolific urban artists to talk about beginnings, influences, work methodology, and gallery vs. street aesthetic.

Fernando Corona

Fernando Corona portrait | Photograph by Federico Gama

Fernando Corona has been working as a visual artist in the Mexicali region for decades, recently returning to the craft of muralism with a singular style and fervor that makes it implausible to learn he focused for years on painting on different surfaces other than a wall. His most recent murals feature colorful, yet abstract geometric backgrounds with definitive, local black and white characters at the forefront. Eyes play a key role in this visual artist's particular dialect. Speaking in a very local idiosyncrasy, Corona has empowered Mexicali walls with more soul and force than can be contained within this context, causing him to have traveled internationally with his work.

IIC Museo mural | Photograph by Marco Roche

In Corona's own words:

I started off in Mexicali in the nineties, when taggerismo and chalinismo were at their peak locally. It was pretty fun to watch schoolmates tagging and listening to Chalino Sanchez, myself included. Prior to that, there was a skate scene and punk rock gigs. When the graff movement started in Mexicali, I did some murals, but they were mostly bombs and letters.I took up muralism again about 6 years back, more so after losing my studio,and became reacquainted with the difficulty in making them. It's a series of factors, from a spot's illegality or legality, extreme weather in Mexicali, lack of paint, lack of time when you're not in your own city.

No al Maltrato de los Niños | Nineties Mural

I don't believe so much in style per se, I do know that it changes a lot in my case depending on whether a mural is executed outside or inside. The principal difference is that within a gallery you know beforehand that you have more commodities in working, which invariably has an effect on your processes. Plus, a gallery audience is supposedly knowledgeable of art themes whereas on the street all of the people can appreciate a mural, and it is subjected to everything, a lot more exposed, in every sense of the word.I suppose a style invariably surfaces in the form of traces, colors or themes, but I like to think that it varies quite a bit. As far as technique is concerned, I try to force myself into trying something I've never done before technique-wise as a work method, so that I can learn from every mural.

Los Compitas Jaguar You | Photo courtesy of Fernando Corona

The border gives my work all of its personality; you don't have to think about it anymore while you're working, it's intrinsic. It's in everything: the language, the idiom, the peculiar things where you discover yourself as a border person. I drew a lot of inspiration from punk rock flyers, skateboards and T-shirts. Later on I got into more wild and daring artwork, but now that I think about it, I realize that right now the border is being blurred little by little, one side into another, life and the work being created becoming mutually enriched.

Kid's Play albuquerque mural | Photo courtesy of Fernando Corona


Alonso Delgadillo "El Norteño"

El Norteño portrait | Photo by Federico Gama

Alonso Delgadillo "El Norteño" has been covering Tijuana's panorama with his singular characters and their personas for several years, an exhibition of his original painting style for all of the frontier's citizens to behold. Whether painting in some of the border's troubled barrios, travelling the country on a collaboration pilgrimage, or even within a gallery, El Norteño's characters are reflective of their environment and change the urban scenery through beauty, kinship, and relevance. Delgadillo's work seeks to bring about a change in the landscape and its processes. Prominently making clear his love and pride for border and national culture, El Norteño's murals have become a staple for many a citizen's passage from one place to another.

Mural in Mexicali | Photo courtesy of El Norteño

In Delgadillo's own words:

I started off in muralism in Buenos Aires, Argentina via an informal invitation from a friend. She said, "Let's go paint." So I went. I never attended a formal arts school, I studied graphic design and took some extracurricular drawing courses, but my knowledge in drawing was gained through practice. I always consider design school an influence, that's why I always consider applying all that feels like an advertising message to my way of being, feeling, and living my life. I think that's why I always consider the story I'm going to paint, instead of simply painting.

Made in Tijuana | Photo courtesy of El Norteño

My style is a "Realist Caricature" leaning towards "Realistic Expressionism." An image's discourse facing an audience is different in a gallery vs. street setting. Gallery crowds have a general education and openness to art themes, they enter a gallery with a search criterion, whereas on the street it's quite the contrary, the message is direct and spontaneous. Habitually, people are not predisposed to find a mural on their daily journey, therefore the message is surprising and its interpretation should be in a language that's easier to digest, at least where I paint. Just imagine, on many occasions people don't know how to read, they've never visited a gallery, so the stories I work on are more humanist stories.

Tijuana | Photo courtesy of El Norteño.jpg

I think the social fusion we have on the border gives my work its character, there's a way of life that goes from the most popular to the most contemporary influence. It's like having the possibility of narrating two versions of life in every piece. There are very beautiful homes with custom designs and then there are thousands of poorly constructed homes built under the basic necessity to survive. There are also many artists who are very good at their work; the opportunity to have these amazing people around me helps me see my daily advancement. I battle and work just as they do, so I think my references and influences are my friends, and these keep growing steadily.

Las Aventuras del Taller | Photo courtesy of El Norteño

Rodrigo Villa "Rod"

Rod Villa portrait | Photo by Federico Gama

Rod Villa's resourceful, colorful, visionary and contoured shapes and characters spot and make the Mexicali terrain imminent. For years, Rod has been perfecting and diversifying his incomparable craft and style, constantly searching for walls and collaborators with whom to experiment. An excellent large format master and visual orchestrator, Villa's work is now effortlessly recognized by the desert brethren he paints murals for. A constant experimentalist, Villa's evolution as a muralist can be traced by simply taking a drive down the Mexicali sun-drenched, strident, blazing streets his work embellishes.

Downtown Mexicali | Photo courtesy of Rod Villa

In Villa's own words:

I started off on a collective mural on a fence outside my high school, alongside my brother. I started because my friends did graffiti. I was very bad at calligraphy so I started drawing faces while they wrote on these same walls. Difficulties at first were measuring myself and finding a middle ground between the time available to execute a mural and the probability of being able to express an idea without knowing if time or materials were going to be sufficient. Border themes, in one way or another, are reflected in some of my pieces. The border gives the work variety and content, even if one tries to leave the border behind.

UABC mural | Photo courtesy of Rod Villa

My style lies in not getting tied down to a drawing or sketch and in trying to improvise a great part of the mural. The difference I see between creating work for a gallery or expressing myself on the street is the time and commodity of painting while sitting down for a gallery show, where on the street the public is more varied and diverse and, at many times, involuntary. I mean, people go to a gallery because they want to, on the street it's more like a slap in the face, or maybe even something inconsequential, depending on who's watching. There's just no comparison, even if one falls in love with his own paintings, it's hard to compare a square meter painting to a mural measuring 20 square meters. A great deal of my time, I imagine my paintings, blown up, executed on some wall.

At work | Photo courtesy of Rod Villa

Gloria Muriel "Glow"

Gloria Muriel portrait | Photo by Alexander Holst

Gloria Muriel has been arduously cultivating a proper style within the Tijuana/San Diego community to a degree that her work has become ubiquitous. Glow's aerosol faces and scenarios raise a neighborhood's quotidian state to a higher standard. Her enveloping and caring work is grounded, dreamlike, distinctive, and unmissable; all the necessary elements in order to enhance the walls of the communities she decides upon and coexists with to broaden her palette. Her ascendance and stirring work dynamic and flow have taken her to urban stages internationally, rooted in the cultural vigorousness of the border and its thriving opportunities for growth and exploration.

Tijuana street | Photo by Max Dolberg

In Muriel's own words:

I started off doing murals around 2011 in San Diego, CA; one of my friends who is also a muralist pushed me to paint on the streets, and thus began another stage in my life as an urban artist. One of the greatest challenges for me in urban art is that you're exposed, it's very different to paint in your studio, at your pace, in your space as opposed to places you've never visited before, with people who don't know your art, it takes you out of your comfort zone. Producing work for a gallery implies preparation, studio work where you are acquainted with your environment, and it is directed towards a certain limited group of people; painting on the street is quite the contrary, you don't know the neighborhood or wall where you're going to paint, sometimes you don't know what materials will be available, anything can happen. Some wall surfaces take more time than others, you're rolling with people you don't know, with artists you just met and don't know their work flow... In a few words, I love painting on walls because of the spontaneity, there is no other choice but to improvise, and that's how things turn out the best. In being an urban artist, I have come into contact with many artists and many different places, and for that, I'm very grateful.

Glow +El Norteño | Photo courtesy of Gloria Muriel

To be honest, I don't know how to categorize my style... some call it pop-surrealism, but oh well...I pull a lot of influence from classic paintings to story illustrators, cartoons, animation. The techniques I use in my murals depend on the materials available to execute it, sometimes it's acrylic/vinyl paint,sometimes it's rollers, brushes, spray paint, sponges, cloths, etc. The advantage of living on the border is that I can paint on both sides,you meet different artists with different techniques according to the place they live in, I like being able to paint with border artists in one same space on one same side without any trouble. I feel like Mexicali and Tijuana have opened their doors to urban art, to me and many others finding themselves and getting to know themselves as artists.

Glow in Guadalajara | Photo courtesy of Gloria Muriel

Collaborative mural in Mexicali | Photo by Armando Ruiz

Other urban artists who deserve cred: HEM Crew, MUO, Animal(es) Hombre, Panca, Volts, Rogeiro, DNA Crew, Peek Two, etc.



More from Mexicali Rose:

Covet: The Elias Fontes Art Collection
Alonso Elias has collected emblematic work from seminal artists of the Tijuana movement.

Deep Focus: Rafael Veytia Velarde's Immersive Border Photography
Rafael Veytia Velarde has been photographing the Mexicali border for over a decade, bestowing visibility to the neglected and misrepresented portion of Mexicali's society.

The Sublime Frontier Pop World of Pablo Castañeda
Pablo Castañeda's work is a vivid patchwork of all that is beautiful and devastating about life on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Top Image: El Bullying | Photo courtesy of El Norteño.

About the Author

Marco Vera is the founder and director of Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center, a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California. He is a...
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