A well executed and creative mural tells a narrative and brings something beautiful to the neighborhood. Fortunately for art lovers, the painting of murals in San Antonio is undergoing a renaissance. Public art in the city dates back to the murals at Hemisfair Park created in 1968 by two Mexican artists, Juan O’Gorman and Carlos Merida. The first Chicano murals appeared in San Antonio nearly a decade later, serving to raise artistic and historical awareness in San Antonio’s Westside communities. The residents of these communities seldom went to museums. Thus public art, art without museum walls, took on greater significance. With the passage of time many of these early Chicano murals disappeared. Fortunately for residents who appreciate art, a mural revival movement in San Antonio is underway supported by city funding.
Through city and county support, artists have added public art to high rise buildings near the popular Alamo downtown sector as well as to the less traveled paths of newly renovated San Pedro Creek and along the San Antonio River North to the Pearl. Large-scale art works placed in outdoor settings have a special appeal to Latinos. Indeed, most of the muralists in Texas are Latinos. These artistically talented individuals are often self taught. Two newly painted murals in San Antonio’s southside bring beauty and cultural understanding to a neighborhood long artistically neglected. The newest murals Motivated Community and Joyful Momentum are located on two walls of the Gilbert E. Ramirez Community Center southwest of downtown.
Although there are more than 90 public art murals in San Antonio, fewer than 10 are located in the Southside according to the Public Art Map of the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture. Artists Adrian Garcia, Manola Ramirez, and Maria Ramirez, the Latina trio selected for the Community Center murals, credit the San Antonio Street Art Initiative, [SASAI] for securing the funding from the city that led to the selection of Garcia, Ramirez, and Ramirez. SASAI also assisted in preparing
the site for the mural. The Street Initiative’s mission is to bring mural artists together–and they have been exceedingly successful in their goal. Over the past decade Street Art Initiative artists have led the effort to paint more than 60 murals in the Alamo City.
Adriana Garcia, who has painted several murals in the Westside and along San Pedro Creek over the past two decades, noted: “I was amazed that SASI had already prep’ the very large Community Center walls with a fresh clean whitewash and both equipment and fencing was set up and ready to go when we first arrived to work.” The mural artists took over from there. The Texas Visual Art magazine Glasstire Art noted that Garcia was “selected for her use of color, community approach, and expertise in realism.”
Garcia grew up with a love for drawing. She attended Incarnate Word High School and quickly earned the title of “designated artist.” In her classes she was considered the “go to” talented student whose skills in drawing established her as the ideal person to do posters for the school classrooms. Following high school graduation, she left San Antonio for further art studies at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Upon her return to San Antonio she enrolled in art and media classes at Northwest Vista College near her home.
Garcia found work doing graphic design, but her heart was in painting. She found an opportunity with San Anto Cultural Arts Center in the city’s Westside. In the mid 1990s Manny Castillo, the San Anto Executive Director, began recruiting artists to join him in painting murals in the Westside. Alex Rubio and Adriana Garcia were among his most notable art team members. Of her artworks Adriana
explained, “I create as a way to document the lives I’ve shared in, my art provides a way to honor a person’s existence and make visible the marks they have imprinted upon me and the environment–a legacy left as well as a legacy for those still to come. Intimacy abounds in lives encountered. I aim to extract the inherent liminality of a moment before action as a way to articulate our stories.”
Over the last few years Garcia has devoted her time to both painting and illustrating children’s books. Her debut picture book, All Around Us, written by Xelena González, (Cinco Puntos Press), won the prestigious 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration and the 2018 Tomás Rivera Book Award in the children’s picture book category. Garcia spoke enthusiastically about her work on the Gilbert E. Ramirez Community Center mural with Manola and Maria Ramirez.
The Ramirez Sisters Manola and Maria Ramirez, who are not related to Gilbert E. Ramirez, are two years apart in age. In the development of their creative art skills, however, they are far closer. Their art training began when Maria convinced her older sister Manola to take a life drawing art class with her at San Antonio College [SAC] ten years ago. Maria, who began her art training in the city’s Say Si youth art program, saw art as a possible career. Manola had initially wanted to study literature, become a writer, and work in the film industry.
The Life Drawing class at SAC proved
transformational to Manola. Her art teachers commented on her creative talent and encouraged her to seek an art degree. After two years at San Antonio College, the Ramirez sisters both transferred to The University of Texas at Austin and were admitted to the UT Art Department. The sisters excelled in their art classes and graduated with Bachelors of Art degrees in 2018.
The Ramirez sisters returned to San Antonio and today operate an all female collaborative space known as
Lavaca Studios in Southtown. There they create, teach, and provide artistic resources to the community. Glasstire Art noted that the Ramirez sisters were selected for the Southwest mural “for their graphic aesthetics, use of color and font, and whimsical style.”
At the dedication of the Ramirez Community Center murals project, Department of Arts and Culture Executive Director Krystal Jones noted that “Murals are having a major moment right now and this is an excellent example of how meaningful creative work can help express and support a sense of neighborhood history, culture, and belonging.” The mural by Garcia, Ramirez, and Ramirez demonstrated that there is great value to collaboration and to art that reflects the culture and traditions of a community. The Gilbert Ramirez Community Center mural brings artists and neighbors together and represents a bright future for mural art and the Southside of San Antonio.