Muralist Alejandro Chavez adds color to the world
Story By Nikhil Bhambri | Photos by Luis Chavez
In a world of suffering and inequality, South Pasadena resident Alejandro Chavez uses different artistic mediums to encourage social change.
Chavez has been using his talents to create art that portrays, in a deeply evocative way, the lives of those affected by political, environmental and social upheaval. It all comes from his belief that shared experiences through meaningful art can break down divisions and unite diverse people in the fight for equality. Chavez’s artistic family, his travels and multifaceted life experiences have shaped him into the artist he is today.
In the late 1990s, Chavez’s uncle exposed him to political art, which helped him understand the 9/11 attacks. This inspired him to use muralism and graphic design to raise awareness of current issues. Chavez strives to challenge divisive or limiting paradigms, by creating dialogue that is catalytic to healing.
According to him, art—regardless of what it depicts—is a universal language that can be appreciated by all people. His work conveys a message to raise consciousness about social issues and engages people in dialogue. These conversations allow for greater understanding and acceptance of others for who they are.
Chavez is galvanized by local and global social and political concerns, and his art depicts impactful stories that he believes do not receive enough attention. His themes include environmental issues, women’s and gay rights, and immigration. He emphasizes leaders who have struggled on behalf of their community in the fight for liberation and equality.
Chavez began working on murals in 2014 with his cousin, who works on NBC’s “The Voice.” His murals revive the rich tradition of Chicano culture and stories. He says he believes murals bring life to a city’s streets. When street art is censored, it feels as if society has been numbed. The messages expressed through street art highlight something more important than what’s presented on the daily news.
Trump’s political measures, such as the border wall and anti-immigration, have inspired Chicano artists to vocalize their views. In Boyle Heights, Chavez painted a wall in which Trump is in a headlock by a famous Mexican wrestler. Despite being a gang-infested neighborhood, community members have shown respect for the piece. In a neighborhood where few things are permanent, the mural has not been defaced many months later.
In 2014, Chavez and his father hosted a debut art show, themed “synergy,” in San Fernando. The father-and-son duo collaborated on artwork reflecting the daily struggles of communities worldwide. Pieces including a portrait of Malala Yousefzai and a painting titled “Peace in the Middle East,” in which children of different religions hug each other while bombs fall in the background.
“War is a dark topic to talk about,” Chavez says. “These children of all races embracing each other highlights the power of love, peace and unity, while also capturing my message of turning negativity to positivity.”
One of Chavez’s most recent paintings is of Kobe Bryant. Shocked by the Black Mamba’s passing, he painted the image to heal himself. As Chavez grew older, he deeply respected Bryant’s mission to educate underprivileged children through sports. He hopes to follow the superstar’s message of hard work and dedication in his own life by being influential in a positive way.
“There are few guarantees in life, which include change, birth and death,” Chavez says. “This conversation can be brought to the table here in LA, and being the international city that it is, it will hopefully spread worldwide.”
Travel helps Chavez refresh, reinspire and heal. His experiences overseas have a lasting impact on his art style and themes.
“It has exposed me to several mediums of art, and messages from all around the world,” Chavez says. “They have impacted and influenced me to use my artistic skills to speak truth and bring darkness to lightness.”
Chavez recently traveled to Japan, Cuba and Belize and brought cultural remnants back to Los Angeles. While painting a mural in Cuba, he modified his style and technique, as he could not buy supplies from an art store. This inspired him to paint more “freestyle art pieces,” in which the wall guides him through the process, while he just uncovers it through paint strokes.
In addition to creating art, Chavez works as a bartender at ARO Latin Bar, where his mural titled “The Future is Women” is painted on the bathroom wall.
His interactions with his Indian boss, Karan Raina, have broadened his horizon and impacted his artwork. He has become more aware of international politics, and the India/Pakistan conflict was the key influence in his “Peace in the Middle East” painting. Furthermore, he has become fascinated by Indian spirituality, specifically the yogi lifestyle and concept of Karma.
Doing yoga regularly helps him feel relaxed and connected, and he has found that it enhances his creativity.
“Through spirituality and the mind-and-body connection, I have expanded my consciousness and understanding of how energy works,” Chavez says. “It is through this understanding and in this space where I can create my most authentic and truest work. Art heals.
“During the time of COVID, I have been blessed to have many quantum leaps in my mental and spiritual growth. All of (them) have positively impacted me in many aspects of life.”
Howard Serrian, Chavez’s friend, describes him as a liberal, anti-establishment revolutionary who is about exploiting change while going against the normal society standards.
He finds Chavez’s art to be thought provoking, intriguing and empowering. The color patterns catch viewers’ attention, as they are very easy on the eyes. Serrian believes Chavez’s messages about tolerance and peace are especially important for mid-adolescents, who are still shaping their ideas and trying to grasp reality.
Chavez wants to leave a legacy. His exposure to different walks of life has helped him better identify with the marginalized and hence create a realistic portrayal of their plight. He believes that a shared appreciation for art is a strong first step in breaking barriers and engaging people in meaningful dialogue. Chavez has a vision; he dreams of a personal artistic mission that will eventually unite different citizens to fight harder for international peace and equality.