I have written before about the painted walls of Phoenix. Artists, especially Chicano artists, but I suspect all artists have this trait, just love to find large open spaces they can fill with their pictures. Phoenix has a lot of murals and larger than life paintings done on sides of buildings, fences, and stone walls. I knew there was some art on Roosevelt–the half mile street between McDowell and Van Buren, but I never knew how much there was until I went down there yesterday, parked, and looked around. I found more stuff than I can show you in a single blog.
My curiosity was aroused by this piece of art as I drove past it last week in an attempt to get across town during rush hour. The freeway and the mile roads were bumper to bumper, so I tried to make better time on the half mile road. And as I neared 3rd Street going west, I saw this:
Yeah, there’s a fence in the way, so I couldn’t get a really good picture of it, but you have to admit that this is a pretty bizarre thing to find on a wall in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. When I first saw it, I knew I had to come back and look more carefully.
One of the great myths of pre-Columbian Mexico is the story of Aztlan, the primordial homeland of the Aztec people (and several related tribes as well). Themes drawn from pre-Conquest Mexico often show up in Chicano art–it is part of the heritage of Mexico and the Mexican people. I found a lot of that in the Roosevelt district.
These six panels covered a fence just east of 3rd Street. The top two are the most clearly Aztec in inspiration. The first one is a very good representation of the Quetzalcoatl figures carved into Mexican stonework, especially in Teotihuacan (technically Toltec, but it is a precursor to the Aztecs who arrived on the scene some 500 years after the City of the Gods was abandoned). The second one down shows a woman in the native costume of the natives of Central Mexico. The artist is Gennaro Garcia, an immigrant from Mexico. The man is prolific and has several pages on the internet, including Facebook. I may track him down and ask him to explain this series. I’m sure there are stories behind each picture.
Another distinctive Mexican theme is to represent people as skeletons. This is related to the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday (actually a 3 day holiday from October 31 to November 2). That ties it into Halloween and All Souls Day from the Catholic religion. Mexico is a very Catholic country, but the older native mythology has persisted and underlies some of the Catholic celebrations.
The watery theme may be a reference to Venice, or to Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City, a city built on a the big lake that was the center of the Valley of Mexico before the Spaniards arrived.
As you can see, the art is very colorful, fantastic and amazing. There is a great deal more in that part of town to see, but I’m not going to try and cram it all into one blog. I close this with one final picture. I don’t know whether this represents the Phoenix bird (this is Phoenix, Arizona), the Mexican Eagle, the American Eagle, or even the Thunderbird of the Southwestern tribes. Perhaps it can stand for all of them. That’s the glory of symbolism.
If you have seen this art, or great wall art in your own city, why not leave a comment?