Every day that I go for a run, I take the same path from my apartment to Echo Park, passing local businesses and fruit sellers. I also pass this mural by Mario Torero and D. Von Simons, created in 2014. For being over 5 years old, the mural is still vibrant and striking, and I can’t help but stare at it every time I pass it. What does it mean? What does it remind me of?
As someone who has studied art history and loved learning about the different cultures and symbols throughout the ages, I thought it might be interesting to compare this piece to some workS throughout the Byzantine and Medieval period.
While I was trying to research Torero for this project, I couldn’t find this mural in his online gallery of paintings. Maybe it was a small project he did for the local community with Simons? I couldn’t find information online regarding a D. Von Simmons, but Torero is a very famous artist from the San Diego area.
Torero was born and lived in Lima, Peru in 1947 until 1960 when he immigrated with his family to the United States. Their destination was San Diego, CA in search of more opportunities for art and freedom. Torero was taught how to paint and draw by his father Guillermo Acevedo, who was an established artist in Lima. When they came to America, Torero’s father quickly became popular in San Diego as well. Together this family was part of the young Chicano Art Movement.
Torero is known as El Maestro, because he believes in teaching young people about how to combine art and community. He has spent many years volunteering at art schools to help students learn the skills his father taught him. With shows and exhibitions, he aims to continue to develop Artivista for the inspiration of the community.
Some of Torero’s murals are inspired by his heritage and other famous painters such as Picasso and Frida Kahlo. His works were featured in the Acevedo Gallery in Mission Hills, and many of his paintings can be seen in places such as the San Diego Airport, Chicano Park, University of California San Diego, and San Diego State University.
“Chicano is about people. It’s practically a state of mind. It’s a human movement Because we wanted to create a world, an ideal world. Can you imagine?”
Torero, Interview with San Diego City Beat
Torero’s use of color is striking to me. The purple gray of the skin and hair contrasting against the bright white of his eyes makes you feel like the figure is watching over you as you walk by. The greens, oranges, yellows, and reds of his robe bleed into each other. The figure appears to be wearing a cape over his robes, the cape being a lighter combination of colors over the over saturated red-orange of his under layer.
Then there is the globe at the center of his chest. While Torero’s figure does not hold anything in his left hand as the figures pictured below do, Torero’s figure grasps the edge of his cloak as if he is trying to expose the world on his chest for more people to see. Because of the white marked across his left hand, it’s unclear if there was anything else the figure’s hand was detailed with.
The slight lean of the figure’s head expresses an emotion of intrigue and question. His eyes, though striking, are not judgmental but considerate. Compared to the pieces below, his expression is softer and more expressive.
Just as in Torero’s mural, you can see the two fingers raised, usually indicating the figure is meant to represent Christ. These two raised fingers can also be a gesture of blessing. The expression on this figure’s face is very neutral, almost impassive, though he stares straight at the viewer.
While I didn’t notice it at first, both Torero’s mural and this mural from the Hagia Sophia have a halo around around their heads. While Torero’s yellow orb could be seen as a moon or just a design created around the body of the figure, it seems possible that the circle is meant to represent this kind of symbol.
While this mural is technically from the Early Medieval period, it has similar characteristics to the Byzantine-style art. For one, patterns and shapes are used to create movement in the design like a mosaic. The image however is less flat than the mosaics of the Byzantine period and has clear indications of the 3-D model by using shading on the folds of the robe.
Like the previous murals, this figure has the two fingers raised in blessing and Christ-identifier and also has a yellow halo around his head. Similar to the Hagia Sophia mural, he holds a book in his hand and is flanked by several other figures.
The colors used in this piece are closer to Torero’s, with the yellow, red, and green used for the robes and background. Unlike Torero, the colors in this mural do not run together and are usually separated by small patterns of cream.
In Byzantine art, blue can be used as a symbol of purity. Gold is also a symbol of purity but is meant to represent the heavenly realm as well as royalty.
Purple robes outlined in red are often used for holy figures in both Byzantine and Medieval art. Green is meant to symbolize rebirth, growth, and peace.
Torero uses a combination of these colors, though perhaps not for the symbols they represented in ancient history. Instead, his colors more largely express a heritage of the local community, a community he is a part of and wants to share with the world.
Color Symbols: http://www.historyofpainters.com/colors.htm
Interview with Torero and City Beat: http://sdcitybeat.com/culture/seen-local/mario-torero-goes-to-washington/
Mario Torero’s Website: http://www.fuerzamundo.org