YOU’VE MOST LIKELY SEEN IT, AND MAYBE YOU’VE WONDERED ABOUT IT
THE MAN BEHIND THE WALL, HOUSTON IS INSPIRED MURAL GONZO247, IS HIDING IN THE DARK NO MORE.
There is a tendency toward ambivalence when we see street art, most commonly known as graffiti. Explosions of colorful words and figures are commonly seen behind conveniences stores, abandoned places, or bridges and are often associated with criminalization or gang activity.
The majority of commuters do not share an admiration for this art form. Graffiti seems to be caught somewhere between a form of expression and vandalism. Talented graffiti artists walk a thin line between being considered artists or criminals. In spite of this, somehow Mario Enrique Figueroa Jr, better known as GONZO247, has had a distinguished career as a street artist, traveling around the nation transforming the graffiti scene, and fighting against negative speculations.
Figueroa reminisces about his nightly subversive missions when he was a 13-year-old kid as “military-esque,” where he positioned himself in an alley behind conveniences stores. Fully conscious that anything could go wrong at any minute, he was prepared to outrun anyone in uniform. However, he didn’t go out into the night without strategic escape routes and reconnaissance plans. He was essentially fighting to leave his art behind. Twenty-five years later, he is a pioneer in the graffiti art scene who’s no longer painting his name behind conveniences stores.
He has devoted almost three decades of his career to validating this form of art. First founding Aerosol Warfare, a quarterly video magazine in the 1990s, as a base to support, promote, and exhibit hundreds of local and national artists. The studio continues to create and explore the graffiti scene from introducing widely-known icons such as Shepard Fairey, Futura 2000, and SEEN, who is considered by many to be the godfather of graffiti. One of Figueroa’s intentions is to show young artists that street art can be a valid career choice.
Figueroa’s efforts have been far from fruitless. He is one of the most sought-after graffiti artists, working with TEDxYouth Houston, NRG Stadium, and Saint Arnold’s Brewery. He was even able to achieve, with the help of other artists, one of his most outstanding accomplishments–Houston is now the first city in the nation to dedicate an art institution to graffiti, The Graffiti and Street Art Museum of Texas.
Located on Jefferson Street, the museum offers the public and artists a visual showcase. Their goal is to not only to provide a permanent destination for graffiti and exhibitions but to also provide artists with a place to explore their own artistic talents through lectures and workshops. The purpose of the museum is to preserve street art history and authenticate historical timelines of the street art movements.
In a sea of colorful murals, his most iconic work, the “Houston is Inspired” has become a city landmark, a representation of Houston’s diversity. Explosions of colorful patterns come together to create a vivid abstract butterfly’s wings and draw the viewer’s eyes to the word Houston. What renders this mural so poignant is the sense of togetherness. The vibrant colors draw energy from the community–cultures and people coming together to create the city, working side by side to lift Houston, hence the wings.
This sense of togetherness is something Figueroa is closely tied to. We have all felt the unity as Hurricane Harvey hit our city, leaving Houston underwater. We have leaned on each other and supported one another with anything we could. Hurricane Harvey united Houston like never before and Figueroa was right there alongside his community using the medium he knows best. He designed t-shirts with a graffiti-style Houston logo and donated all the profits to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund established by Mayor Turner.
Wanting to do more for his community, one of his illustrations was recently featured in the October issue of TexasMonthly for the HoustonStrong Campaign. It is a striking colorful hand formed into a peace sign, segmented into separate parts, with the focal point being a pink heart representing Houston coming together as one. As Figueroa mentioned in Visit Houston, “I think a lot of Houstonians rally when they need to and support each other. Even within the scenes, a lot of artists support the theater groups and the theater groups support the restaurants–it’s full circle. Everyone supports each other.”
Nothing represents Houston more than diversity and unity.