Most of the metro Phoenix mural action is concentrated in just a few areas – Roosevelt Row, the Grand Avenue district, and Calle 16. But now the Coronado neighborhood is home to a charming new mural by Karlito Miller Espinosa, who uses the moniker Mata Ruda.
Born in Costa Rica and raised for a time in Venezuela, he moved with his family to the United States when he was 11 years old. Most recently Espinosa, now 26, has lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York, and Newark, New Jersey. In October, he painted a mural in Puerto Rico, and his work is internationally renowned.
Espinosa started the Coronado mural, painted with fellow artist and girlfriend Lucinda Yrene, on Sunday, February 28, during the Coronado Home Tour. He’d hoped to complete the piece in a single day, but often paused from painting to talk with tour-goers who walked over to get a glimpse of Mata Ruda in mural mode. He finished the mural on Tuesday, March 1.
The mural is located on a south-facing exterior wall for Swiss Metal Works, a business that makes custom metal fixtures for homes, gardens, and such. It’s titled Más Allá, which Espinosa translates as “beyond.” The mural depicts a Mexican or Mexican American woman looking at the moon and thinking about what’s beyond, Espinosa says. “It’s a small poetic piece.”
It’s not his first pass at painting a mural in Phoenix, but it is his first solo piece – with a caveat. Since meeting Yrene last year, when both worked on a collaborative mural in the Grand Avenue district, the pair has often painted side by side. That mural, commissioned by the Colibri Center for Human Rights in Tucson, features a central figure painted by Espinosa. The figure represents a mother holding a photograph of the daughter who died trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States.
Participating in that mural was life changing for Espinosa in a couple of ways. It launched his romance with Yrene, and fueled his interest in doing more collaborative work here – especially related to immigration and other social justice issues. Last November, Espinosa moved from Newark to Avondale. “I went to my parents’ place in D.C. and dropped off a bunch of paintings,” Espinosa says. “Then I packed a few bags and came to Phoenix.”
Espinosa shares a live/work space with Yrene, but it wasn’t just their relationship that drew him to Arizona. “For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about Arizona because of its social and political issues,” he says. Nowadays, he’s busy looking for collaborators, from artists to organizations, and ways to include “an educational component” in his murals. And he’s hoping to start an MFA program at the University of Arizona this fall.
His first solo show in Arizona opens Friday, March 4, at The Hive Art Gallery, also located in the Coronado district. Espinosa met gallery owners Julia Fournier and Steve Helffrich last summer, when muralist Chip Thomas (aka Jetsonorama) arranged for several artists working on the Colibri mural to bunk there for several days.
Titled “Cura,” Espinosa’s exhibition at The Hive will feature 10 to 12 pieces, and several plants that relate directly to these works. Several of Yrene’s works will be on view in a courtyard adjacent to the gallery space. Friday’s opening reception runs from 7 to 10 p.m.
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Fans of Espinosa’s mural art will have another opportunity to watch him work in coming weeks. He’s getting ready to paint a 75-foot-long mural on the side of an old produce building located at 411 South First Street. It’s located just south of the railroad tracks, across from a building with a mural painted by Angel Diaz. Espinosa says he hopes to start painting either this weekend, which is when the annual Paint PHX mural event takes place, or next.
Beyond that? We'll see.