The central image is a young woman holding a rose, who appears to be looking eastward toward the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community where she's from. "The mural is really a monument to the original people of this land," says El Mac, who paused to document the work with his camera Tuesday afternoon, before heading home to California. "It's possible Breeze will add more of his work," he added.
The artists are well known, and have significant Phoenix roots. El Mac, who grew up in Phoenix, is an internationally renowned artist born and based in Los Angeles. Breeze, who was born and raised on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community located just east of Scottsdale, is based in Phoenix.
Both artists use distinct line work, creating fine art and murals that reflect their cultural heritage and convey vibrant dimensionality. Breeze creates interwoven lines reflecting patterns found in Akimel and Tohono O’odham basketry. El Mac, whose influences include Mexican and Chicano culture, uses concentric lines infused with small circles.
"Having largely grown up here, I'm excited to contribute to the visual culture of the city, which ought to be incorporating more culture of the original people," says El Mac.
So far, the artists have not formally announced the title of the mural, which was created through a partnership between several entities. Building co-owner ViaWest Group worked with Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Inc. and Artlink on the mural project, which was launched with a call for art in March 2019.
"We're happy to be part of beautifying our city and showing that Phoenix really is a city for artists," property manager Marelu Bendeman says of the project. "Murals generate traffic downtown for local businesses because people are interested in seeing the art."
The Monroe Street mural is one of many projects these artists have mounted in recent years.
Recently, Breeze collaborated with Pablo Luna on a mural at Joe’s Diner, using the space to elevate the history of the Melrose curve where it’s located and the history of elaborate canals built by the Hohokam people. A rising phoenix mural Breeze painted a decade ago is still on view in a downtown Phoenix alley near First and Washington streets.
The long list of local El Mac murals includes solo and collaborative pieces in several Phoenix mural hubs, including Calle 16, Grand Avenue, and Roosevelt Row. In 2016, he painted the portrait of a Phoenix immigrant holding a red rose at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, working with Mesa-based artist Mando Rascon.
The site for their new collaboration is situated near several existing murals, including a bear mural painted by the Switzerland-based Nevercrew artist collective at the historic Heard Building in 2018 and a mural painted by Clyde at the Renaissance Hotel Downtown Phoenix in 2019.
"Painting this mural downtown was important for me," says El Mac, recalling his frustration over other projects that never came to fruition because designs featuring Indigenous imagery didn't get approval. It's also a nod to his own personal history, including his early Phoenix murals painted near Central Avenue and Lincoln Street during the 1990s.
"I grew up a couple of blocks from here," he says of the new mural's location. "In my early years, painting public work here, it was always difficult to find sanctioned spaces." Because of this, artists' murals got painted over time and again, he explains.
Odds are, the new mural will last for years to come, perhaps inspiring more work that reflects Indigenous history and culture. "The city is always seeking its visual identity," El Mac says. "The more we can incorporate the history here prior to colonization, the better it will be."