Here's the Story Behind Tato Caraveo's Biggest Mural Ever

Tato Caraveo/Photo by Lynn Trimble
Detail of Tato Caraveo's new mural on Central Avenue, as it was nearing completion.
Phoenix artist Tato Caraveo recently painted a new mural on the south-facing wall of Arizona Opera. It depicts a couple sitting on a grassy knoll, holding bubble wands. They’re part of a landscape that includes desert plants and flowers, and a sunset sky.

The mural was commissioned by Lennar, a Florida-based home construction company that recently developed the Muse Apartments adjacent to Arizona Opera. It’s part of a larger art initiative, according to Kara Roschi.

Roschi orchestrated the project last year while serving as chief curator for Curator Engine, a Phoenix-based small business that focuses on connecting artists with potential buyers. Recently, Roschi left Curator Engine to work for Local First Arizona, but she's seeing the Caraveo project through.

Roschi connected with Lennar early in the development phase for Muse, and they came up with a series of art projects totaling about $100,000. Caraveo’s untitled mural, which measures about 120 feet across, is just the latest part of that effort.

“It’s the largest mural I’ve ever painted,” Caraveo says. Phoenix artist JJ Horner helped paint parts of the landscape.

click to enlarge Checking out Tato Caraveo's new mural for The Muse on Central Avenue, while he was doing some finishing touches. - TATO CARAVEO/PHOTO BY LYNN TRIMBLE
Checking out Tato Caraveo's new mural for The Muse on Central Avenue, while he was doing some finishing touches.
Tato Caraveo/Photo by Lynn Trimble
Earlier elements of the Muse project included a mural of opera singer Maria Callas painted on one side of a courtyard that opens onto North First Avenue. Tyson Krank and Caraveo painted a series of panels called Monarch Alley, with help from Horner, on the other side of the courtyard.

Work on Monarch Alley started in November, and wrapped up earlier this year. Caraveo started his mural on March 1, and has been finessing final details in recent days.

Collectively, the murals reference local arts and culture, including Arizona Opera and Phoenix Art Museum.

The museum is across the street from Muse. It’s exhibited works by Ed Mell and Philip C. Curtis, two artists whose styles share some commonalities with Caraveo’s style. Mell paints dramatic skies and Curtis is known for surrealistic figures.

Drawing that helped inspire the design for Tato Caraveo's newest Phoenix mural. - TATO CARAVEO/PHOTO BY LYNN TRIMBLE
Drawing that helped inspire the design for Tato Caraveo's newest Phoenix mural.
Tato Caraveo/Photo by Lynn Trimble
The imagery also includes classical musicians, which serve as an homage to the Phoenix Symphony, Roschi says. Caraveo is a musician as well as an artist, so music is a prevalent theme in his work.

He works with other subject matter, too. For Cookie Brokers on Grand Avenue, he painted a man eating a plateful of cookies. Caraveo painted abstract designs on a south-facing wall at The Blocks of Roosevelt Row, near an El Mac mural that recently was defaced. Last year, Caraveo collaborated with Graham Carew on several works for Crescent Highland Apartments.

Going from initial concept to finished mural for the latest Muse mural took some time, because several people were involved with the decision-making process. The city of Phoenix owns the building that houses Arizona Opera, so it had a say in what would go there. The city approved the design in February.

Caraveo submitted several designs, Roschi says. The final version looks a lot like a charcoal drawing he made years ago. “They wanted me to make the couple less goth,” he recalls of making small tweaks to the design.

For now, the couple’s identity is a mystery. Caraveo won’t say whose image he painted, but Roschi suspects it’s the artist and his girlfriend.

“That’s part of the charm of the mural,” Roschi says. “We’re just left to wonder.”