Art Center Gallery Brings Murals From Tough Streets to Hopkins
Two exhibitions bring the outside world into Hopkins Center for the Arts.
You probably don’t want to go where Jimmy Longoria normally shows his art.
The Hopkins muralist heads to the worst parts of cities and searches for the wall with the most gang cross outs—when rival gang members mark over one another’s graffiti marks. The cross outs are a sign of contested turf. Longoria paints colorful murals on these walls, he says, to build a virtual wall between the rival gangs and grant community members space to go about their lives in peace.
In a new exhibition at Hopkins Center for the Arts, locals can catch Longoria’s work without facing gang members, crackheads, prostitutes and other hazards of his trade. The exhibition Muralistas, featuring the work of Longoria and two other muralists—Roberto Valadez and Salvador Vega of Chicago—opens Thursday with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The show—the first at the center featuring murals—runs through Feb. 27.
For Longoria, art isn’t about self expression; it’s about serving the community.
“People say, ‘Why aren’t you painting beautiful vistas?’ I say, ‘You don’t understand,’” he said.
His murals are a swirl of patterns with every color in the spectrum. “I use every color I can get my hands on,” Longoria said. The murals have both an aesthetic and pragmatic purpose. The whirlpool of paint makes it nearly impossible to see the graffiti, and Longoria said that makes rival gangs less likely to fight over the areas and, thus, makes the community safer.
It also draws the attention of passers-by. Embarrassed Johns are reluctant to visit prostitutes in these newly visible areas, Longoria said, so the sex workers move down the street with the gang members and drug dealers who accompany them. That puts a buffer between gang members competing for turf.
For years, Longoria resisted doing gallery exhibitions because of the expense. A single large canvas can cost $300. But the Bush Foundation awarded him a prestigious artist fellowship in 2010, giving him the resources to put together a show away from the streets.
Showing his pieces at the Hopkins Arts Center will mean differences beyond the more-conventional venue. Longoria’s typical work is large, rewarding his audience with different views from 6 feet, 15 feet and 100 feet. He and the other muralists in this show initially intended to display sketches and other drafts used to create their pieces, but Longoria decided to instead showcase work he’s done on more conventional canvases—albeit still intended to be viewed from 10 to 15 feet away.
“They’re going to be big,” he promised.
The pieces also reflect what Longoria called his transition from folk artist to fine artist. They’ll be abstract and “gestural.”
“This noodle, camouflage style allows you to narrate what you’re seeing,” Longoria said. “It’s kind of chaotic. It drives most art students crazy.”
A photography exhibition called Close to Nature opens alongside Muralistas. It features the work of photographers Jim Aronson, Paul Vitko, and Kristy Walker. Susan Hanna-Bibus, the art center's director, said each artist have a keen eye for the natural world. Walker, for example, has taken thousands of photographs of a single hummingbird that frequents her yard.
“All three of these artists have a way of looking at the little details in nature that are so easy to miss,” she said.
What: Muralistas and Close to Nature galleries
When: Opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The exhibitions continue through Feb. 27.
Where: Hopkins Center for the Arts, 1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins