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From Curiosity to Calling: David Ocelotl Garcia

David Ocelotl Garcia's mural "El Viaje" in North Denver.

David Ocelotl Garcia has always had a natural intuition to be an artist, he said.

His older brother Marco didn’t know it at the time, but the school projects he did back then inspired his younger brother to pursue a career in the arts.

“I was really drawn to what he was working on,” Garcia said. “I was looking over his shoulder and that was really the initiation of everything.”

Then one day he came across the Mexican pictographs his dad, Jorge Garcia, had around the house and his artistic curiosity turned into his calling.

“The designs in those sparked creativity,” Garcia said. “Right away I started copying those designs and redrawing them.”

He practiced redrawing those designs and eventually became a sculptor. He later began painting murals, which he says are “visual representations of energy,” and are in a category he defines as “abstract imaginism.” This, he explained, has to do with his own creativity and how he perceives things. His pieces portray energy—much like the energy surrounding an atom.

Though not formally trained as an artist, he’s perfected his craft through repetition and connection.

“I’ve always had a natural intuition about art and a desire to practice,” Garcia said. “I wanted to practice drawing and sculpture and I wanted to figure out how to create things and connect anything I’ve ever done since I was a kid. Every work has taught me techniques about creating things that I would never learn in one school or one specific style of creating.”

Garcia, who serves as one of the first three of the Latino Cultural Arts Center’s Artists in Residence, was chosen for the opportunity because of his strong work ethic and need for a considerable amount of space to explore his work. Several of his works have been acquired by Adrianna Abarca for the future Mexican Heritage Museum as part of the LCAC.

“David is one of the most hardworking and capable artists I have ever met,” Abarca stated. “I love that cultural expression is present in almost all of his work, and that he always challenges himself to learn new techniques and to work with new materials. He has an amazing future ahead of him.”

The Roots and Inspirations

Garcia grew up in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver, which had a significant impact on him. The neighborhood was predominantly African-American at the time, which made him more curious about the roots of his traditional Mexican family. It also made him realize the depth of America’s diversity.

“It allowed me to understand that the country I live in isn’t just Mexican people or African-American people or any certain culture,” Garcia said. “It made me understand there is a lot of diversity.”

His curiosity about his culture ultimately led to his name “Ocelotl,” which in Nahuatl means jaguar. The name, he said, was given to him by elders of the Mexica tradition during a ceremony celebrating the deity Quetzacoatl.

Garcia is inspired by the muralists and sculptors who came before him, of course, but he said there were others who had more of an impact on his career.

His parents, the late Jorge and Hermelinda Garcia, for one.

“My dad was the most creative person I’ve ever met,” Garcia said. “On another level my mother really inspired me because I always wanted to make her feel proud of me and the only way I knew how to do that was with my artwork.”

Also the Abarca family, he said.

“What has really had a significant, major impact has been meeting Adrianna’s father Luis,” Garcia said, referring to the Latino Cultural Arts Center’s Founder and Chair Adrianna Abarca’s late father Luis Abarca. “His knowledge of art and his passion were really influential. I never realized someone could love art that much and be so passionate about something they’re not even creating. Ultimately, definitely Luis Abarca and Adrianna herself I would say have had the most impact on my artistic career.”

He said he’s sure Luis Abarca would be thrilled that the Latino Cultural Arts Center, which is set to break ground in 2020, is becoming a reality.

“He’d be so excited and he’d feel like it was an amazing idea,” Garcia said. “I know he’d be all for it.”

The Works

Every piece that Garcia creates, he challenges himself to be better. That’s why it is that although he is fond of certain pieces, usually if you ask him what his favorite piece of his is, it’s his most recent.

“Ultimately every piece that I do I challenge myself; I kind of explore a little bit more into what I’m doing,” Garcia said. “Because of that it becomes my favorite piece and I’ll even say, ‘This is my best piece.’”

Are there pieces he considers more successful than others? Of course, he said. One of those pieces is a mural at La Raza park in North Denver titled “El Viaje.”

“The north side is changing quite a bit,” Garcia said, noting that the Mexican families who have long called the area home have been pushed out to other neighborhoods. “It has such a strong Mexican cultural history—the piece plants a seed but it also creates a statement and honors that part of history in the area.”

Another piece he’s proud of is a recent mural on Cal Poly’s San Luis Obispo,

California campus titled “Integrated Visionaries.” The mural is housed at the Baker Center for Science and Mathematics.

“It’s supposed to be an image that inspires diversity but also to inspire people of color and Latinos to be creative and be yourself and feel that you can do anything you put your mind to,” Garcia said.

Garcia currently has a piece titled “La Muerte Joven” in the Belleza Mexicana exhibit at the Emmanuel Gallery, co-curated by the Latino Cultural Arts Center and CU Denver’s College of Arts and Media.

Garcia and his wife Kāsí live in the Denver Metro area with their daughter Aiyana.

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