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Molding A Creative Life with Josiah Lee Lopez

Josiah Lee Lopez from Denver has been making art for the past 26 years. He is recognized for his dynamic stencil work both in gallery spaces and outdoors. His work consists of graffiti, illustration, and painting drawn from popular culture. Lopez has developed a personal archive of 10,000 images from magazines, books, and the web. Each of his works require multiple stencils pieced together for a final composition. These are typically depictions of historical figures and events significant to his personal and collective Latino identity. Take a stroll up Santa Fe Drive between 9th and 10th to see one of Josiah’s most iconic murals – The Blue Ladies. This block of work is considered his domain – a pact that allows Josiah’s work to be undisturbed by neighboring graffiti artists. When he isn't painting he is teaching at Access Gallery which serves young artists with disabilities. Lopez’ work is part of The Abarca Family Collection and will be displayed at the future site of LCAC’s Mexican Heritage Museum.

Josiah, Congratulations on being featured in the Chicano Murals of Colorado Project, Para Mi Pueblo (now on view through December 22 @ the McNichols Building). Can you talk about your painting in the show, “Tonatiuh”, that is hanging in the gallery?

(This piece is part of the LCAC collection)

He is the Aztec Sun God positioned at the center of the Aztec calendar. I’m interested in exploring a series of symbols found within the codices. My style morphs the indigenous imagery with 80’s video games, Mexican folklore, comic books and graffiti.

Could you break down how you manipulate those elements in “Tonatiuh”?

I start to compartmentalize the shapes, colors into pixels and play with depth to create a 3D image. The image is taken from a photograph of an ancient sculpture of Tonatiuh. It sounds complicated, but I am able to use the skills I have learned about colors and shapes to manipulate an image. In this way the image comes to me very organically. The colors I used are found within codices like yellow, blue, black, and red. The illustration is drawn from cosmic book aesthetics. The pixilation comes from Atari games like Pong, Pac-Man, and other early video games from the 80s. The combination of all these styles make it hard to read what you are looking at creating a lingering effect.

Looking at your mural work and paintings you have a range of styles that you work through. Can you talk about your signature?

It’s important to evolve as artists and not get stuck in the same type of work. I’m taking the iconography of Chicano art and pushing it forward and pushing my talent to greater heights. The elements of my work are always present, but the style is different. I don’t want to get stuck recreating the same thing over and over again, so I change every five years.

What advice would you give other artists?

This is where I become very cynical of the business. I would say don’t become just an artist. There is a lot of misery and poverty. Nowadays a bachelor’s degree doesn’t get you too far. Therefore, I pursued my graduate degree, so I could also become a teacher. In this way I can teach and not be broke all year round. It’s hard to be a full-time artist. We have to begin thinking practically about how we can sustain our creativity.

Where can people see more of your work?

I’m having a solo show in conjunction with Cheech Marin’s exhibition at the Loveland Museum November 2nd through January 2020. The show features my early drawings of graffiti/urban street influences with cultural signs and symbols through my experimental styles of the past decade. Some of my mural work can be seen on the streets in the Santa Fe Arts District and the Westwood Arts Community.

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