North Texas Daily

Fort Worth artist brings people together through murals

Fort Worth artist brings people together through murals

Fort Worth artist brings people together through murals
July 02
12:00 2021

Over the past year, Juan Velazquez has painted more than 60 murals across the metroplex. 

From portraits of Texas musical icons like Selena and George Strait to tributes to the Black Lives Matter movement, residents and tourists alike have been drawn to Velazquez’s colorful work adorning city buildings. The Fort Worth resident has been part of the local art community for three years after quitting his desk job and returning to his high school passion, but his work with murals was improvised due to COVID-19.  

“I figured that if I did murals, people can still come out, people can stand six feet apart and still see the art,” Velazquez said.

Velazquez has now gotten enough professional interest to not only work full time as an artist, but to also stick to commissions that align with his values. His work aims to bring the community together and represent everyone through creating pieces that express himself and his interests.  

This personal touch can be seen in a portrait of a friend titled “Black is Beautiful” located on North Carroll Avenue in Dallas. With the piece, Velazquez wanted his child to feel recognized in art. 

“My daughter didn’t see herself in the community artwork because she’s dark skinned like me,” Velazquez said. “I wanted a little girl to be able to walk by and see herself in [the mural] and think, ‘I’m beautiful.’” 

Velazquez also paints murals of loved ones who the community has lost. One of his most famous pieces, located in southern Fort Worth on Hemphill Street, honors Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen. In the piece, she is seen in her military uniform, set against a bright yellow backdrop. 

“I want to thank [Velazquez] from the bottom of my heart,” Vanessa’s sister Mayra Guillen said. “The first mural represents life, the yellow background stands out and captivates viewers that would want to make people pull over and see the art that surrounds her and learn about her story. […] She wanted to make everyone proud, serve and protect.”

An Army member himself, Velazquez graduated from basic training in the same company as Guillen, although he did not know her personally.  

“I saw the story of Vanessa Guillen and I decided to do a mural for her,” Velazquez said. “I wanted her family to see it and know they weren’t alone [and] that we’re behind them.”

Other commemorative murals by Velazquez depict Garland football player Cristopher Guardado, 16, and mariachi Benjamin Isaac Castañeda Floran, 17.

“I want to help the community heal from things as we’re going through difficult times,” Velazquez said. “People need something to put a smile on their face [and] need to know that there is someone out there that will do something for a stranger without asking for something in return. It lets people know that there is still hope in this world.”

Velazquez has also decorated the city with national figures. His mural of poet Amanda Gorman can be found inside the the Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project building, known as LVTRise. Gorman was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate and writes about topics including feminism, marginalization and the African diaspora.

“I think the piece was done wonderfully,” LVTRise Executive Director Willie Rankin said. “Many people love the mural and like taking pictures with it. […] We chose a local artist because we’re a local community center.”  

Despite the recognition and gratitude Velazquez receives from the community, he does not receive a lot of support from city administration or art collectives. He attributes this to his art style, as he works with spray paint for his murals, using a doodle grid to scale his pieces from a photo to a wall. 

However, Velazquez is not discouraged. He plans on continuing to paint pieces that represent and support the community. As he finishes art school at Tarrant County College, he also plans on continuing his education to become an art professor eventually.  

“I want to keep doing my part to push forward the art community in Fort Worth,” Velazquez said. “I paint slightly different than what they want in the city so I guess I want to change the city.”

Velazquez started with oil paintings and is excited to return to the medium in an upcoming art show. As life returns to a pre-COVID-19 standard, the artist wants to show his audience that he does more than spray paint murals. 

“A lot of times people talk down about my art, they don’t intend to but it’s labeled as graffiti,” Velazquez said. “By calling it graffiti, you’re saying it’s not as good as fine art. My art is art, and I take art seriously just like everyone else — I took art classes just like everyone else.”

Courtesy Juan Velazquez

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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