Latinos in San Antonio Lead Contemporary Mural InitiativeThe mural art at Qunicy and St. Mary’s beneath U.S. HW. I-35 adds greatly to efforts to add public art to downtown San Antonio. This cluster of highly colorful murals contributes to preserving Latino culture and addressing the lack of Latino art visibility in areas outside the Westside and Southside where most of the city’s mural tradition has flourished over the past 40 years. The murals on St. Mary’s Street are part of the San Antonio Street Art Initiative founded by Shek, one of the city’s most prolific mural artists.
Many artists contributed to this undertaking, but I could only find information on Los Otros Murals directed by Shek Vega and Nik Soupe, and muralist and painter Cruz Ortiz. Shek is one of the founders of Los Ortos Muralists and founder and president of the San Antonio Street Art Initiative [SASAI] which has successfully painted 63 murals over the past three years. Shek noted that SASAI “scouts talent to participate in the city’s best, highly visible, community projects that showcase their artwork on a larger scale.”The Los Otros Murals team completed several of the large murals at the St. Mary’s location several years ago. The Los Otros Murals team, “Shek” Vega and Nik Soupe, have undertaken mural projects across the city of San Antonio. These murals on St. Mary’s Street turned out to be among their best. Shek and Soupe are both self-taught artists and their stories as street taggers and graffiti artists have similar trajectories. As one might expect, each artist has a different story in finding a passion to paint.
“Shek” Vega was born and raised in South San Antonio and began his creative career as a graffiti artist at age 15. Shek’s vibrant and explosive imagination attracted the attention of the Pepsi-Cola marketing team
which featured him in a TV commercial engaged in mural painting and drinking cool Pepsi soda during the breaks.
Nik Soupe was born and raised in South Texas. A product of McAllen, he lived in numerous border communities while growing up. His parents labored as migrant workers. As a teenager, he painted automobiles during the summer months, a job that kept his hobby of graffiti art in check.
Soupe loved art, but also loved literature and came to San Antonio in the early 1990s to study English at UTSA. After completing his studies, he turned to art and for a time managed a warehouse he developed as an artist cooperative. In 2014, he joined Shek and began to paint murals on a full-time basis. Since his partnership with Shek, Soupe and Shek has painted more than 50 murals throughout San Antonio.
When Shek and Los Otros Murals are not painting murals they are doing creative work for the San Antonio Spurs and several other corporations. In a recent effort to expand their branding campaign, for example, the Spurs merchandising team contracted Shek to design caps and T-Shirts incorporating images that reflect graffiti and mural art.
Cruz Ortiz completed his education at UTSA in 2000, and began teaching high school. While at UTSA, his approach to art had taken on new meaning and purpose following the discovery of Chicano history and Chicano art books in the campus library.Ortiz’s art repertoire has evolved over two decades. During that time, he also attained international recognition. A Residency with ArtPace in 2005 greatly enhanced his art career. In the years between 2004-2006, Ortiz exhibited in Dallas, Texas; Paris, France; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Limerick, Ireland. In 2018 the San Antonio College Alumni Magazine featured Cruz Ortiz calling him “A teacher. A Political commentator. And a man of many ideas.”
Ortiz’s artistic range is expansive. He described his artistic approach to Chris Warren of San Antonio Magazine: “The closest thing (to what I do) would be a researcher who documents and tries to figure out his surroundings, relationships to others, and the universe.” Ortiz expands on that search for relationships in most of his creative work, including his mural “Hello Darlin’ Map” located inside the AT&T Center where his beloved Spurs play. His AT&T painting features several Tejano iconic images such as a cowboy boot, a lotto ticket, corn for deer, and a can of cold beer.
Cruz Ortiz is unique among Chicano artists in that he has taken his artistic talents to many different avenues. Today he mainly paints, designs, and prints, leaving muralism to the younger generation of Chicano artists working with San Anto Cultural Arts. He is proud of the San Anto artistic work, and a younger cohort of artists in return recognize that Cruz Ortiz helped to inspire a new generation of Chicano muralists.
Copyright 2022 by Ricardo Romo. All mural credits as indicated.