By JEFFREY JENSEN
By any measure, to a casual observer Mauricio Ramirez’s colorful, timely and significant kaleidoscope of outdoor mosaics would be considered a step above…graffiti. But, in fact, for the affable 31-year-old visual artist Mauricio, a rising national presence in the art world, soccer lover and doting father of four-year-old son, Heath, he would probably take no offense, and perhaps even find it suitable if you chose to use the “G” word when describing his works.
“I’ve been painting murals and graffiti since I was 15 years old,” Mauricio said matter-of-factly. “I was inspired by my older cousins at five-years-old and it was my first introduction to colors and designs, and it was pretty cool at a young age. Graffiti was trendy at the time, but the art really made an impact. At every family function people would draw on tables and I would soak it all in. I started practicing while growing up in Chicago where my son still lives, but my entire family now lives in Milwaukee. I joke about my home being the Interstate highway between the cities.”
Judging by the considerable attention and awe-struck reverence shown by the many onlookers at his newest creation on the east-facing brick wall of the old Lincoln Photography building on Lincoln Avenue directly across from the Basilica of St. Josaphat, the word “graffiti” may be the last word fans would use to describe this spectacular interpretation of “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” Indeed, between this latest stunning achievement and the recent “Front Line Heroes” painting right around the corner on 6th Street, which received recognition from the New York Times, there is certainly a real “WOW” factor happening these days on this short stretch of Lincoln Avenue.
Mauricio has been making a living designing and composing this type of specialized outdoor art for about seven years now, and this was his first collaboration with friend Chacho Lopez, whose own distinct skills are normally on display at the Walker’s Point Tattoo Company where he works at his full-time craft.
“Chacho and I have been talking about this project about 3 ½ years now,” said Mauricio. “I started out with an image and I’d text it to Chacho and he’d add some ideas and text it back. We went back and forth like this and the process took about a week. This non-commissioned work is really organic and ties into the neighborhood with the Basilica right there. It’s important to me that certain works like this one make a cultural difference. Some of the commissioned works I do that don’t have that cultural difference are more watered down.”
Starting out years ago, one of Mauricio’s first projects was to paint murals (still there) on 12 utility boxes lining Wisconsin Avenue downtown from the Northwestern Mutual Building to the Milwaukee Public Library, each displaying a storytelling history of the area. Last year, he helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “16th Street Community Health Center” with a mural recognizing the diversity of the area residents.
Outside of Wisconsin, Mauricio has donned his 3M-respirator mask and shaken his boundless supply of spray paint cans for past projects in Colorado, Chicago, and Baltimore, and has a job scheduled for this summer in Portland, Oregon, the pandemic’s cooperation pending.
Meanwhile, back home here in Milwaukee, not only had the New York Times taken notice of the impactful “Front Line Heroes” work on 6th Street, but many locals were moved as well, including nearby residents John and Kelly. They are the current owners and residents of the brick building just down the street, and approached Mauricio with the idea of using the east wall of their home, originally “Lincoln Photography Studio,” and then “Lincoln Art Pottery”, for “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. The artist quickly agreed it was a “perfect” canvas for his idea. John and Kelly helped with the funding, as well as the Lincoln Village Business Association, the Stan Johnson Company donated the primer, and a usually expensive scissors-style lift truck was supplied, at no cost, by Wisconsin Lift Truck Co. Everything was in place and Mauricio and Chacho went to work.
“A huge important part of every mural is to get the locals engaged,” said Mauricio. “I want these murals to be a landmark and destination and to be able to inspire in helping people continue to grow their neighborhoods.”