Merced County Times Newspaper
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Up-and-coming Valley muralist shares about path to MLK work

Mural artist Joel Aguilar adds some finishing touches to the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.
Mural artist Joel Aguilar adds some finishing touches to the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.

Residents in south Merced are celebrating the completion of a beautiful community mural of Martin Luther King Jr. painted by Joel Aguilar on a wall of the Merced Food Center at MLK Jr. Way and 12th Street.

Joel Aguilar is a local artist in the Central Valley. He was born and raised in Livingston and attended Livingston High School, where he took Art as an elective.

As his interest in art developed, he began to paint for galleries in Merced and Fresno. One of his first shows was at the Art Hop in Merced when he was a high school senior, and he won first place.

Aguilar briefly attended California Institute of the Arts, a well-known private university in Valencia, California.

He told the Times, “I went there for a month for a pre-college course and won a scholarship as an Emerging Artist.

“I took that scholarship to Stanislaus State University which I attended for four years, and it helped me buy supplies.

“I wanted to venture out, and I told my school counselor I wanted to live on campus in the dorms and she said why not live in Italy because it’s really not any more expensive, so I applied.

“I submitted a few art pieces with my application, and it took around seven months to complete the application, which included speaking with the people in the organization.  I had to take courses in Italian before I left to become a little bit fluent in Italian.

“Getting accepted to go to art school in Florence, Italy was one of the best accomplishments of my life.  I went to the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, which is the home of Michelangelo’s David statue so I got to see that every day.

“In Florence, I was practicing my craft, living and breathing art.

“I concentrated on oil painting. I painted some nightmare scenes because it was my first time flying and being away from home, and my professor thought I should do something with that.  I also did movement paintings, trying to portray motion.  I was influenced by contemporary artists, and I also got a lot of that Renaissance vibe in Florence.

“When I returned, I wanted to keep the energy alive in California. People look at being an artist like it’s not a job, especially in the Central Valley.

“I’m a freelance artist, self-employed, and in my work in Livingston, Turlock, Atwater and Merced, I hope to be a positive influence in the community.

“I found out about the opportunity to paint the Martin Luther King, Jr. mural from one of my friends, who saw a Facebook announcement.  When I found out, I said I would volunteer my time.  I was paid only for my supplies.

“I talked to the people on the Martin Luther King Committee headed by Tamara Cobb, and we talked about how when she was young, the Merced Food Center was the only nearby grocery store in the neighborhood.  The Committee wanted the mural to be very simple, but they let me do my own spin, and I’m glad they allowed me to do that.

“I did it in my style, which is using a lot of colors and a black and white checkerboard, and it’s kinetic art with a little bit of gradient scales.

“I had a ladder, and it took me two days to paint the Martin Luther King, Jr. mural.  “I gave a little performance today, the third day, doing touch ups during the celebration, so people could see me paint live.

“There is a big empty space between the Cesar Chavez mural and the Martin Luther King, Jr. mural.  A Fresno artist created the Cesar Chavez mural.  I would like to continue my work in the empty space and start something there, but we need funds.”

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