HOUSTON, Texas — Mario Figueroa Jr., a Houston graffiti artist better known as Gonzo247, got to work Wednesday on the first permanent mural on the University of St. Thomas campus.
“I wanted to give people a really great splash of impact this morning, so I got here around 5:30 and just started sketching,” said Gonzo.
The Houston Chronicle reports the mural will depict St. Thomas Aquinas, the university’s namesake, amid a vibrant background featuring imagery from the university campus, with the downtown skyline as a base below.
“UST, like many educational institutions, is going through a bit of a re-founding and art is a great way not only to tell a story but to bring people together,” said University of St. Thomas Chaplain, Father Chris Valka.
“One of the things I like about the mural specifically is it has elements of our Catholic tradition, but in a contemporary mindset,” Valka said.
Katie Fleming, a senior political science major, said she thinks the mural will boost school spirit.
“I really love that he incorporates a lot of Houston imagery into it,” Fleming said. “We’re a small campus but it makes us feel like we’re a part of Houston – a part of Houston’s history.”
Gonzo, whose sister graduated from and later worked at the university, has been familiar with the campus for years. However, he said being commissioned for the two-story mural on the edge of the campus gave him a new perspective.
“I just kind of started picking up these different little elements that really caught my attention and then I decided to find a way to incorporate those different elements into the mural,” said Gonzo.
“I wanted to have this array of elements that you look at and it might not register immediately but then you’re walking around the campus and you’re like ‘oh wow, I saw that in the mural’ kind of like Easter eggs.”
A Catholic himself, Gonzo recognizes the historical partnership between artists and the Church.
“A lot of major art works were originally commissioned by the Vatican so there’s a long history of the Church supporting artists” said Gonzo. “That relationship between the Church and the arts isn’t new, but it’s great that we found a way to reconnect those entities.”
Some alumni voiced concern Monday on a post on a Concerned UST Alumni Facebook page. Referencing a previously released mock-up for the mural, the post alleged that “the image of St. Thomas Aquinas that is in the mural is copied from an image of St. Thomas the Apostle” and was an “inaccurate depiction of the university’s patron saint.”
In response university spokeswoman Sandra Soliz said “The rendering is just a mock-up to demonstrate proof of concept. The actual mural hasn’t even begun yet and will look different.”
Gonzo echoed Soliz’s statement, saying, “A mock-up is generally just an idea of placement and so the image I originally had was a placeholder for the one that we were developing.”
The mural will likely be done in about two weeks, depending on the weather, said Gonzo. The University of St. Thomas will hold a party on Feb. 28 to celebrate Gonzo and the mural.
“Art is a great vehicle to promote and instigate thought process and, again, like all the other elements the goal is for people to see it and wonder,” the artist said. “It’s not going to be written anywhere — the goal is for you to go and find out.”
Gonzo said the mural will embody the university’s “Be your bold self” campaign and hopes to inspire students.
“They’re telling the students to ‘Be bold, be bold, be bold,” but if the university does nothing to emphasize that those are just words,” Gonzo said. “This should encourage (students) to say, ‘if the school did this then I can really do something with myself.'”