And they’re all the works of just one artist: Fort Worth muralist Juan Velázquez.
For years, Velázquez’s medium of choice was oil paint on canvas. But it was a can of Montana 94 spray paint that propelled his pursuit of art into overdrive, allowing him to step into his calling.
“I didn’t feel like I wanted to be an artist, I just was one,” Velázquez says. “I have always been an artist. I was born to do this.”
Art hadn’t always been Velázquez’s calling, though, as far as he knew. He had spent the better part of his adulthood as a family man, confined in corporate America.
Velazquez migrated to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 3. As an adult, he had dreamed of serving the country that had afforded him opportunity. He wanted to belong.
“I always felt like I was adopted,” Velázquez says. “Imagine you’re in a family and you’re adopted, and they’re like, ‘OK, you’re part of us,’ but you always feel like you’re adopted, like you’re not really their kid. I always felt that way about America. I wanted to be part of the family.”
In 2019, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. When he returned, his life drastically transformed. In the span of five months from late 2019 to early 2020, Velázquez was without a job and his marriage of 12 years was over. He also lost his home and totaled his vehicle.
With his back against the wall, he turned to art as a means of escape.
In 2020, the multimedia artist visited The Fabrication Yard, a legit West Dallas artpark. There, artist Trey Wilder was spray painting a mural of Snoop Dogg.
Velázquez was mesmerized. He had never seen art like the murals at The Fabrication Yard. He wanted in.
“My logic was not a question of whether or not I can paint somebody with a spray can,” he says. “It’s just a matter of getting used to the new tool. Spray paint is just a tool.”
He practiced by recalling the images of his childhood. Some of his first murals were of Dragon Ball Z characters Goku and Gohan.
Then the news broke of the death of U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found months after she’d gone missing from her base in Fort Hood.
Velázquez didn’t know Guillén, but he had trained in the same company. He wanted to pay his respects by painting a mural of her.
On July 2, 2020, Velázquez made a call for a wall. Three days later, he and a collective of artists gathered at 3604 Hemphill St. in Fort Worth to paint the mural.
By dawn, Velázquez was a sensation.
“It just kind of happened overnight for me,” he says.
He gained about 6,000 new followers on Instagram. His Facebook messages were flooded. Hundreds of people lined the block to look at the commemoration of Guillén.
Velázquez hadn’t set out for fame. His artistic motivation is to push for awareness and representation.
“I never felt represented — represented by the art around my community, or even the museums,” he says. “There’s not a single person that matches my skin color at the Kimbell Art Museum or the Modern Art Museum [of Fort Worth]. When you see yourself in the art, it makes you feel better about yourself.”
So he set out to transform the community one mural at a time.
“I turned to the people; I paint for them,” Velázquez says. “I paint stuff that the community likes, and in return, they support me.”
On any given week, Velázquez paints one to three murals. Most are commissioned by local businesses. Some of these businesses come to the table with ideas, and others give the artist creative freedom. The result has been transformative, with the works bringing a sense of communal pride.
“If you see artwork in your neighborhood, it makes you feel better about it,” Velázquez says. “You feel an ownership to that area and it just makes people feel better.”
Velázquez’s partnerships beautifies neighborhoods with artwork that pays tribute to Mexican history, culture and music.
Fort Worth’s The Original Del Norte is home to a mural inspired by “La Bamba,” a 1940s oil on canvas painting of a couple dancing ballet folklorico by Mexican artist Jesús Helguera.
Velázquez pays homage to Helguera in Oak Cliff with a mural of Aztec mythological figures Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
At Paco’s Mexican Cuisine, visitors are greeted with Velázquez’s mural of Vicente Fernández, who is lauded as the king of ranchera music. Paco’s Mexican Cuisine’s sister company, Islas Tropicales, celebrates Mexican art and history with a Frida Kahlo mural.
Other murals are personal.
Two years ago, Velázquez sat indoors with his 3-year-old daughter. He told her to go play outside, but she refused, saying she didn’t want to “get darker,” Velázquez recalls her saying. Getting darker would make her ugly, she told him.
“Look at my skin,” she said. “I’m not beautiful.”
Velázquez shares his daughter’s complexion. Their skin tone is an even blend of his mother’s light coloring and his father’s darker tone.
“Going forward I will make sure my art will show the beauty of my brown skin,” the artist said in a Facebook post. “All skins are beautiful, but growing up I always got negative comments about my skin, especially from Mexican people. We need to change the way we talk about skin color around children.”
Velázquez’s art reflects beauty in all shades.
“Black Is Beautiful,” a mural of stylist Kierstí Young, decorates the wall outside 4 The Culture Studio at 115 N. Carroll Ave. in Dallas. In the mural, an eye-catching yellow backdrop patterned with white flowers envelopes Young’s head. Her blond and brown hair towers over her piercing eyes. Her brown skin glows. The studio is also home to “Love,” a mural that centers on peace among race relations.
Velázquez’s résumé is expansive. His murals can be found in El Paso, Venice Beach, California, Oklahoma and Uvalde, Texas.
In July 2022, Velázquez and artist Sarah Ayala arrived in Uvalde, where 21 victims died at a May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School. The artists had come to paint a mural of 10-year-old Alithia Ramirez, a fellow artist and victim of the shooting.
“It’s a painting, but there’s real people behind it,” Velázquez says. “That was somebody’s life, somebody’s child. It’s not just a story. That was somebody’s world.”
Velázquez recounted the experience in September 2022 as a guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show. He brought Clarkson, co-hosts and the audience to tears as he described the moment he met Ramirez’s father.
“I really couldn’t speak,” Velázquez told Clarkson. “All I told him was ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.’”
The Ramirez family gifted Velázquez with a beaded bracelet that belonged to Alithia. It now sits in his studio as a reminder of a mural and the people behind it he will never forget.
Another piece holds a significant place in the artist’s heart. It’s a 24×30 oil-on-canvas titled “On a Summer Night.” The oil painting is a realistic portrait of his then-wife holding their 7-month-old daughter on their porch. It’s a hot, peaceful summer night. The porch light illuminates the mother gazing at her daughter. A large American flag sways in the breeze. The scene is serene.
This work is a recreation of a photograph that bookmarks a turning point in Velázquez’s life.
“That’s probably like the last time where everything was normal,” the artist says.
Despite how many murals he’s produced, Velázquez is still perfecting his technique.
“I still haven’t gotten to the level of mastering spray painting the way I have oil paint,” Velázquez says. “I still feel like I can paint better. I still believe that my best work is yet to come.”