Painter Jessica Gonzales ’12 uses a bit of magic to design her murals.
“I have ideas that come to me in a dream, in my waking moments, in the seconds before I wake up in the morning,” she says.
When she had a commission for the Hotel McCoy, an independent Tucson hotel that makes a point of decorating with art, she couldn’t decide what she should paint. Then those dream moments gave her a vision.
She painted a beautifully colored image of a woman blowing bubbles and succulent desert plants floating in little terrariums. Like much of her work, the mural honors Tucson’s desert home. And the “poppy, psychedelic colors” she used pay homage to the McCoy’s origins in the swinging ’60s.
“I tried to do a little retro,” Gonzales says with a smile.
With her imaginative pictures, hot colors and desert vibes, Gonzales has become a star in Tucson’s mural explosion. Her works, often of women, are all over downtown and beyond.
It’s not hard to find her outdoors on a ladder, dressed in colorful vintage outfits, painting the side of buildings like Antigone Books, the Loft Cinema or the Rialto Theatre. Her enchanted fans love to watch her work.
“People want to come and chit-chat,” she laughs. “Obviously I want to engage with my audience, but sometimes I’ve got deadlines!”
She gives credit for her success to Tucson High School and the University of Arizona School of Art.
“I’ve gotten good training,” she reflects.
Gonzales had made art since she was a kid — she liked to draw her friends’ portraits on the bus ride to school — and she crossed town to study art at Tucson High magnet school. Those high school art classes were top-notch, but it was at UArizona that she embraced painting.
“My first semester, I took a class with Alfred Quiroz, and I loved it.” (Quiroz, a charismatic professor and successful artist, is now retired.) “I had some interest in painting but didn’t really have experience with it. The excitement of being at the university, in combination with Alfred and his personality, changed all that.” She majored in art and concentrated in painting.
After graduating in 2012, she easily moved into the downtown arts scene. She’s lived in Tucson since she was 12, and she already was a regular on arty Fourth Avenue. She worked at the Tucson Thrift Shop, vendor of vintage clothes, and she frequented the rave circuit. It was not long before she began doing paintings on commission and exhibiting her personal work at local venues.
Originally published in the Winter 2022 Arizona Alumni magazine.
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