- Nancy Flores American-Statesman Staff
Creative spaces can nourish artistic spirit, helping ideas become reality. For street artist Federico Archuleta, whose artwork often ends up on public spaces around Austin, the ideas for many pieces are developed and refined in his East Austin home studio and garage.
It’s his personal sanctuary, where he can put headphones on after midnight when his best ideas flow, listen to classic rock and paint, sketch or create stencils without worrying about the phone ringing or the world whizzing by around him. He’s most inspired to create, he says, when he discovers music from an unfamiliar band or listens to a familiar act’s music that he’s never heard before. “Holy moly,” Archuleta, 46, says. “That’s when I’m soaring.”
Archuleta’s high-quality stencil art has quickly become part of Austin’s cityscape and has earned him a reputation as one of Austin’s most dynamic street artists. He’s behind many popular pieces including the “’Til Death Do Us Part” mural outside of the Mexic-Arte Museum that features two skulls lovingly facing each other in an embrace. Austinites have flocked to the beloved mural to pose for pictures with their sweethearts. At Tesoros on South Congress, Archuleta’s stencil art version of the Virgen de Guadalupe greets passers-by. “Now I’m trying to create the next big piece,” Archuleta says. “We’ll see what comes out.”
Archuleta, who produces stencil art that’s commissioned or done with permission, sometimes sketches in his home studio where he has a drawing table. “I like the organic nature of pencil and paper,” he says. The messy work gets done in the garage where he’s surrounded by some of the things that inspire him.
Archuleta gave us a tour of his home studio and garage and showed us why his creative space fosters his artistic vision.
Archuleta’s eclectic vinyl record collection includes everything from the Cuban mambo rhythms of Pérez Prado to the rock ‘n’ roll of ZZ Top. He keeps the collection in his garage and often finds himself dancing while he paints. “Music plays a huge part in what I do,” he says.
After working in silk-screen shops in his native El Paso, Archuleta became a display artist for Tower Records in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Dallas and finally Austin in 2002. There the music lover had the chance to create large-scale music and pop culture-related art pieces.
Before Tower Records on the Drag closed in 2004, Archuleta decided to experiment with painting stencil art on the building’s exterior, and his paintings of artists such as Johnny Cash can still be found today. When painting, it’s the Clash that always moves Archuleta to do some of his best work. “I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll heart.”
Austinites can visit the “’Til Death Do Us Part” mural downtown, but Archuleta has his own personal canvas in his garage. His version, with hummingbirds and bees, was produced for an East Austin Studio Tour exhibit.
“The success of this (mural) has surprised me,” Archuleta says. It’s gotten so popular that people have begun copying, mass producing and selling his original image. Archuleta says one-time uses are fine, but profiting from his artwork oversaturates the market and makes selling his own prints difficult. “I’m competing against myself.” Archuleta’s “’Til Death Do Us Part” mural, which was painted in 2009, was inspired by the pirate flag.
After granting numerous requests from fans of the mural to use the image for engagement announcements, wedding cakes and wedding invitations, Archuleta finally got to use the image as a backdrop for his own nuptials this spring.
Among Archuleta’s most treasured possessions are his numerous sketchbooks, which date back to the 1990s. Archuleta has sketched out hundreds of ideas over the years. “Certain ideas come right away, and others you have to wrestle with,” he says. When he feels stuck, he digs through the sketchbooks in his home studio. “I’ll find the genesis of a good piece and then start to develop it.” An early version of “’Til Death Do Us Part” actually appears in a sketchbook that’s more than a decade old.
Archuleta’s notebooks document the progression of his artwork over the years but also sometimes have a diary-like feel because of personal sketches or poetry he’s included. “Not everything sees the light of day, and it’s a good record of what I’ve been through.”
“When you look at my work, it’s easy to detect it comes from a Mexican style,” Archuleta says. Archuleta dived into Mexican pop culture imagery in his mid-20s when he moved to Guadalajara and began collecting Mexican calendars, magazines and movie posters. Today, one of the walls in his garage is filled with a collage of some of his favorite images over the years. Archuleta takes notice of things like colorful candy wrappers, comic book styles and unique album covers. One of his quirkiest album cover finds is a made-in-Spain Beatles record featuring an Aztec calendar on the cover. “That’s the kind of stuff I get a kick out of,” he says.
Archuleta’s Virgen de Guadalupe stencil hangs from a tree in his backyard, next to his garage. It’s the one he used to create the mural at Tesoros, and the wooden stencil itself impresses with its beauty. The Virgen de Guadalupe has also become a symbol of Mexican identity and culture, one that continues to play a part in artwork across the Americas.