When painter and muralist Chicho Lorenzo saw the 7′ tall retaining wall along Barracks Road near the 250 bypass, he knew exactly what he wanted to paint.
“Maybe two years ago, I was commissioned to paint a mural for a military school,” Lorenzo says. “I had an idea for an image of two teachers standing like columns, supporting the base of education. I didn’t paint it then, but when I saw this wall I thought, what if I extended it from teachers to nurses to dreamers to many other people in the community?”
In early 2017, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative partnered with Albemarle County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, UVA Arts and local residents to beautify the concrete corridor that connects busy Barracks Road with scenic Garth Road. Local and regional artists submitted proposals to the initiative, which was spearheaded by The Charlottesville Mural Project, a Bridge PAI program designed to showcase artistic talent while creating a more interesting visual landscape in Charlottesville.
In the process, members of nearby communities discussed what they hoped to see in the mural, including organic colors, a sense of whimsy and playfulness, and a theme that communicated the history, geographic beauty and diverse people of the area.
Small wonder that Lorenzo was chosen. Since moving to Charlottesville in 2008, the self-taught artist has become known for painting dreamy, colorful murals that reflect the vibrancy of his native Madrid and typically reference real people from the local community.
Local musicians are some of his favorite subjects. “If I sit in front of a musician playing, I can perfectly draw it—not just their faces and instruments, but the way they play,” says Lorenzo. “I can draw their music with symbols and other graphic resources. It’s very instantaneous inspiration.”
Manifesting the unseen is part of the pleasure of creation for Lorenzo, who views art as “opening the window for a real life” that just happens to not exist yet.
He points to the mural he painted on the back wall of Mas Tapas in Belmont. “It’s a floating banquet with real people: people from the restaurant, people from the yoga place upstairs, many neighbors from that area,” Lorenzo says. “There was one neighbor who told me that his mom always wanted him to have a farm. So on one of the mountains, far away, there’s a little farmhouse with this guy in the door.”
Just like that, the man’s mother was right. Suddenly, he had a farm.
“In my experience, art opens possibilities in life,” Lorenzo says. “We are so used to seeing life a certain way. We see our routines, our day-by-day. Now with the Internet, we can see more, but it’s still limited. But then you learn how to do art, and you realize life is limitless.”
That’s the power of mutual inspiration, he says. Whether he works on painting a portrait or creating a massive mural, he continually draws from the town that inspires him—and hopes to return the favor.
“Mostly, I hope my art inspires a kind of happiness,” he says. “I have this trust that my art somehow makes the world or at least the local community, a little better.”