ARTIST OF THE MONTH: “What's my favorite piece?” Lalo Cota repeats, settling in at Jobot coffeehouse in Downtown Phoenix. “The next one.” Less than a mile away, his most recent mural – depicting an iconic skeletal bicyclist taking a leisurely cruise – graces the outside wall of Paz Cantina at Third and Roosevelt streets.
The self-taught artist and father of two draws his inspiration from myriad sources, ranging from Mexican folk art to Chicano low-rider culture. Due largely to the vibrancy of his imagery, where grinning skulls co-exist serenely with floating balloon hearts, he has become widely recognized as one of the top-tier muralists in Phoenix.
Cota, 42, draws a distinction between public art and the illegal world of graffiti, noting that commissioned art for the masses tends to be pleasingly santized, while street art’s whole raison d’être is to spread a calculated, often provocative message. Cota has dipped a toe in both worlds, but for the past few years, he’s been strictly legit, creating commissioned murals for Barrio Cafe and Carly’s Bistro, and artwork for The Office Pile, a business incubator for minorities. He views being an artist as “the purest kind of freedom” and says inhabiting a cubicle at a typical 9-to-5 job would be the worst form of “selling out.”
He prefers to use brushes and rollers, eschewing the traditional spray paint utilized by so many of his contemporaries. He says he hopes the positive energy he infuses into his art will help it connect more with viewers. Cota believes murals create a legacy, a way of interacting with the public long after the artist is gone. He says if he could talk to his younger self, he’d advise him to better document his forays into graffiti, as a means to that end.
But what if he couldn’t be an artist anymore? What would he rather be? Without so much as a pause, Cota happily responds, “If I could no longer be an artist? I’d rather be a dad.”
Now that... that is a legacy.
See Lalo Cota’s latest work at Paz Cantina, 1011 N. Third St., and at lalocota.com.
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