After a rainy month, the sun shone brightly on March 21 as the University of St. Thomas community celebrated the reveal of GONZO247’s mural on the east wall of Crooker Center. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered on the Campus Life Mall to enjoy hot dogs from James Coney Island, snap photos in front of the mural and meet with renowned Houston artist, Mario Figueroa, Jr.
The mural depicts St. Thomas Aquinas, namesake and patron of UST. Woven throughout the painting are iconic school symbols: The Labyrinth forms the saint’s halo, while the Chapel of St. Basil and the Link-Lee Mansion flank him. In his hands, he holds his Summa Theologiae, which all UST students study in their core philosophy courses.
The root of every culture is expressed through symbols, patterns and colors,” GONZO said. “I absorb the culture. I internalize it, and I mash it up. Then I put that back out through these color combinations and patterns that I create in the background of the murals.”
The painting commenced Feb. 11. The following day, the Houston Chronicle featured the story on the front page. From there, the story was picked up by national media outlets, including the Associated Press, and reached readers from coast to coast.
“Not only is this mural going to be accessible to the students here, but it’s embedded into Montrose, and so by default, the public engagement reaches beyond the student body to the entire neighborhood,” GONZO said. “Because it’s an open campus, anyone from the city can come by and check it out.”
Born and raised Catholic, GONZO grew up in Houston’s East End. It was there he first saw Leo Tanguma’s mural, “The Rebirth of Our Nationality.” From that point forward, he knew he wanted to be an artist, so when UST, his sister’s alma mater, reached out to him, GONZO knew from personal experience that the project could only be a winner.
“Growing up, I had one mural in my neighborhood to look at, and it inspired me and a whole group of kids to become artists,” he said. “A mural in an academic setting can do a lot to inspire the next generation of leaders, innovators and scholars. To know that it is happening at UST says a lot about the school.”
Q&A with GONZO247
What inspired your design of the mural?
“I took a tour of the campus and things jumped out at me. I was inspired by the history of the campus and by St. Thomas Aquinas himself. And, of course, the vibrancy and diversity of the city is inspirational. I think that’s reflected in the diversity of the student body here.”
What messages do you wish to convey in your art?
“My purpose is to uplift people. I like using really bold, contrasting colors. When I paint, I have this positive energy with me that I’m embedding into the mural. I imagine the sunlight hits the art and starts reflecting that energy, and the audience absorbs it. If you’re having a bad day but you see these awesome, bold, popping colors, how can that not help you have a better day?”
Why did you personally want to do the UST mural?
“I really enjoy working on mural projects that engage the community. This campus is a community, so I liked the fact that it would engage the campus and inspire the students, inspire learning, inspire school spirit and, really, just give the students something bright and positive to look at as they enjoy their time here.”