It's easy to follow Anselmo Garcia through the alleys of his memory, as a graffiti artist in Tijuana since the early 1990s and part of the Barrio Logan art movement that's changing the perception of the neighborhood today. A conversation touches on his journey growing up on both sides of the border and reveals urban art's evolution in the last 20 years.
Garcia says he joined HEM Crew in 1990, a family of artists that's been pushing graffiti, art and culture in Tijuana for more than two decades. HEM Crew held a one-night art expo at the Centro Cultural Tijuana last weekend; they live-painted the walls and talked about their art and their group's history.
"A lot of people don't know that I do graffiti," says Garcia, who has a degree in graphic design and is currently focused on other types of painting. "I'm getting older and not doing as much as I used to, so I'm a little more comfortable coming out and saying this is who I am."
Garcia will open a solo show, The Paradox of Portals, at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 at Voz Alta (1754 National Ave. in Barrio Logan). His last show was a tribute to his father, who died in 2009; it, too, was held at Voz Alta and was composed entirely of paintings of roosters. The flyer for Paradox depicts a rooster flying sideways out of a window, which represents the passing of Garcia from one stage of life to the next.
"It's releasing, seeing myself move off from the emotional ties that were attached to my art," he says.
"I've had some wild experiences," he adds, "and my art has changed in a good way, so I've tried to collect that information and work with what I've experienced, so the show goes through documenting those emotions."
There'll be 20 new pieces at the gallery, presented in different installations, each representing a portal from one stage of Garcia's life to the next. Large, painted cider bottles will be displayed on a lazy Susan; Garcia has also painted self-portraits on the windows of an antique door that will hang nearby.
"It's surreal," Garcia says of the exhibition, "and shows that if you hold onto your dreams, you can make them whatever you want."
A piece by Garcia that you may have seen is the huge mural on the side of what's now San Diego Public Market on National Avenue. The former building owners approved the project that Garcia funded and executed himself, along with his crew. Hopefully, it'll stay there.
"Barrio Logan is really pushing toward a whole new way of looking at art in the area and changing the negativity that a lot of people had about it being a scary place," Garcia says. "It's really changing for the better."