Mario Torero has made his mark with large-scale, Chicano-style, outdoor murals coloring places like Chicano Park and Centro Cultural de la Raza. In recent years, the artist has taken note of what he sees as a somewhat alarming trend in big, outdoor art—the rise of the billboard-style mural.
Rather than hand-painted directly on walls, more mural projects involve artwork that's been enlarged and printed on vinyl, which is then mounted in aluminum frames and put into place.
"It's a way of getting big art for a lot less money," says Torero. "It's this chintzy attitude. It's not the same as a painting. Banners are not murals."
Lynda Forsha is the project curator for the popular Murals of La Jolla, which uses the billboard-style technique for its privately funded, large-scale murals affixed to the outside of businesses throughout the coastal community. She says the method is more affordable, easier to pitch to businesses and offers artists other than traditional muralists the opportunity to have their work represented large-scale.
"We show conceptual artists, photographers and others," Forsha says. "We're working with artists who've never done work like this before."
Local art critic Robert Pincus says he thinks there's room for both mural styles. He says the newer approach creates more opportunities rather than acting as a replacement for the traditional style.
"I think it's better to have a project like Murals of La Jolla than not to have any art up in La Jolla," he says. "I feel that, except for probably very few locations, they would encounter resistance to having artists paint directly on their property."
Because opportunities for commissioned outdoor art are limited, Torero has participated in the billboard trend. One of his vinyl pieces hangs on the mixed-used development Mercado del Barrio in Barrio Logan, and he even used the banner method himself at UCSD to help pave the way for a now-permanent mosaic on campus.
Torero was also the lead artist on a hand-painted mural on H Building at the San Diego Mesa College campus. The college has been undergoing major construction, and Torero's piece is the last original mural on campus, yet it, too, sits in a building scheduled for demolition.
Mesa College has replicated other demolished campus murals through a metallic printing process; a spokesperson says the school is open to all options for reproducing Torero's piece. Those options will be discussed at a panel discussion, "Last Mural on Campus," at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, in room H-117/118. Torero says he's pushing for a more permanent mosaic-style method. He says that while the lifespan of vinyl-printed murals is short and they fade after just a few years, even painted murals eventually wear off.
"We should be thinking of a more permanent installation," he says. "And banners don't fool me. They're just decoration... It's just a poster."