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[Chicago Artists] The Educator: Naco

June 4, 2013 1 comment

I take a lot of influence from a lot of artists around this neighborhood and Little Village. I’m always getting new inspiration from people.
— Ricardo “Naco” González

Wearing a blue-grayish hooded sweatshirt, Ricardo González’s nose was red from the cold. He stood next to his table of pieces of artwork as people walked by, glancing and admiring the work.

“Are you the one that puts up those pieces on 26th street?” one woman asked.

The people who walked through Mole de Mayo on an unusually cold day in May in Pilsen already knew González for his work without knowing who he was. Among the various pieces wheat pasted to the exposed brick in Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods were giant paletas, cupcakes, a Ninja Turtle and ice cream cones all signed by the artist “Naco.” Clones of the pieces made by hand are put up every few weeks, whenever the weather gets nice enough to walk around the neighborhood.

However, that’s somewhat typical of González’s character. He’s the guy that is always there, commenting on art, talking to artists, smiling and being a lively, positive figure to be around. Then the question comes: “So, what do you do?”

People have met him not knowing that he is the one brushing glue onto cupcakes in the middle of sunny afternoons, the same ones they admire on their daily route to work.

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González, a native of suburban Blue Island, didn’t start as a wheat paster. In fact, his wheat pasting work was inspired by another street artist who goes by the name of Jay Jasso. No, instead González carries the capacity and desire for murals; telling stories, educating a community through art and making an impact. Small acrylic pieces, like those sold at street festivals, are only a small sample of the large-scale pieces this artist has exhibited throughout Chicago’s South Side.

A thorough communicator when it comes to art, González has been teaching classes right out of college. From water-color classes for adults, to murals with the After School Matters program, the thought behind his process and explanation without a doubt comes from the formal training. With a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art, the broad pieces that this artist creates come with extensive amount of admirable detail.

Though quiet and always welcoming, the ambition to move projects is innate. However quickly he is known to work on particular art pieces, González takes his time to make sure the research for the pieces are accurate, representative of the community, rooted in culture and open to interpretation of the audience at hand. Maintaining and respecting the community is of utmost importance to him, as is the cultural significance behind canvas, murals and even his wheat pastes.

However, a few of his wheat pastes are just for fun like an ice cream cone with a bomb or a Ninja Turtle.

“You put that up?” asked another passerby at the Mole de Mayo festival, while pointing at the grimacing turtle head. González nodded.

“Check this out,” he said. He lifted his iPhone and unlocked it to reveal a photo of González’s wheat past as his background.

“Oh, cool,” González said smiling and nodding, in his own way appreciative each time someone acknowledges his art, especially in such a personal way.

Growing up, the 29-year-old artist wasn’t surrounded by his Mexican culture. Art pieces as a child were drawing cartoons even before he could speak. Yet, as he explored the Chicago area more and more, he found the Mexican neighborhoods on the South Side that he grew to love: Pilsen and Little Village.

“For the majority of the work that I’ve made, I’ve specifically created Latino or Mexican imagery and concepts. I speak to that audience just out of a service,” he explained. “I feel responsible. If I’m making artwork, I should make it something that matters to people of my culture.”

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Photo images by Israel Reza

Deciding that he wanted to go to art school wasn’t hard. Unlike those who may take two years to choose a major or second guess their college education, González was never confused on what he was going to do.

“I needed to figure out for myself as to what I wanted to do with it, but I never felt that I was wrong for it,” he said.

While exploring the city, González met many other artists, building his network around Chicago and making a name for himself as a hardworking and talented creator.

Additionally, González decided to take it upon himself to collaborate with various artists with different capacities. Creating a mural with Erick “Roho” Garcia and working with photographer Israel Reza for wheat pasting materials are only a few of the collaborations in which González has immersed himself. Challenging himself with new projects, (for example, teaching students to create public service announcements for a journalism class) is part of his repertoire.

Over time, González has fallen deeper into his work with creativity, following a path that has been laid for him. Regardless of the recognition that González has received for his street art, his large paintings and murals, he has kept a humble and distinctive personality, which he claims, came from his life in art.

“For me, it has guided my life. For each era of my life, I’ve been able to tie it down to artwork or things I was creating at that time,” he said. “Most of my lifestyle comes through that or with that. I feel that it’s guided me toward positive place. I’m still putting things together like anyone else.”

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