By Ofelia Montelongo / Photos by Claudia Johnstone
To call Gennaro Garcia just an artist is an understatement. Garcia’s life has been full of serendipity, perseverance and breathtaking talent combined with passion. His artistic endeavors include paintings, sculptures, murals, woodwork, handmade plates, pottery, cooking, photography, and multiple forms of designs.
From a family of restaurateurs, the Mexico native started creating art as a young child. He studied graphic design in Tijuana and moved to the U.S. in his twenties.
At the beginning of his American journey, undocumented and homeless, Garcia painted murals in restaurants in Yuma, Arizona.
He later moved to Phoenix, where Mia Pratt of Old Pratt Studios discovered him in a cafe where Garcia worked and had displayed his abstract paintings. Just a day later, Pratt gave him a job as a muralist and connected him with North Scottsdale art collectors, changing the path of his artistic life.
Thanks to his experience with Old Pratt Studios, Garcia has completed more than 100 murals at North Scottsdale homes, from small paintings to ceilings, often inspired by Southwestern and Mexican themes.
Years ago, the self-taught artist learned that he loves to partake in multiple disciplines and that his motivations and inspirations are always evolving.
“The idea of being an artist is to create art,” he says. “That’s my motto. My way of living. No matter the style, technique, texture or color. Just to create art.”
When asked about his favorite type of medium or form of art, he couldn’t pick just one. “I just love to create in general,” says Garcia, whose vivid oil and acrylic paintings illustrate the colorful folklore of Mexico and are often inspired by religious themes and Mexican women, including Frida Kahlo. “The part I enjoy most about art is the learning process. That’s why I have so many different collections and types of art.”
His first solo exhibition took place at the Calvin Charles Gallery in Scottsdale, and since then he considers it his home.
Garcia’s popularity grew rapidly, and, in 2012, he got an invitation to exhibit in New York City, something he says is “the dream for every artist.” His father called this the “American Dream,” which made Garcia think about his own Mexican Dream.
Feeling called to go to Mexico first, Garcia canceled his New York City show and ventured into San Miguel de Allende, where months later he exhibited his art.
Now, the internationally acclaimed painter exhibits his art in 11 different galleries and has had more than 60 exhibitions all over the world.
In the last few years, Garcia has explored his dual identity as a Mexican and as an American and has expanded his creativity to handmade ceramic dishware. He was even a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made contest for his collection Hecho a Mano (Made by Hand), wherein the plates depict a pair of outstretched hands together, which are hand-painted by the artist. He has sold more than 2,000 limited-edition, personalized pieces to different restaurants in the U.S. and Mexico. In 2016, he received the Masters of the Southwest Award, presented by Phoenix Home & Garden magazine.
In 2010, along with Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza from Barrio Cafe, he co-founded Calle 16, a nonprofit formed as a response to the SB 1070 law, to create murals representing the diversity of Phoenix.
The first spray-painted mural created for the Calle 16 Mural Project read “Bienvenidos a Arizona.” The public was invited to paint with them, and 120 people showed up, including those from all over the country.
“The idea was to get the kids who were doing graffiti tagging to come and help us,” says Garcia, who also donated a mural with the same idea to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “And for them to get inspired to create the art in a business way and to help them get into galleries.”
Garcia is passionate about the idea of creating public art that will last for eternity. “I dream that one day my daughter is going to be walking in a city and she is going to say ‘there’s a painting of my dad.’”
When asked about his most important project, Garcia immediately starts talking about Frida, his seven-year-old daughter.
Frida, named after famed painter Frida Kahlo, grew up watching her dad create art and has developed into an artist herself; she’s even exhibited her artwork in five galleries.
Together, they participated in a panel at Disney, where they talked about the process of Frida growing up with art, away from tablets and video games.
This past summer, both of them painted a mural for the Disney movie Descendants 2 in Mexico City and will be working on a project for the upcoming movie Coco.
Devoted to bettering the community, Garcia is committed to giving back by donating his time to promote art in schools while also inspiring young artists on their creative journeys.
Following his passion for cooking and his family tradition, Garcia is set to open a new Roosevelt Row restaurant called Taco Chelo with Chef Aaron Chamberlin and Chef Suny Santana later this fall. The venue will be a modern take of Mexican taquerias, and it will include Garcia’s Dia de los Muertos and vintage Mexican hacienda designs. He currently owns restaurants in his native city of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora.
To learn more about Garcia, visit www.artegennaro.com.