He’s been called a contemporary Picasso, referring to his bold geometric shapes and colors, and fragmented designs like the famous Spanish cubist painter. Although he appreciated the reference, Mauricio Ramirez admits that he doesn’t really identify with classic artists. He is a painter and mural artist making his mark all over our city and the U.S.
This month he created a new mural for the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center’s 50th Anniversary – his seventh project in the city.
“Our 50th anniversary is a very important milestone for us,” says Alison True, Director of Communications for the health center. “At the core of this journey is our community, which despite its socioeconomic challenges, is filled with so much vibrancy, resiliency and hope.”
Full Name: Mauricio Ramirez
Hometown: Born in Berwyn, Illinois, he now lives between Milwaukee, Chicago and Albuquerque where his three-year-old son resides. He has a studio in Milwaukee and his entire family (except his father) lives here, so he considers Milwaukee home.
Other Titles: Visual artist, mural maker, painter
How did you get started as an artist?
I went to college at the University of Illinois on scholarship to play soccer. I studied teacher education and English, but really never worked as a teacher.
I was really into graffiti art growing up and that’s how I learned about art theory, color and form. After I graduated, I got a job painting private jets in Illinois. It was a really interesting job where I learned so much about how to use paint. Then, I got my own studio and graduated to painting on canvas.
Are there specific themes to your artwork?
Yes – community identity in the neighborhood, culture and diversity.
I am always open to commissions or partnerships, like the one with the Sixteenth Street Clinic, as long as it fits within my themes.
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You work all over the U.S. Why do you keep coming back to Milwaukee?
It’s starting to wear on me a bit, but no artists should be locked down. Every city has its own charm. Milwaukee used to be considered a hidden gem, and now it’s a known diamond. People know that Milwaukee has arrived.
All of my extended family is here and for Mexicans, family is everything, so this is really home for me.
How many murals do you have in Milwaukee?
Well, the series of 12 utility boxes on Wisconsin Avenue counts as one project in my mind. And there are six other big murals all over town.
How did your latest project with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center come about?
Someone reached out and asked if I was available, I think because they were familiar with my work and I have a proven ability to execute projects. I was interested in this project because of the Sixteenth Street clinic’s location in the most densely populated Latino community on the Southside.
Because it was for the Latino community in Milwaukee, I wanted to make the mural pop by using bright colors. I firmly believe in the healing power of color, so we used lots of orange. The characters depicted in the mural represent all the generations that clinic cares for.
The staff was involved from start to finish. They had input on the concept and actually helped paint, too. The community was also involved in the execution of the mural. I’ve done three or four other projects like that and I love it because the experience will hold up even longer than the artwork.
How does the city influence your work?
I always get intoxicated with a new city. The smells, sounds and conversations with the people inspire me. This all funnels into the creative process and into the project.
Why do you like painting murals?
Artists should be able to express themselves. I feel that creating paintings that are hung and sold in galleries limit the artist. I would never want my art controlled or filtered. I want to create artwork that everyone in the community can experience.