Art leads one to unexpected places, as Phoenix-based artist Gennaro Garcia can attest. His creative pursuits have taken him across careers and borders, leaving vibrant murals, paintings and ceramics in his wake. He has worked in many mediums over the years—spray paint, acrylics, wood and ceramics, to name a few. But one part of his process never changes: the constant pursuit of knowledge. “Learning is what I love the most,” says the artist. “I change my art as I learn different techniques.”
Raised in the border town of San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico, Garcia became a chef in his 20s and moved to Yuma with dreams of launching a restaurant. Art provided his first inroads as he developed a reputation for his elaborate restaurant murals. Commissions followed, and his hand-painted “Hecho a Mano” dinnerware series became a favorite of celebrity chefs like Javier Plascencia.
Uniting all his projects is an enduring fascination with Mexico’s iconography, particularly calaveras (Day of the Dead skulls). He also weaves a labyrinth of personal mementos and national symbols—from the spiky agave plant to Quetzalcoatl, the ancient Mesoamerican serpent god—into his large black-and-white skull paintings. “It’s like a fingerprint of Mexico,” notes Garcia.
As Garcia’s experimentation has expanded, so have his mediums. Take his Talavera ceramic series with Uriarte—the oldest Talavera workshop in Mexico. Garcia was drawn to the hand-painted, tin-glazed earthenware made with centuries-old techniques using natural clay and raw pigments. Learning to paint on Uriarte’s ceramic forms with traditional stiff horsehair brushes and mineral colors proved an adventure. “It’s like painting with mud,” jokes the artist. Though grounded in tradition, what emerges from the kiln is pure Garcia: vases, plates and tiles covered in his delicate skulls and modern portraiture, remixed with Talavera’s iconic patterns.
Recently, his canvas grew wider with his return to the restaurant world, designing interiors for eateries like Ghost Ranch in Tempe and his own Phoenix taqueria with chefs Suny Santana and Aaron Chamberlin, Taco Chelo. “I can’t imagine retiring,” the artist laughs. “I’ll die creating something.”