Three days before opening night, Samuel Velasquez sits with paint-stained hands. His eyelids sag with a heavy look of fatigue.
As he talks, one can’t help but notice the hues of yellow, black and purple that make tiny constellations on his palms, contrasted with the bleak gray tabletop where he rests them. With his deadline soon approaching, he begins to explain how he got wound up in the world of painting.
“At first I wanted to double (major) in psychology and fine arts,” explains Velasquez, but he was persuaded otherwise when an instructor saw his potential as an artist.
Around this time Velasquez was attending Palo Alto College while combating a love/hate relationship with painting.
Velasquez admits he always doubted his artistic ability and frequently thought about pursuing other interests such as tattooing. “If I had to drop out I was going to get into that (tattooing),” he says.
It wasn’t until his last semester at Palo Alto when he enrolled in a painting class, taught by artist Lloyd Walsh: His attitude toward painting changed entirely.
For his final project, Velasquez was given free range to create two paintings that were inspired by his style. He explains that it was the first time in college that he felt connected to his artwork, “I was like ‘Wow, I really like this,’” says Velasquez.
It was during this time that Velasquez became more transfixed with the themes most often associated with tattoo work and graffiti, after he became interested in mural art.
“I had gotten a giant book of graffiti art from around the world and it blew my mind. So I think it was my own weirdness put into it and those three things came together.”
Shortly after, Velasquez transferred to UTSA to pursue a degree in fine arts and graduated in the spring of 2012.
Around this time, Velasquez had already started to make connections in the art community with artists such as Alex Rubio. The opportunity happened accidentally when a close friend, who was interning with Rubio at the time, showed him Velasquez’s work and the artist was instantly impressed. Since then, Rubio has acted as a personal mentor to Velasquez.
Since graduating from UTSA, Velasquez has had work featured at R Gallery, Blue Star Art Gallery, Highwire Art Gallery and most recently at the Espresso Gallery for the exhibit “Nostalgic Dreams.”
In the exhibit, the theme of nostalgia is explored to take on a personal meaning for each artist featured in the show. “I have been putting little nostalgic things into my last paintings, so this time I wanted to make it about that,” says Velasquez.
In one of Velasquez’s pieces titled “Go Away,” the viewer is brought to a part of his childhood where various cartoon characters interact.
Velasquez pays close attention to small details in his pieces to help create a story. “I just started off with little sketches, and if I got them to look interesting, then I would build a scene around them,” says Velasquez.
A disgruntled Oscar the Grouch can be seen pouting with his usual demeanor while a giant panda looms over the green muppet. Other cartoon cameos in the painting include Mrs. Brisby and the Great Owl from the 80’s flick “The Secret of NIMH” and the lovable Mr. Snuffleupagus from “Sesame Street” — only this time Snuffy appears to be glassy-eyed with an outstretched trunk reaching toward a pigeon who ironically sports a banana peel on its head.
Velasquez’s influences with graffiti show in his work, with bold florescent colors moving organically in the canvas. On his style, Velasquez describes it as “weird surrealism with crazy colors.”
On designing his works for “Nostalgic Dreams,” Velasquez says, “I wanted the paintings to have a more fun feel to it, just so people can look at it and be like ‘I remember that.’”
“Nostalgic Dreams” will be on display at Espresso Gallery (529 San Pedro Rd.) until Feb. 10. For more information, visit facebook.com/espressogallery.