At just 24 years old, muralist Sebastian “Vela” Velazquez has literally made his mark in Las Cruces. He let us in on a typical day in his life and the meaning behind his work.
Photography by Dennis Muncrief
Tell us about your background.
How did you get into creating art?
I was born in Santa Fe, and deeper than my Santa Fe roots, I’m Argentinean, so there’s a lot of South American influence in my art. I grew up in an artistic family. My family members are musicians and my grandfather is an oil painter and artist. I grew up doing this, I just do it at another level now. I’ve been doing this half my life. I would say I really got into it when I was about 12.
What type of training have you had?
I don’t like to say I’m fully self-taught. I taught myself a lot, but I’ve also been molded by a lot of amazing mentors and some really creative people that come from all over the world.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Right now, what I do has me traveling all over the place, but I basically split my time between Las Cruces and northern New Mexico. I do a lot of large scale mural work, mostly using aerosol and exterior paints. When I’m not outside or traveling, I paint oils and acrylics in the studio. In the winter I’m inside more. I’ll hibernate, lock myself away in the studio. Sometimes in the summer, I find myself working all night long with lights instead of being out in the killer heat.
I teach kids as well, when I can. A lot of my projects are funded by youth programs and community-based programs, so I have a lot of kids and teens helping me with my murals. What we’re doing is pretty much modern hieroglyphics. We’re doing what ancient people did on cave walls and tombs, just at a brighter, more colorful level now. It’s a natural sense of creativity that man has always had and I try to continue on with that, so passing it to the youth is important to me.
Are you trying to get a message across with your art?
A lot of my themes do have somewhat of a message. I’ve done a lot of murals for farms and co-ops that I really liked because they keep people’s mentality out of that business society that we’re in now, and take them back to how people used to live when they grew their own food and lived sustainably without so much waste. I like those concepts. And sometimes it’s just a beauty thing, to brighten up a spot. There’s too much craziness in the world, so sometimes I’m just creating something people can enjoy and look at every day on their way to work rather than a cracked, grey wall.
How do your clients find you?
Definitely social media helps nowadays. I use Instagram and Facebook. I’m not too hard to find. I leave my hashtag on some murals. I leave my website every now and then on murals too. Just public advertisement. Mostly people just appreciate what I do and they like my style, so they seek me out. If it’s a community-based project, I definitely hook them up to give back to the communities that raised me. If it’s more corporate, I have to charge a little more because it’s usually a bigger project and a bigger process.
What’s the creative process when working with clients?
Everybody has an idea of what they want, whether it’s to promote their business or honor a relative. My job is to match our visions, to come up with something that I’m happy to put out to the world and be comfortable with as far as the creative aspect. Once we meet that mutual vision, we lay it out. For the bigger projects, I’ll come prepared with a full sketch and concept. A lot of planning goes into large scale murals. The client has the right to be picky about it. It’s like a tattoo; it’s going on their walls forever. From there, I just make it happen. A typical project takes anywhere from a week to a month. Sometimes I’ll find myself working with an itty bitty paintbrush with three hairs on super detailed paintings, and then the next day I’ll do super large scale, and I’m using a giant roller to do an eyeball or something. I love it. Anyway it comes.
What’s next for you?
What I really love is when people let me do what I want to do; when they commission me for my vision. I’ve done a lot of walls here in New Mexico, so I’m probably heading out to Oregon soon for a two-year residency program. I want to do what I’m doing here over there, and I know the new scenery will change my art in some ways. I just want to create true art as it should be: an expression of one’s self and one’s environment. Sometimes my murals get painted over and when that happens it bums me out, but I also think about the other people who are hiring me to get a mural installed permanently and are doing whatever they can to clear coat it and preserve it because they want it to be a true part of the city. I’m trying to get people on board with how important art is to society.
Where can people see your work in Las Cruces
I just finished Dario Gomez Bail Bonds. That’s the largest piece I have in town. Last year, I worked on the Rio Grande Theatre. I did another mural with the Court Youth Center. There are a few on Hadley near Nellie’s and in that area. They’re spread throughout town really. They just pop up on anything from big walls to little alleys.
See more of Vela’s work and link to his Facebook and Instagram pages at fineartvela.com