Local artist helps in beautifying area

Cassandra McGowan, Reporter

Jorge Guillen is a local artist who has had, and currently does have, his artistic hand in many projects around Bakersfield and outlying southeastern cities such as Arvin, Weedpatch, and Lamont.  Guillen serves on the board for the Lamont Parks and Recreation and he has also contributed his skills to the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful project by painting four of the electrical boxes in downtown Bakersfield.

Guillen was born in Bakersfield but raised in Lamont and said he has been an artist since first grade.  Guillen said he has seen his share of big, empty walls being filled with gang-related tagging or graffiti.  He, along with fellow artists and the Dolores Huerta Foundation’s youth group, are working to change that.

In 2010, Guillen teamed up with the Lamont Boys and Girls club to paint a mural on a large wall on the corner of Palm Avenue and San Gorgonio Street in Lamont.

He said that wall was a constant canvas for gang-related tagging and that since the wall has been painted with the mural the community has respected it and appreciated its beauty.

Guillen hopes to start a similar project in Weedpatch, as well as on the East side of Bakersfield, and will soon start working on painting three or four structures at Di Gorgio Park in Arvin.

He’s working to start a public art policy in Lamont and Weedpatch, which would require anyone wishing to contribute their art to an approved structure to volunteer 20 hours to something like teaching an art class in the area they live.

Volunteers would also be subject to background checks and a small fee for a block of time to paint.

Guillen is also currently working on forming a coalition similar to Keep Bakersfield Beautiful that will allow he and fellow local artists the chance to showcase their talents on graffiti-prone areas on the east side of Bakersfield.

“We’re going to start going into the east side in particular, in what is considered east Bakersfield, within the city and county and start doing murals on walls that are continuously getting tagged on, and possibly some electrical boxes,” said Guillen.

He said at this point he is in the process of obtaining a permit from the Art Council to set this venture in motion.

Guillen said he feels as though simply erasing the graffiti is wasting millions of dollars and he knows that the turf wars that sometimes ensue due to different crews tagging on walls can sometimes lead to violence and in some cases even death.

The first order of business for Bakersfield’s east side of town will be a multi-mural project at Bakersfield Play Center on Kentucky Street.

“We just got approved for up to $800 in supplies to be able to paint about five different murals on Bakersfield Play Center.  It will be me and an artist whose name is Esteban, and we’re volunteering our time,” said Guillen.

The art on the Bakersfield Play Center will include a rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” characters from “Sesame Street,” pyramids, as well as the logo for Bakersfield Play Center.

“The board for Bakersfield Play Center approved it months ago to allow us to do it,” Guillen said, “We just got the funding so we’re looking at December or January to get the project done. It’ll take a couple of weeks and we probably won’t unveil it until February or until there’s nice weather.”

He said that when they unveil the art they want to make it a community event, and possibly even a fundraiser to gain more money to do more projects on Bakersfield’s east side of town where he said the murals are most needed.

“It’s not going to stop at the Bakersfield Play Center, we’re going to find more sponsors and we’re going to try and do as many murals as possible,” said Guillen.

He said that in order to garner more sponsors he’s been trying to think up a name for his little organization and that the name Tony Martinez kept coming to him.

Martinez is a retired Army veteran who headed the graffiti cover-up unit for the Bakersfield Police Department, and Guillen said he thinks it fitting to name his group: The Tony Martinez Mural Project.

“We needed a logo and over the past few weeks I just kept thinking that Tony Martinez stood for everything we’re trying to do, and it would be kind of a cool way to continue his legacy,” said Guillen.

Guillen said that tagging and graffiti will never go away and that many children see tagging every day, and with all the cuts to school art departments these same children go on to believe that tagging is the only art.

He said he believes that if he can institute the various art projects he’s working on that he can change the minds of children and people in general to see art as something more beautiful and sacred.

“Sometimes the only art these kids see is tagging so if we could change the message to be more of a social, not necessarily political, of color and beauty then it’s going to benefit everybody because then you have these kids that see these murals continuously, everyday, as a way of life,” said Guillen.