The Art of Scape

“I used to have this habit when I was a kid … I would to look at the sun. I would tilt my face to the sky, and in a test of wills, it would be me versus the sun,” shares Edward Martinez. “So with my retinas on fire, my eyes squinting, I’d dance my eyes around the edges of the sun, trying to see what I shouldn’t. They would burn and I would have beads of sweat forming on my forehead before I would quit. In the end I didn’t see the sun as much as I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, on my skin, and would receive a certain type of confirmation. I would breathe deeply and think, “I am … here!’.”

Originally from Newark, N.J. raised in San Jose, Calif. by parents of Puerto Rican descent, Martinez or also is known as “SCAPE” in the artist community, shares his passion one brush stroke at a time.

Like other first generation immigrants, his parents came here in pursuit of the American dream; theirs’ was a home where basic living was the norm, so any art school was out of the question. After moving to the west coast, as a teenager, SCAPE immersed himself in academics. He was a prolific writer and avid reader, but learned that his only means of expression would be drawing and painting. He began to paint on just about any surface, and fell in love with graffiti, that he insists is an art form that has been around as long as the Egyptians.

Now, as an established artist, writer, and arts advocate for children, he is here.

SCAPE describes himself as a self-taught, inquisitive, and quiet soul, dating back to when painting was his means to escape. Early on graffiti art became his passion, “his calling,” and wanted to make others understand that it was and is a respectable art form.

SCAPE's art at the Roosevelt Community Center in San Jose, Calif. | Photo By Patricia Ruiz

His work is well known and respected not only in the bay area but at an international level ranging from the San Jose Roosevelt Community Center where he was commissioned to adorn the walls and the outside of the neighborhood center; to Stanford’s School of Law, to New Mexico and China where he was invited as a guest artist, and most recently to the UK where he was commissioned as the opener for the Brighton Arts Fringe Festival in May. He is the author of two books titles Graff: The Art and Technique of Graffiti and Graff 2: Next Level of Graffiti Techniques.

Graff | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

Although he has been in the graffiti scene since the 1980s, he has refined and acquired a deeper sense of self as an artist in more recent times through his large scale pieces that have acquired him wall space in several art galleries in San Jose and San Francisco. Yet, SCAPE is low key, lives in San Jose and grabs lunch at local spots.

“Kids come up asking me to sign their tag books and look up to me; it was just yesterday that I was running around just like them.”

SCAPE recalls going out to neighborhood tunnels at midnight where deep in the night he would claim his piece of immortality by tagging neighborhood walls. His pieces were (and still are) larger than life, capricious, and extremely loud. Even with spray paint, as a tag boy, he pushed the boundaries by adding in new styles and bold colors that challenged the conventional block style cholo writing at that time which was highly recognized as street graffiti.

“I always knew I was gifted, and so did my parents, but they didn’t know what to do with my talent.” He got into graffiti because it was free it didn’t require attending art school, fees or a tuition. He is a self-taught artist. His parents didn’t have the means to enroll him in an art program and were busy making ends meet. “So I see the kids I work with (He teaches art to youth in East Palo Alto) and I validate their stories, and the potential they have.”

He has come a long way since those days of tagging tunnels, train stops, and alleys, now placing himself in the world of fine art, with the mastery of multiple disciplines with graffiti as the foundation. With this he has made many believers that graffiti really is a respectable form of art.

SCAPE’s fine art paintings combine elements of graffiti art and abstract expressionism to create large scale, rhythmic and expressive compositions that transcend mere technique.

SCAPE paints The Shape of Things to Come | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

He adds, “My hope is that my work will be inspiring, motivating, and equally meditative. I can make my artwork, my art of graffiti accessible to anyone and everyone.”

His work embraces the experience of growing up in a society that did not revere graffiti as a form of artistic production and fusses elements of fine art, expressionism, and adheres to his relentless love of color; SCAPE has made this art form his own. Now, decades later, he continues to push these norms by incorporating these styles into large scale pieces that have granted him wall space in San Jose at City Hall, San Jose Center for Latino Arts, MACLA, and Galeria de la Raza, also in San Francisco at The Punch Gallery, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Los Gatos Museum of Art in Los Gatos, Calif. Moreover, it has granted his access to travel overseas to the United Kingdom, and China where he has been commissioned for large scale pieces and to speak of his journey as an artist.

His work is large and bold. It “Screams Positive And Creative Energy,” hence, his artist name.

Written and Photos by Patricia Ruiz | SVL Intern

Portraying the Celebration of Life and Death

Francisco Franco paintings | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

Juan Diego walked back down from the mountain in Mexico to share the image of La Virgen (Our Lady of Guadalupe) with his people.

Francisco Franco, a 39-year-old accomplished local artist, says, “My mother wanted me to be an artist. In kindergarten I won some award out of the whole elementary school; the teacher had a conversation with my mom and put me in art classes.”

As a 10-year-old child, he visited that same mountain in Mexico with his family but returned without his mother, who passed away while on vacation to the mother-country.

Francisco Franco in his studio | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

“Because the virgin is the mother to all of us, she is my surrogate mother in a way … I went through a lot, was raised in the hood with gangs, and many friends died. Death was so much a part of what guided me,” but in Modesto as a youth, Franco created no art. He adds, “From age 10 to 18. I never drew. I never painted,” although he was into graffiti.

“I see myself as Juan Diego…” He smiles and explains that he loves to use the metaphor of someone who climbed to the top of this hill and was enlightened, got to see the world from a higher vantage, and saw the light. “So I see The Virgen is just The Light; his tunic is a painting, so if you think about it Juan Diego was painter.”

Today in his naturally sky-lit studio, with a large flat screen displayed high in one corner, house music playing in surround sound, Franco, known for his murals and calacas paintings says, “My art evolved, developed symbiotically and started with what they (commissioned employers) wanted. I was lead in a direction that gave me a chance to explore my own heritage.”

He continues, “I did not want to be a quote-un-quote Chicano artist and resisted it. Now I am realizing that I was pulled into it.” His art is collected by a diverse group of collectors of various ethnicities and backgrounds.

“There was a void there. I speak for mi gente as Americans, as a unique American experience.” His father is from Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated here when he was around 14 years-old. His mother was Native American and Mexican, so both parents spoke English and Spanish fluently. “I am Native Californian and Mexican.”

“I did not want to be the Day of Dead painter but I embraced it. Now it’s natural I could have fun with it. It has made me more of a whole person,” explains Franco, as he paints two vibrant art pieces; one of singing icon Selena using peoples and another of a vixen (Especially created for the January 19, 2012 Grand Opening at Chacho’s Restaurant in San Jose, Calif.) painted in luscious reds.

Franco’s ties to iconography also extend through his travels and higher education. Not only was he born el dia de San Francisco (his Saint’s day), but by some landmark occurrences. He attended Modesto Junior College after high school, traveled with his mentor to 27 major cities in Europe just to look at art, was accepted to University of California at Berkeley’s undergraduate program with a full ride (tuition scholarship), studied anatomy at the Ruskin School of Drawing  & Fine Art at Oxford University, and New York Academy of Art for his Master’s. At the age of thirty and just out of grad school, he developed gluten intolerance and for two years he thought he was dying because the doctors could not diagnose his illness. Naturally, he questioned life.

“Not only that…, I was in New York when the Twin Towers fell … I saw them fall. I became mortal all of a sudden and it bothered me. Life took on a meaningless thing. Before that, life had an order; there was a destiny for me.” He dwelled on the topic of death.

“I came to the conclusion … You can’t have life without death. We are the walking dead, the living dead. Let’s have a party. Let’s enjoy life. Eat, drink, dance, and know that it’s short and sweet. And it became a philosophy.” Franco declares, “Live a good life and leave something behind.”

To learn more about Fancisco Franco’s exhibits, workshops, and how to purchase his art visit:

Providing Our Future Leaders with Guidance

“Your inspiration is your daughter. She wouldn’t want you to stop writing,” a friend told Frank Carbajal over the phone in 2005 when he decided to quit writing his book Building the Latino Future, because his baby daughter had a near death experience.

Carbajal, 42 years-old and father of three daughters, born in El Centro, Calif., began the manuscript for his book in 2002 and finished in 2007. The release date was 2008 cinco de mayo.

Crabajal is the youngest of five children and from a very loud house hold.

“I wasn’t inspired as a youth to write, at all. Because Spanish was my first language, the school thought I was special ed.” His mother and sister advocated for him in school, that language had nothing to do with his intelligence.

His parents, Regino Carbajal from Guadalajara and Hermelinda Carbajal from Jalpa, were seasonal farm workers in a bracero program and were introduced to each other by their compadres in Mexico. They married in El Centro in 1963 and relocated to East San Jose when Frank was four years-old. His father received a job at Stokley’s Cannery located, then off of Newhall and The Alameda, and his mother worked at Del Monte cannery.

An important life lesson, he says “To excel in school is to be inquisitive.”

Carbajal dealt with cultural, language, and institutional challenges while growing up. He was in speech therapy in the Evergreen School District, which helped him learn English. His first mentor and speech therapist, Ms. Sanders was very culturally aware and knew he was from the barrio. She told him to use his inside voice and that he could be a good student, encouraged him to continue to speak English with confidence, and to not be afraid to ask questions.

In the words of Ms. Sanders, “To be successful in education was the only way to go.”

He attended Cadwallader Elementary School where he recalls, “In fifth grade, I became acculturated to the main stream; what taught me the lessons of America was pop culture, with my favorite music from Michael Jackson, ACDC, and The Scorpions; so two genres, rock and popping.”

Carbajal also attended Leyva Middle School in 1981-1984 and mentions that it was predominately Caucasian. “It was difficult, because after school I had to go back to my home environment and I was confused … surrounded by the kids from the Creekside area (during the day at school) and went back to the barrio where my home was surrounded by gangs. It was a challenge because my own brother was a gang member. But I owe all the love to him because he protected me and saw that I had potential to do well in school.”

Carbajal began to change in middle school and was voted the funniest guy in 8th grade. He says, “I used humor as a coping mechanism like comedians George Lopez and Cheech Marin.”

In nineth grade at Silver Creek High School he was a talented soccer player; he tried out and made it on to the varsity team, but he started cutting school and lost focus.

In his junior year, he joined the school cross country team where he met Coach Paul Kilkenny who was his next mentor. Some of his closest friends were incarcerated and fell into “the system.” Carbajal separated himself from his neighborhoodand made new friends who were on the team. He received The Most Improved Runner award.

His high school English teacher Mrs. Holtclaw asked the class to write a journal entry about an 80 year-old Silver Creek tree and what the tree meant to the school because it was to be cut down. Carbajal titled his story “The Topless Tree.”

When she pulled him aside, “Frank, can I see you?” He thought he was being reprimanded but was surprised because she said, “I love the title. How did you come up with it?” She inspired and encouraged him to write more.

As his confidence grew through his hard work and with the support of his mentors, he decided to go to college towards the end of high school and enrolled at Evergreen Community College in San Jose, Calif. There he joined the Enlace Program, where he identified with other Latino students and transferred to San Jose State. He originally wanted to be a teacher but was too shy to speak in public, so he did his undergraduate studies in social work and pursued the Masters of Social Work for a year; he left and changed majors and received his Masters of Arts in Human Resources Management. He is the only one in his family to graduate from college.

“It takes a lot of tenacity to write a book,” says Carbajal and adds that he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife Molly Carbajal.

He refers to his friend as “Harold,” an author of a book on African Americans who told Carbajal that he needed to write a book addressing the misperception of all Latinos being in gangs and drug. “So I created the framework on Latinos in leadership doing great things … and that we are contributing to the U.S. economy; just as I thought back in school, we are now a part of pop culture.”

Frank Carbajal | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

Building the Latino Future was published by Ken Blanchard and Wiley and Sons in NY and translated to Spanish where El Futuro Latino: Historias de Exito en el Extranjero where it was published by Grupo Norma published in 14 Latin American countries.

Writing the book was just the beginning. Not only is Carbajal now a mentor, but his leadership and communications talents were sought out to provide speakers for a Harvard University Leadership event. Dick Gonzales, Richard Leza, and Roberto Medrano Latinos showed him that Latinos are successful outside of Silicon Valley, throughout the U.S. Gonzales suggested that Carbajal do the same here in the Valley so the inaugural Silicon Valley Latino Leadership Summit was in 2010. The goal is to bring to bring some of the most talented people to Stanford to provide not only their leadership, mentorship to individuals who are university students, middle management folks, senior leaders who want to make changes in their community and abroad and to see how the Latino Leaders do for the next 10 years, projection of where we can go from 2010 to 2020.

Next Silicon Valley Latino Leadership Summit is May, 19, 2012. To find out more about Frank Carbajal and the Summit visit the SVLLS Blog:

Written By Eydie Mendoza | Photos By Patricia Ruiz