On a sweltering summer day, artist Adriana Garcia apologizes for being late to an interview across from the mural she created at San Pedro Creek Culture Park on the west end of downtown. She’s not. If anything, she’s early. Her hair is pulled back and the purple lipstick she wears glitters in the afternoon sun. Garcia’s arms and legs are marked with white paint she received while helping her parents with a home project. She’s bubbly and won’t stop smiling, which comes from a mix of nerves and excitement over an opportunity to talk about her art.
On Camaron Street, across from the old Fox Tech baseball field, lining the newly-developed creek is Garcia’s San Antonio story, “De Todos Caminos Somos Todos Uno” (“From All Roads, We Are All One”).
Commissioned by the San Antonio River Authority to showcase the city’s history in a single piece of art, Garcia does not shy away from the dark parts of history, but brings new light to the narrative with her 11-foot-tall mural.
The complex piece is composed of all the little details that created San Antonio. From the imagery of a woman picking up pecans, to a Spanish settler and a Coahuiltecian man making eye contact from across the 117-foot-wide mural, every stroke and every image was methodically thought out. It took five, large custom made canvases to create the mural in its entirety and if you asked Garcia, she’d tell you the background and reason for every detail in the mural and probably apologize for rambling.
The mural is a mix of deep blues and browns. But if you look closer, the theme of circles is prevalent and is used to show more than the ripples in the water. When conceiving the idea for the mural, Garcia was inspired by Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” She always liked the idea of circles connecting everything. Nothing happens on a linear timeline. If she was going to show San Antonio’s story — all 300 years of it — she was going to do it with those same theories in mind.
Peeling off the edges of the painting and connecting them shows that the mural wasn’t made to be absorbed in just one direction. Read it from left to right, right to left. Start in the middle and work your way outwards, or vice versa.
“It’s this constant burst of energy and how a planet moves through space,” says Garcia, 42. “I don’t expect anyone to know that, but for me it was a way to construct it. It was a way of going through time.”
The San Antonio native comes from a family of artists. Born and raised on the West Side, Garcia remembers driving down Hamilton Street on the way to her grandmother’s house and passing by the ecclesiastical murals of Cassiano Courts. Her uncle on her father’s side was a professional artist but everyone dabbled in drawings, some of which were kept in a ledger she found when she was younger.
Whenever Garcia’s uncle would finish a painting or work of art, her and her family would drive over to see it and everyone had an opinion.
“His brothers would always go, ‘You got the nose wrong,’ or something,” Garcia said. “It was always a way for people to come together and talk. That’s probably what my attraction was. It brought people together and encouraged them to think on a different level.”
Garcia was shy and self-conscious growing up. She didn’t start painting until she started attending Incarnate Word High School. That was when her love for muralism began. She joined a summer mural program with the San Antonio Museum of Art where she learned how to put images together. One of her first pieces about cuarandeismo, the Mexican art of healing, can still be found hanging in the Las Palmas Library. Garcia cringes a little at the sight of some of her first pieces.
“It was the first time I tried to put something together,” Garcia said. “You know how you look at old work and it’s like, ‘Wow, I’ve grown.’ ”
After high school, Garcia moved to the East Coast and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in art. During her time there she was able to go to Spain for a semester and paint and learn a language that was native to her family but that she never picked up when she was younger.
Garcia worked as a graphic designer for a couple of start-ups, and while she enjoyed learning about new media, her heart was always with paint. After her uncle died, Garcia was approached by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in 2004 to paint an image of her uncle on a mural. After, she was asked to create another mural which led to her quitting her job to focus on her artwork.
“I got to hand it to them, they really provided a platform for myself and other artists to showcase their work,” Garcia said of the arts center.
From there, she continued to say “yes” to opportunities that would allow her to paint and learn more about what she was promoting through her artwork. She even worked with her friend and author Xelena Gonzalez, to illustrate a children’s book called “All Around Us,” about a young girl and her grandfather that was released in October and has since won the 2018 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.
When the river authority posted a request for proposals for public art at San Pedro Creek, Garcia looked at it as another opportunity to say “yes” once more.
The light from the mural’s vibrant blues and purples bounces off the creek as the image turned upside down and skews with the ripples of the water. What once was an unnoticeable ditch now marks a second body of water where San Antonians can get away from the tourist trap of the River Walk.
While it only took her three months to create the piece — one month to design it and two to paint — Garcia did more than just Google search images and paint what she thought might look nice. She went through photo collections at libraries and museums. She dug through old family photos that would help to give her a better picture of past residents’ lives in San Antonio. She even visited a local friary that helped her depict an actual friar that would represent the Spanish settlers. Everything needed to be real and authentic and that meant using not just scenes, but faces of real people who call San Antonio home.
The mural isn’t just San Antonio’s story but hers, as well. An image of her grandparents are represented in the main family dressed in their Sunday best that sit in the middle of the mural. A loose image of her friend can be seen on the left, kneeling and picking up pecans.
“All I wanted to do was paint,” Garcia said. “I like painting. It’s very stressful sometimes. It’s the only thing I know how to do.”