Houston-based multi-disciplinary artist David Maldonado is on a journey to bring the vibrant stories of his community to life with every stroke of his paintbrush. As a muralist, musician, and founder of Pan Dulce HTX, Maldonado’s efforts always strive to remain rooted in the ethos of elevating the stories of his Latine heritage. Whether he’s hosting creative nights or using concrete walls as a canvas to showcase his emotive work, David Maldonado is utilizing his talent as a catalyst to transform the monochromatic city landscape into an array of shades and hues that color the experiences of the Latine culture.
That is why this Our Heritage month, we are collaborating with Walmart and the Together Somos Más project to highlight and share the voices of Latine visionaries and creators who are navigating cultural complexities and transforming their local communities and the global arena through their respective talents.
The first of our series, we explore David Maldonado’s advocacy for the Latine community through bold strokes, vivid colors, and lively subjects that revel in the celebration of his multifaceted Mexican heritage – cultivated within his home state of Texas.
We spoke with artist David Maldonado to get further insight on the creative process behind his installation created for a Houston Walmart location, his hopes of how his art will impact the community that inspires him, and learn how he embodies the Together Somos Más mantra to spark the next generation of Latine artists.
Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity purposes.
Can you give a brief overview of yourself and the work you do?
I’m an artist and muralist based out of Houston, Texas. I get great opportunities to create art and share stories through my work. I do a little bit of illustration, and every once in a while, I get to do some murals. It’s always a cool part of my process and something that I feel really lucky to be a part of. I also have a nonprofit called Pan Dulce HTX, where I host local creative nights where artists, musicians, and poets and host curated open mics in community centers.
What were your first memories of being exposed to art as a creative medium?
Some of my first moments of exposure to art were cartoons or the funnies in the newspapers. My parents would always push them to the side, but the funnies were the part of the newspaper that I always wanted to keep. So I would always take them out, and then I would draw those, read them, and then keep them. I would collect some of them – I just thought they were super cool. Those were some of the first experiences I had with any kind of illustration or design.
What is your origin story with yourself as a muralist and choosing that as one of your art forms?
I grew up right outside of Houston, in a city named Pasadena. So one of the main reasons I always wanted to do murals was because my friends and I would always travel to Houston to experience the food and the culture. Most of the art we would see in our town was graffiti, but when we went to Houston, we’d see those same elements – but they were incorporated in a more cultural setting. So driving around when you’re young and learning the roads before GPS was as good as GPS now, you’d end up in some random neighborhoods and see a lot of art. Some people see it as graffiti; some people see it as art. For me, what I saw was an expression, and seeing this in-your-face kind of expression was super cool. I didn’t know when I would start doing murals, I don’t feel like I planned any of it out, but eventually, I got an opportunity to do one after painting for so many years. So from that moment, I was hooked.
Can you recall the experience of painting your first mural?
My experience painting my very first mural was super fun. It was one of the first times I was commissioned to do something. I was working with the client, but at the same time, the reason why I got that mural opportunity was because they really enjoyed my work. So having the freedom to translate my vision through murals and knowing that this wasn’t going to be something that was going to be hidden – but something that’s going to be public and available for people to see and share was an exciting feeling. There were definitely some challenges along the way: perspective, how big a piece like that would actually be, the materials. So I messed up a lot. I made a lot of little mistakes, but it was an exciting feeling overall to know that this was a piece of me that would be able to be shared with friends, family, and people visiting the city.
In celebration of Our Heritage Month, you will be having one of your artworks installed in a Walmart at a Houston location, the city that inspired the start of your creative journey. How important is the space or location that the mural occupies to you?
I grew up just down the street from a Walmart – so I mean everything I had, all my first art supplies, all the things that I grew up with, I got it from there. To know my piece is going to be installed in a Walmart at a Houston location and will tell my story and share the beautiful things about my culture and community with so many people is great. Even now, five years in, it’s always a very sweet feeling to be able to share what I do with my family. For them to get to see my work in it’s plenitude, outside of a piece of paper or a little picture on my phone, is always a beautiful feeling. And I’m not only trying to get that feeling from my circle but something I want to share with my community. With somebody else who hasn’t gotten to experience outside of the city and can know the name on the artwork comes from a Mexican artist like me. I want to give that same emotion and feeling of confidence to anybody else who wants to share themselves. That’s what it’s all about.
What aspects of your story and heritage do you draw your inspiration from in relation to your imagery and color use?
My inspiration comes at many different times, in many different moments. Not only do I paint, I also play music, I sing a bit, and I enjoy poetry. So for me, the approach hasn’t always been painting. I tell people, “I enjoy painting, but I don’t love to paint.” I don’t enjoy moving my hands back and forth for hours or shaking cans, that’s not what gives me joy. What gives me complete joy is being able to share something. So if it’s seeing beauty through different mediums, that’s what’s most important. One thing that has helped me gather inspiration is being sensitive to the things around me. I could be at a taqueria and see this hand-painted sign of some huevos rancheros. Then I see the brushstrokes. Then I see the guy who took the time to hand paint these little murals that exist in the most random places. And sometimes they get overlooked because they’re the communities that people don’t always get to visit or that people don’t always appreciate, so they get overlooked and taken for granted. The way I grew up, I went to the same restaurant at the same place. We used to go every Saturday to the kind of place where the chef knows you or the waiter already knows what you want to order. Experiencing that, hearing the music, hearing the people laugh, really getting to know those stories, and think of the imagery that comes to mind, the colors. Really just get the palette of what it is to be in my shoes and my culture. That’s where my inspiration comes from and I feel very fortunate to have grown up where I did with the experiences I had. That’s where my inspiration comes from.
How do you feel that such a large display of public art rooted in the story of your heritage can act as a catalyst for advocacy within the Latine community?
When it comes to public displays of artwork, I put myself in a position where my work is publicly seen, and people can think whatever they think about it. For me, what I’m trying to achieve is really inspiring other people to take the time to help educate people about their culture and the community. Art is a conversation, and the conversation doesn’t end right away. So with pushing out these public displays of artwork, I feel like sometimes these conversations have to marinate. What I love about public art, and it sometimes being permanent, is that it allows room for that to happen. Many people may not see my work, but there are also many other people who might and really enjoy it. At the end of the day, I am here to serve my community through artwork and storytelling, and I am just happy to have the opportunity to do that. I want to take that same approach with anything I do.
“Art is a conversation, and the conversation doesn’t end right away.”
What does this collaboration with Walmart and the opportunity to bring your art to a larger audience mean for you on a personal level?
I feel fortunate. I still live in the same community that I grew up in, so I get to share my work with Houstonians, but now I get to share my work with many people around the world. This opportunity is a reminder for myself that I’m taking my story with me. It’s validation for my close circle who have seen me grow up, have seen me struggle, doubt myself, or push myself to limits that can be very hard for someone – but now I just feel fortunate. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop in my hometown and run into people I went to school with, and they see my work and reach out to me, and it feels cool. It’s a very humbling feeling, sometimes kind of surreal. I just love people. I just love my community. I think I work, and I live for that. And I am just getting started. So now, growing a platform where I can share all of that, I’m looking forward to narrowing down my narrative and being as honest as I can, as expressive as I need to be, and just really help the next generation with that too.
What does Together Somos Más mean to you and how does it relate to the larger ethos of the art world overall?
I think Together Somos Más is a beautiful phrase. What it reminds me of in my work is that the goal is definitely uplifting and cultivating community. Many times as an artist, it’s easy for me to shut myself out of the world. To just take all my thoughts and ideas, process them in a sketchbook where some might see the light of day and some of them won’t. Together Somos Más is reminding us that we are more together. Que somos más juntos. Having that idea while I create my artwork allows me to make my work more meaningful. Especially in the world today, with all the trauma of the things people are dealing with day to day, being a part of a project like this reminds me that there is a power of unity to artwork. To me, it’s all about cultivation, and my hope is that I can keep sharing that message. If god forbid I’m not here tomorrow, I want my artwork to keep telling stories and remind people to be who they’re proud to be, and inspire them to share their own stories.