Editor: We first met Mario Torero – the subject of the interview by Nug Mag below – in about 1977 when he came to OB and offered to help local artists paint a mural. We organized about 8 locals and began a wonderful process of developing a design and helping Mario project the image onto a local wall and then assist him in actually placing paint on it. The wall we chose was the south-facing wall along Santa Monica Avenue of the building at the corner of Abbott and Santa Monica.
When completed, it stood as an ode to radical and progressive politics in America, with strong images of Malcolm X, Emilano Zapata and a woman patriot of the Puerto Rican independence movement. When the three-story behemoth of a complex was built across the street that today holds a number of restaurants and bars, the owners are rumored to have pressured the new owner of the building with the mural to have it removed. So, one day, a team arrived and power-washed all the paint off the wall. Today, the only evidence that a mural was once there are the splotches of color paint on the sidewalk.
Even though, this Torero Ocean Beach mural was washed away into dust, it did energize a mural-movement in the beach community that still thrives decades later.
By Jed Sanders / Nug Magazine / Originally published Jan. 6, 2012
Mario Acevedo Torero pushes art beyond the level of a tangible commodity and employs it to build community, beautify surroundings, enrich lives, and encourage understanding. Born in Lima, Peru in 1947, Mario was introduced to the arts at a very young age by his father, renowned artist Guillermo Acevedo. His family came to the United States when Mario was 12 years old.
He established Downtown San Diego’s first art gallery along with his father, which later became the first multicultural arts center. He later opened Acevedo Gallery in Mission Hills, which operated throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. His public art can be seen in numerous places locally, including Chicano Park, various spots around the Boulevard, and UCSD in La Jolla. He has also created public works throughout other cities in the United States as well as internationally in Peru, Japan, Costa Rica, Barcelona, and Czechoslovakia.
Mario is a self-proclaimed “Artivist”; a term that is very fitting to his visionary and warrior-like persona. He has founded, and is active, in many art, cultural, and politically related groups and organizations. He gives his time and knowledge to teach painting to people of all ages through his Cosmic School of Art. Mario also currently operates the Mundo Gallery in University Heights.
What is being “Artivist” all about?
Using art in community building. Everyone has a role in building a strong community. Whether you’re a doctor or a gas station attendant, you have a role in strengthening your community. I’ve decided to better the world around me through art. I use my art as a call to action for the issues that I feel are important, whether they be political, spiritual or environmental.
Well, I just finished a 57’ by 17’ mosaic mural for UCSD titled ‘Chicano Legacy, 40 Años’, which, from concept to completion, took 3 years and a trip to China. So I’m still feeling the buzz from that. Breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ and putting colorful cultural art on the UCSD campus was quite a gratifying accomplishment. My next project is reviving the murals I did at Chicano Park. The state has freed about a million and a half dollars for The Chicano Park Renovation 2011 Project to have original artists restore damaged and weathered murals painted back in the ‘70s. I have a lot of history there, so this will be a loving rejuvenation of art that has been with me since my beginnings as an artist.
I love to work with and encourage youth and I am consulting with a new start up organization called Keep Up Culture. Keep Up Culture is a movement started by young people to wake up our culture, to make a difference in the world we live in. Keep Up Culture questions the world we live in and seeks new answers through art, culture, and sustainability.
What would you say is one of your greater moments in your art career?
There have been so many. I would say that a moment that was defining of my art career was when I was 17. My father put me in the merchant marines to keep me out of trouble. By the time I returned 9 months later, I had been caught up in a mutiny against the ship’s captain. His crazy actions almost got us killed by steering us into danger. Myself and the crew stopped all operation until they finally had to dock the ship and let us off. It taught me that through democratic organization you can overthrow the crazy bastard at the helm and steer the ship away from the rocks. I’ve been a revolutionary ever since. Another big moment was after completing a community mural project in the City of Toledo, Ohio; by surprise, the mayor of the city made a City Proclamation honoring me for the progressive creative work that I was doing in the community.
Do you have any regrets or any embarrassing moments that you would like to share?
Not really, because any regrets or mistakes that I have made in my life have paved the way to an awareness for self-improvement, which has made me realize that most good comes from hard episodes crossed. Now I just give thanks to all goodness received from such lessons learned.
What is the “Cosmic School of Art” all about?
The Cosmic School of Art is more of a philosophy than an actual institution. Several years back, I came up with the idea when I realized that everyone has an inner, creative genius that they need to nurture. My father was an artist and he understood the importance of nurturing a child’s creativity. I felt it was important to provide an environment where anyone who wants to learn, young or old, can come to observe and participate in the creative process of the birth of inspiration. I offer my time to anyone who wants to participate. I’m constantly working on public art projects where I offer a creative outlet for people to come and explore their inner genius.
What is the most important lesson that you want your students to walk away with?
…that ‘Si Se Puede!’, that ‘Yes We Can!’ It’s the lesson that may help artists dare and challenge any obstacle and social problems that are encountered along our path. That art is everywhere waiting to be discovered and utilized to teach and heal the environment and its living entities, especially the enlightenment of oneself.
Besides the weather, what do you love most about San Diego?
By the enlightenment of a historical/prophetic global position, I find myself, directly from Peru at 12 years old, in San Diego at the border with Latin America at a time when the Latino/Chicano population in the U.S. comes into an ethnic renascence, adding to the American Art Revolution. So as a sea and sun worshiper, and a leader in social art justice, I find S.D. to be the perfect place on the planet to be.
What do you like to do for fun?
I am blessed to have a career (a mission) that I enjoy immensely. My work is my fun. Putting on some good soul funk records and working in the community with other Artivists is my idea of fun. When I’m not doing that, you’ll find me soaking up some sun on the beach.
Regarding your work, what is the greatest compliment you have ever received?
Well at least one of the great ones was when I joined Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of 1989 and went to Prague to initiate a mural movement. In 1991, and as a symbol of peace, I was asked to paint a mural of John Lennon on a wall in a park dedicated to John. I felt complimented and honored that a group of people felt that I was the right person to create an image with such a powerful message.
…What was the greatest insult?
I don’t think there are any serious artists out there who enjoy watching their work being torn down or destroyed. I am one of those artists. Throughout a 30-year span, I watched how the city, over and over, disregarded the efforts of its Artivists to create an arts district downtown; first in the Gaslamp, and then in the East Village. So in 2004, I saw for the fourth time the tearing down of our ‘icon’, the ‘Eyes of Picasso’, a mural I painted on our Reincarnation Arts Center, and then changing the name of our East Village Arts District to the Petco Stadium District.
Do you find that marijuana helps with the creative process or against?
In my life experience, I have witnessed how constructive marijuana has been in uniting diverse people in peace and love. I see how people need to indulge in some kind of substance for recreation, inspiration, and now even as medicine; and weed has been that in comparison to drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, which has had a detrimental effect upon humans’ health. Our new generations are much more conscious about their environment, so they are making better choices. This makes me more optimistic about our future.
Where would you like to see yourself 10 years from now?
Hopefully not in the grave…I’m kidding. I’m in my sixties now. It has become clearly defined that what I do now affects my future outcome. So I have entered a new space of solidarity with health and environmental awareness that guides my art and social connections that are breaking through an outdated broken system of seemingly perpetual self-destruction. The dream of global revolution is finally becoming a reality. Ten years from now, with or without me, humanity should truly see how we have been able to change the world by acting upon our spiritual reawakening that we have entered in this 2012 New Epoch.
To learn more about Mario’s work, you can visit his website at www.mariotorero.com