Houston is inspired. And so is Mario Figueroa. More appropriately known as GONZO247, Figueroa is a prolific street artist, curator and muralist armed with an optimistic outlook, a drive to create and the occasional wide-brimmed cowboy hat. He’s a man with a vision – to blanket city walls with color, beauty and spray paint. His vision is unfolding—to everyone’s benefit—all over the world, and more locally, right here in Downtown Houston.
“As a kid, I had a vision of what Downtown could be,” says Figueroa, who was inspired by underground subway art in New York as well as hip-hop growing up. “But back in the 1980s, people would just come to Downtown to work and then go right back home. It’s a testament to how it’s transitioned from only business to an explosion of life and culture. I go through Downtown, and it’s now what I always knew it could be.”
The Houston-based graffiti artist is the founder of Aerosol Warfare, a platform for the production, facilitation and support of street art and street artists, helping legitimize a form of creative expression that was once considered little more than vandalism. But as GONZO247 has evolved, so have the attitudes of the public towards aerosol. Thankfully for Figueroa, that means job security, and wider acceptance of his talents and vision.
Most noticeably in Downtown is the “Houston is Inspired” mural at the corner of Travis and Preston, just off Market Square Park – although he calculates that there are at least six pieces that he’s curated, produced or painted currently installed in the Downtown area. Commissioned in 2013 as part of a larger advertising campaign, the “Inspired” mural has become one of the most popular backdrops for Instagram photos in the city, with reproductions on t-shirts, coasters and even umbrellas. It’s impossible to overlook, with striking contrasts and an unapologetic use of bright, cheerful colors. Figueroa’s vibrant palettes aren’t just a style, “it’s in the blood.”
“I feel like whatever it is I’m working on, the color choices and the placement of color, that’s a direct tie in to my lineage,” says Figueroa. “It really represents a lot about my travels and my experiences, but definitely my culture.”
Figueroa is a lifelong Houstonian, but his parents both immigrated to the United States from Mexico. His mother is from a ranch south of Matamoros, a town in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, close to the southern border of Texas. His father grew up in the Michoacan region, further south.
GONZO247 surmises that his parents’ bold decision to leave their homelands in search of new opportunities directly feeds into his life’s passion of creating highly visible art, as well as the medium itself.
“Maybe it’s an inherent thing, but the idea of taking risks and ‘going for it’ parallels with my approach to art,” says Figueroa. “Just like my parents taking a chance in coming to a new country.”
“One of the reasons I stayed in Houston when a lot of other artists were leaving to get to bigger cities, was because I wanted to make and create art in my own city, and to be a part of the process,” says Figueroa. “When people say things like, ‘somebody should do this or that,’ I always tell them: ‘You are somebody.’”