Lalo Cota’s artistic communion with Phoenix

As more people are drawn to Phoenix as a cultural mecca, the area’s appreciation for street art has spiked. Walking through 100 degree heat is continually made less miserable by the art which sets the Valley apart from other metropolitan areas. The city’s canvas would still be left blank, of course, without the artists who enrich it every day.

One of the most prominent of these artists is Lalo Cota, an Arizona native with a passion for Southwestern culture.

This interest stemmed from when, at eight years old, Cota moved from Mexico to Phoenix where he was inspired by the city’s lowrider car designs. This influence has since pushed him to become an artist of a much different medium: mural work. Today, Cota envisions ways to bring color to the Valley’s otherwise beige landscape.

Although the muralist considers commissions to be his “bread and butter,” his fascination with artisan culture has developed into more than just a career. “I paint mostly as therapy,” he said. “It’s how I deal with everyday life — my release.”

Luckily for those who live in the city, Cota has made his therapy public along the Phoenician skyline through countless murals, both commissioned and personally-driven. Cota is contacted roughly once a week by those who wish to invest in his talents, making it easy for citizens to become familiar with his style as his murals slowly revive the cityscape.

Though his style ranges from Dalí-inspired surrealism to Día de los Muertos skull decor, admirers with a keen eye will notice his signature mark: a subliminal logo in each portrait’s eyes, taken from an Aztec symbol which means “a drop in the river.”

Artist Lalo Cota concentrates as he prepares his next public mural on Roosevelt Street in Phoenix on Aug. 27. Cota, who typically collaborates with other artists, is working on this project by himself. (Photo by Fabian Ardaya)

Artist Lalo Cota concentrates as he prepares his next public mural on Roosevelt Street in Phoenix on Aug. 27. Cota, who typically collaborates with other artists, is working on this project by himself. (Photo by Fabian Ardaya)

Cota’s most recent project, situated on the crossroads of 15 Ave. and Roosevelt, is currently in progress. The piece will encompass a block-long, 18-foot-high wall dedicated to the intersection as a homage to what he considers his passion’s origin. Complete with the recognizable emblem of the City of Phoenix, two lowriders and an incorporation of the Aztec symbol for duality, the mural is bound to grasp the attention of passersby.

“This is a place I really care about, so I’m trying to do all of the proper base coating and layers to make it stand out,” Cota said as he applied his first layer of white paint. “I’m not putting a protective coat on this though. I’m letting it decay on its own.”

Although this piece is special to him, the muralist is adamant that degeneration is a both natural and acceptable part of life.

“I worked with a woman once who was spending thousands of dollars to save her dog and, you know what? That’s just life,” he said.

Instead of dwelling on the eventual deterioration of his paintings, Cota enjoys watching as time wears on his work.

“It’s almost fun to see it decay and let it go,” he said. “I think it’s going to hurt a little when this (piece) decays because I’ve been driven by this wall for so long, but, like I said, that’s the way it is.”

Until the eventual corrosion of this particular work, however, Cota hopes to continually share his love for Phoenix culture because the murals are ultimately a tribute to the artist’s hometown.

“I want to influence people even when I’m gone,” Cota said. “I hate to admit it, but I do need an audience. That’s what fuels me to work: the community.”

Reach the reporter at aplante@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @aimeenplante