As a child, Houston graffiti artist and street art pioneer Mario E. Figueroa, Jr., known to the public as GONZO247, always found himself listening to the music of others, never to anything he could call his own.
“It was always my aunt’s disco, my uncle’s classic rock. Or my grandparents’ traditional Spanish music.”
And then, in his teenage years, hip hop came to Houston, and GONZO immediately knew he’d found his place. Along with the new and exciting rap music which spoke to him so clearly (while baffling his entire family), GONZO came to discover graffiti, which he describes as the “visual language of hip-hop.” Ever since gazing in awe at a mural by famed Mexican American artist Leo Tanguma as a child, GONZO aspired to create huge works of art, and so the similarly public, large-scale nature of graffiti excited him immensely.
In addition to his own successful career which has spanned studio work, private and public commissions, murals, and more, GONZO became a champion of the Houston street art scene. In 1990 he established the “Wall of Fame,” Houston’s first designated legal wall for graffiti. And today he leads mural tours around the city, providing tour-goers of all ages with contextual information about the public artworks’ subjects and creators.
Texas has come a long way in dispelling the negative connotations that used to hold back this form of art from achieving its potential statewide, as evidenced by the newly thriving mural scenes in smaller Texas cities like Corpus Christi and Waco. GONZO has a lot of pride in Texas and its forward progress. As a 1st generation Mexican American, he always found it easier to identify as Texan rather than two separate national halves.
“When you tell someone you’re from Texas, right away, they know what you mean.”
- In what ways does Texas influence you, your career, or your story?
Early on, Texas influenced the scale of my art. I felt the need to live up to the sentiment that “Everything’s Bigger in Texas.” Today, it’s more about the drive to make Texas better known for its graffiti and street art scene, and how it competes on an international level.
- How does an “independent spirit” play a role in your success?
Having an independent spirit allows me to pursue the impossible. When most people would think something cannot be done or accomplished, the independent spirit gives me the confidence to push forward and find creative ways to manifest the impossible. My goal on the horizon is to push my art further and connect with a larger audience.
- If you had an “Independent Spirit” motto what would that be?
“Pursue the impossible.”
- What is your advice to young Texans who may look up to you?
My best advice is to find what truly makes you happy and build your future around that.