VIEW: Carlos Zelaya’s graffiti & tattoo art

Carlos Zelaya has a long history creating graffiti art. We talked to him about his latest mural inside the Taco Club's new restaurant.

Carlos Zelaya’s mural on the wall of the Taco Club restaurant.

Carlos Zelaya’s mural on the wall of the Taco Club restaurant.

Carlos ‘Z-Loc’ Zelaya first started creating graffiti art in Vancouver in the 1980s. His latest mural sits in the Taco Club’s new Mackenzie Avenue digs. We talked to him about his art and his latest creation.

Words & photos by Karilyn Kempton, unless indicated

If you’ve been into The Taco Club’s new location on Mackenzie Avenue, you’ve surely seen an elaborate graffiti mural taking shape on the wall. If you haven’t been in, it’s a reason to visit. The four-metre long mural incorporates stylized skulls, roses, vines and candles. Graffiti artist Carlos ‘Z-Loc’ Zelaya is currently putting on the final touches.

“We wanted to create a mural that celebrated some of the artistic traditions of Mexico to complement the culinary themes that we pursue at The Taco Club,” says co-owner Mike Brown.

The Taco Club owners Brown and Reilly Geidt hatched the idea of a mural while at their pop-up location on Second Street last winter. The freshly painted walls at their new address on Mackenzie Avenue made the perfect blank canvas.

“There’s a growing appreciation for Latin American culture in Canada,” says Brown. “Latin food and Latin influenced fusion food have never been more popular in Canada.”

They recruited Zelaya to start working a month before they opened in December and gave him the freedom to come up with his own design.

“They showed me a little picture that had came from a cook book as a starting point,” Zelaya notes. He was happy to take it from there. He came up with some preliminary sketches and the group agreed upon the design that’s now on the wall.

The large mural was created with a mix of acrylic paint applied with a brush and air brushing. While he’d normally use spray paint, Zelaya opted against it to avoid the smell and potential mess, since the work coincided with the restaurant’s opening. He sketched out the design with a white pencil crayon, then used brushes to create the base and add layers. He uses the air brush for finer detailing to really make it come alive.

Zelaya has been adding to the mural in and around the hours he spends working his regular job, as owner and tattooer at Flower of Life Tattoo Studio on First Street East, which he has operated for three years. “I’m still adding a few more delicate little touches to the piece,” says Zelaya, “and layering it in a way so that it really pops.”

For Zelaya, graffiti – and then later tattooing – was “a way to express ourselves and not be constrained within what the ‘art world’ dictates is in.”

He still remembers feeling utter awe when he saw an impressive graffiti mural in 1986 at the corner of Commercial Drive and Hastings Street in Vancouver.

“I started noticing murals from people who were there creating art generations before us,” Zelaya remembers. By 1990 he was painting graffiti regularly with a crew that he remains good friends with.

“This was when hip hop culture was at its prime,” he recalls fondly, “but it was in small pockets across Canada, so you couldn’t be in one spot — you had to go all over to see what everyone else was doing.”

He and his crew of fellow graffiti artists excelled at and were known for their clean designs and sharp lines, which later trickled down into his tattooing.

“I take a lot of pride in my line work,” he notes. “That came from the development of my can control in graffiti. It’s the same for air brushing, too.”

This mural is Zelaya’s first in Revelstoke, and he will be working on several more this spring. Watch for them around town. He is happy to have called Revelstoke home for four years, and calls moving here “the best decision I ever made.”

Photo: One of Carlos Zelaya’s tattoos. ~ Photo contributed

You can check out Zelaya’s impressive graffiti art at The Taco Club at 206 Mackenzie Avenue, and find more of his work at Flower of Life Tattoo and Piercing at 204 First St. East.

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