When Christina and Joe Morales, owners of Morales Funeral Home and Morales Radio Hall, wanted to create a visual rendition of their near century contribution to the East End, they commissioned Angel Quesada. They wished to commemorate their 87-year family business and the intertwined culture of the East End which they are both a part of and were instrumental in advancing. “El Segundo Barrio”, as it is known to long-time residents, is a place that embodies everything that Quesada, known by his signature ARTKUNGFU, tries to imbue in his art.
The broad spectrum of his interests, as well as his Mexican-American border town background, fit easily into the multi-faceted aims of the Morales’ family business. From radio hall to funeral home to event space, the Morales family has long given voice to the vibrant Chicano population in the East End. Quesada, who lives less than a mile from the mural site, has also painted around the corner at the iconic Villa Arcos taqueria, and down the street on in front of Doña Maria’s spent considerable time before and during the painting of those murals, becoming intimate with the lighting, the neighbors, birds, and even the traffic patterns. He had regular visitors, some of whom he included on the main piece on Ennis Street. In involving his surroundings, Quesada both enriched his piece and that of the lives affected by it, by allowing a voice to all. He channeled the neighborhood and gave the neighborhood ownership.
To understand Quesada’s motivations a brief journey through his circuitous road to Houston is necessary. He started painting at age 12, when his mother commissioned him to paint a wall in their house. Although he saw himself more as an actor despite his clear drawing talent, his Eagle Pass High School art teacher (Ms. Cullar) encouraged him instead to apply to several art schools, pushing him in the direction that would ultimately dominate his artistic life. School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA appealed to him but he quickly found that their lack of fundamentals and concentration on experimental art clashed with his more cerebral/literature-based style, and he eventually transferred to Massachusetts College of Art. While in Boston, Quesada also started playing percussion for a highly popular punk-mambo/ska band (Babaloo), recorded two seminal albums, and extensively toured the East Coast with the band. The intensity of the touring led to a repetitive stress injury which forced his early retirement from the music scene, but enriched his life in yet another direction, martial arts. Continuing his nomadic lifestyle, between Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin, Quesada began competing and eventually teaching Tai Chi and and Kung Fu. Always someone to immerse himself to the point of mastery; at the height of his practice, he ranked 6th nationally in 2003 for Tai Chi/ Kung Fu.
Never straying far from drawing, though, sometimes creating twenty pieces drawing per day, Quesada eventually found his way back to the visual arts in the form of curation and helping to professionally develop scores of other artists, working for various non-profit museums/art organizations including Mexic-Arte Museum and later the MACC (Mexican-American Cultural Center) in Austin. He moved to Houston in 2010 and began working as the visual arts director at Talento Bilingue de Houston creating (alongside Angeles Romero) two entire season programs.
The stellar work at TBH was noticed by Pat Jasper at the Houston Arts Alliance Folklife & Civic Engagement program and he eventually worked as a program manager for five years before going independent in January of 2018. His vast array of artistic pursuits in a diversity of locations in the United States has enhanced his artistic scope and given him a social and politicized view of the world that disallows any disengagement from a tight involvement in the community in which he paints. Although he did not follow a single path, the variegated one taken was always concentrated and perennially practiced.
Quesada prides himself in his commitment to community in concert with his artistic competence, hence the obviousness of the decision to choose him as the Morales’ artist. The main mural of the three evolved into a tree of life (Arbol de Vida) encompassing death, pride, social class, gentrification, growth coupled with destruction, and Chicano culture in Houston particularly. Quesada hopes that viewers can intuitively feel the depth of message, and if not, take from it what they need, as the expression of ones’ surroundings is mirrored by the expression within oneself. It is the action that it engenders and the thought it provokes that is the mural’s great value. Much like the Muertos Mural on Ennis street, Quesada’s latest work on Navigation Boulevard takes the form of a “papel picado” inspired declaration. “Segundo Barrio” exclaims the neighborhood’s history and engenders pride and a sense of place, much like the esplanade attempts to do. Its simplicity coupled with the mural’s location makes it an important landmark that activates the landscape and lends to the bustling boulevard.
As Quesada says, “You are not your behavior but rather a boundless muse expressing itself through your actions. Through discipline and effort, I chose art, music, and martial arts.” In translation from the Chinese, “Kung Fu” means skill acquired through hard work.
Edited by Alicia Kahn.