Gabo Mendoza: Murals, art, and its many shapes

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Veronica Garibay
Veronica Garibay
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

In a Centro Mérida home, right in the heart of Colonia Santiago, Gabriel Mendoza starts mixing the second color for his latest botanic mural. He met the owners of Casa Jardinero, a pair of American friends, through recommendations. They later found his work on Instagram and chose him to paint murals for the property’s main rooms.

Gabo excitedly shares that their doors were open for him to create freely.

Detail of Gabo Mendoza’s latest mural inside Casa Jardinero, in downtown Mérida. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“These blue flowers will be joined by a second layer of yellow plants,” Gabo says while mixing ochre paint with a dash of black in a metal bowl.

My Instagram profile has been a great way to get my work out there. I’m focused on botanic murals, which has meant turning down many different jobs. But for me, busy on lots of different projects, it has given me the chance to focus only on things I enjoy.”

Gabo mixing different colors before starting his mural’s second layer. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Gabo is a painter, textile artist, and architect living in Mérida, Yucatán. His road as an artist began when he was 13 years old.

“I started taking painting classes very young. After some time, I began selling my sketches and paintings, and it became my thing. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Architecture seemed like the next logical step, as there weren’t many options for studying art and having a stable career.”

Gabo painting details of the mural’s second layer. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Gabo practiced for some time, working at a couple of local firms, but quickly realized that wasn’t his path. Although he no longer works as an architect, he took all the principles he learned during his career, and today applies them to his work as a muralist.

“Everything I learned helped my painting. Proportion, balance, illumination. I’ve trained my mind to think in these terms. Architecture became my technical background.”

Walking around the room, Gabo looks up and explains the reasoning behind the mural he’s currently painting.

Gabo in the midst of his painting process, in the master bedroom of Casa Jardinero. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“This space does not have great light, and there are no windows, which means no views. And it’s the master bedroom! So my intention was to add a focal point that illuminates the room, and shows off the colors despite the shadows.”

Finished mural by Gabo Mendoza, in Casa Jardinero. Photo: Trevor Thorpe

He notes that ideas often change once you work them into the space, not only because of lighting but also because of the change in proportion and canvas.

Original sketch for one of Gabo’s latest murals. Photo: Gabo Mendoza

“Sketches are a complicated part of the process. There’s no real way of showing on paper what the mural will look like exactly. The more you try, the more people want it to look just like that, and it never will. I use some drawings, photos, and colors for reference. But be sure it will look different once it gets on the wall.”

Final result of Gabo’s sketch. Botanic mural in a Chicxulub home. Photo: Gabo Mendoza

Once Gabo started working with murals, smaller frames seemed insufficient. 

Gabo working on a mural for Hacienda Teya, a famous Yucatecan restaurant. Photo: Fabrizio Simoneen

“I fell in love with large formats. It gives you so much more room to expand, to give detailing. My biggest mural now is in Hacienda Teya. It measures fourteen by five meters, and it is one of my favorites.”

Hacienda Teya’s final mural, with Gabo in front. Photo: Fabrizio Simoneen

Although acrylics are no longer something he enjoys in small frames, his watercolor work is still done in smaller sizes. Not unlike his murals, his watercolor is also inspired by nature.

“It began with a series I did when I lived in Australia,” Gabo recalls. “When biking past local parks and gardens, I’d see huge eucalyptus leaves, beautiful cacti. I started documenting them in watercolor. Plants are, and will always be, a huge part of my work.”

His experience in this technique recently brought him a collaboration with Pau Roman, a local swimsuit and beachwear brand. 

Watercolor pattern by Gabo Mendoza. To the right, finished swimsuit by Pau Roman. Photo: Juan Hdz

“The print we designed is inspired by nature, obviously,” Gabo laughs. “But this time by corals and seashells. It was a great challenge, thinking of my work as a pattern. I had to consider the way the watercolor would move, the way it would sit on the body. It was tricky, but once we got it, we loved the result.”

For this partnership, he combined his love for painting with his knowledge of natural dyes, yet another business venture of his. 

Gabo’s process of dyeing with purple onion skins, and the resulting colors. Photo: Gabo Mendoza

“Dyeing fabric is a whole thing. It’s a day-long process, one I don’t always have time for. You have to harvest the materials to dye with, boil the water and move the fabric constantly. It takes around five to seven hours to complete. But if I have a day to spare, I will spend it moving fabric in a pot.”

Gabo has offered some workshops on the art of natural dyes, and although he’s too busy to pick them up at the moment, hopes to start them again soon.

Gabo in front of his mural in Hacienda Teya, in 2018. Photo: Fabrizio Simoneen

His influence is from nature, and his effort to share its possibilities is a reflection of his conscious lifestyle.

“When you use natural materials you can’t predict what will happen, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. I want to share the value I find in creating this way. How important it is to create something conscious and beautiful.”

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