Widely known for the vibrant colors and swirling designs of the scores of street murals they have created throughout Southern California—including more than 100 in Santa Ana alone—their work ranges from wall art in the Pio Pico Elementary School nurse’s office featuring a fanciful caterpillar in a whimsical garden to the poster for the Anaheim Ducks’ Día de Muertos celebration last year. Art lovers can take self-guided tours of the collective’s Santa Ana street murals using its Heavy Public Art Guide 2023 at 5hmi.com. Duran, The Heavy’s creative director, talks about the duo’s work.
Can you talk about one of your favorite murals and how it was designed?
One of our recent pieces is “Ancient Guide,” which is a part of our Myrtle Art Alley community engagement project we started two years ago. The area is about two blocks from downtown Santa Ana (in the Pacific Park neighborhood). It’s a neighborhood I grew up walking by as a kid. It’s very near and dear to me. There are about six or seven pieces we did. When we got the chance to paint (the “Ancient Guide” piece), we met (Don Antonio), who lives there. He’s an elderly man with a cowboy hat, and he comes out with his dog, Guardian. We were inspired by him sharing his stories. There are a lot of children who walk that alley because there are a lot of schools there. So we designed a young being in a meditative state. She has a Quetzalcóatl, a serpent, which is the Aztec god of creation and art and science. The young being is connected to her ancestors. We wanted to empower the community to be guided by those who came before them. Immediately after we finished, parents who were walking their children to school would stop and say, “Oh, we know what this is.” It sparks that conversation.
Is there other memorable community feedback?
One of the most recent comments that stood out to me was when we painted the Santa Ana Police Department jail facility (basement cafe). We did a youth engagement project with students from the Lorin Griset Academy, which is a continuation school. The police department donated art supplies. Once the staff came in to take their lunch, one of the janitors approached me and said in Spanish, “I just want you to know, I’ve been working here for 45 years, and today’s the first day that I ever felt a sense of joy in my heart being at work because it’s usually so cold and dark and gray. Today, I felt just joy.” I can never forget that. It’s a beautiful facility, but it is a jail. Even some police officers said, “Wow, it’s a first for me to see the police department feel warm.”
How do you deal with graffiti?
I tell people the best way to cover graffiti is with quality artwork. If you do something that you’re proud of, and it’s done eloquently and properly, then the community will respond well. That’s why we try to do justice to the space. There are times when, if you look at a wall long enough, it’ll tell you what it wants to be.