Exchange-West Texas-Murals

Muralist Benito Mendoza, aka Deko_Uno, paints a mural of a hamburger on the north side of Curb Side Bistro on May 28 in Odessa. Mendoza grew up in a dangerous neighborhood of Juarez, Mexico, where gang activity and graffiti go hand in hand. While most people in his neighborhood would use spray cans to mark their territory, Mendoza was inspired by the power it had as a social purpose. Mendoza said he was highly influenced by the 20th century Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Rivera set an example as a community activist who painted the working class and helped establish the Mexican mural movement through his public murals.

ODESSA — During his adolescence, Benito Mendoza volunteered to spray paint the symbol that was used by his neighborhood gang on the south side of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Mendoza used that excuse as a teenager to exit gang activities and refine his spray painting craft.

As a 31-year-old, Mendoza estimated he has easily spray painted more than 100 murals in the United States and Mexico.

"I grew up in the south side of Juarez," Mendoza said through translation "It was a dangerous neighborhood and there were a lot of gangs. In my neighborhood, there was a particular gang or group of people that controlled it. You had to mark your territory, and that's where I learned about graffiti.

"From there, it kind of took off. I started drawing and getting money for the graffiti, and I've been doing that for 15 to 16 years now."

In his emergence as a muralist, Mendoza also adopted the pseudonym "Deko_uno."

Mendoza said his artwork serves two purposes. The first is that he's able to live comfortably off of his art. The second is his artwork is able to serve a social responsibility. Mendoza said he can go and do art in places that wouldn't have art, especially low-income neighborhoods.

Mendoza's ideas about his artwork also are reflective from one of his biggest influences — Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Mendoza said Rivera not only produced quality artwork but it had a message behind it.

"I've read all of (Rivera's) books," Mendoza said. "(Rivera) had a lot of social responsibility and did a lot of social work."

Mendoza recently completed his second piece of artwork in Odessa for Curbside Bistro co-owners, and husband and wife duo, Alejandro Barrientos and Stephanie Barrientos.

The spray painting is a burger that features plenty of vibrant colors.

"I told (Mendoza) that I want your interpretation of a burger," Alejandro Barrientos said. "He saw some of the pictures on our menu and he took a little bit of our inspiration, but the rest is his style. He merged our two worlds together, and I think it's awesome."

Mendoza completed the first mural April 23, and it was painted on the front of the building.

However, Mendoza's journey to Odessa took persistent outreach from Alejandro Barrientos.

While visiting El Paso, the Barrientos spotted one of Mendoza's murals on the side of Kinley's House Coffee and Tea. The husband and wife duo drove back around to snap a photograph of the mural.

The mural featured the face of a woman, a jaguar and an eagle. Alejandro Barrientos noticed Mendoza's signature in the top right of the mural, so he began contacting him over social media to talk about an opportunity for a mural to be painted on the side of Curbside Bistro.

"Every time my wife and I go out of town, we use it as an opportunity to gather new ideas, check out other restaurants, check out other menus and check out the vibe," Alejandro Barrientos. "You hear a lot about places, and you think 'What makes it cool?' People talk about Austin and Dallas and you get there and you ask 'What are they doing here that is special?' A lot of time it includes artwork."

Mendoza lives in Guanajuato, Mexico, which is about five hours northwest of Mexico City. He is particular about what projects he does because he doesn't want to do anything too repetitive, which in turn could stifle his creativity, he said.

He admitted he was eager to paint at Curbside Bistro because he had never visited Odessa, and the building was a blank white canvas.

"The whole ride over here I was thinking about what I was going to do," Mendoza said. "As I was driving in here, I saw the landscape that there's nothing here. There's no art. There's no color. It's just a desert. I know what this place kind of needs."

Since Mendoza isn't a U.S. citizen, Alejandro Barrientos said he has to send a letter to immigration stating that Mendoza was staying to complete his commissioned piece of artwork and then return to Mexico.

After Mendoza spray painted his second piece of artwork, Alejandro Barrientos was in talks with him about a third. He said he and a couple other business owners are attempting to put together a plan to have Mendoza do three murals over three days.

"I actually have to write a letter to show that he's just coming to visit me and do some artwork," Alejandro Barrientos said. "Right now, the immigration process is so strict. They always question if (Mendoza) is going to stay (in the United States) for good. Mendoza is an artist and all of his art is in Mexico. It's actually a process."