Arturo “A.J.” Gomez of Orosi was arrested three years ago for spray-painting graffiti on private property.
Honest guy that he is, Gomez ’fessed up when the police officer arrived.
“I admitted to it,” he said.
The District Attorney’s Office filed charges, which brought him before a judge who told him – to his surprise – that she wanted to send him to jail.
“That’s what really woke me up,” he said. “I want to be an artist, but I don’t want to be arrested.”
He avoided jail by apologizing to the property owner, who was gracious about it, and by paying $250 in compensation.
Now he has gone straight by painting murals after getting permission first.
“I love street art, but I want to be recognized as a legitimate artist,” he said.
He still uses spray paint because it’s a medium he likes and understands.
“Just because it’s spray paint doesn’t mean it has to be destructive,” he said. “We’re using it in a different way.”
In no way is spray paint sloppy, he said: “You can make a straight line.”
He painted the school mascot at Orosi High, and most recently a mural of his own design at The Miracle League ball field at First Assembly of God church in Visalia.
Businessman Gary Geiger of Visalia, who started the Miracle League for children with disabilities, said Gomez is putting his artistic talent to good use.
“It seemed like an opportunity to extend ourselves to give Arturo another blank canvas to ply his craft,” Geiger said.
Gomez, 27, grew up in Orosi and is a 2006 graduate of Orosi High. He is married with one child, is employed in industrial maintenance at a distribution center, and is working on an A.A. degree in industrial maintenance at College of the Sequoias.
He started doing graffiti at 14.
Graffiti is street art that allows unknown artists a public place to show their talent, he said.
“Nobody sees you but they see the finished product,” he said. “That’s the allure of graffiti art.”
He particularly admires Banksy, an English street artist who remains anonymous despite international acclaim.
Although Gomez has gone straight, graffiti artists always will have his respect, he said.
“I do not want to give the impression that I’m turning my back on graffiti artists,” he said. “They’re just as creative as I am and never get paid.”
Gomez acknowledged that graffiti is vandalism, but if someone tagged his own property “I don’t think I’d get too upset about it,” he said.
“I never defaced anybody’s property with ugly things,” he said.
There are two kinds of graffiti, he said: gang graffiti and graffiti that is an attempt at artistic expression. Gang graffiti incites hatred and violence and should be painted over, he said.
So far, Gomez doesn’t accept payment except for the cost of materials.
“I don’t want to be paid,” he said. “It takes away from your creative juices.”
Art always has been his passion, he said.
“This is just something I like to do,” Gomez said. “If I wasn’t doing it here, I’d be doing it in my backyard on a piece of wood no one would ever get to see.”