Bobby Gaytan’s art is featured on this utility box wrap at Vista Avenue and Canal Street. TNS
Bobby Gaytan grew up between two worlds. His family members were migrant farmworkers, moving from Michigan to Texas to Idaho. Gaytan grew up in the potato and onion fields of Idaho, and also in the barrio of Alamo, Texas.
“When I’m living in Texas I’m experiencing this urban kind of life, I’m seeing the streets around me,” Gaytan said in an interview. “So when I move up north, I’m in the country and in the farms. I’m working and I’m away from my people. That was the back and forth and how we did it for many years.”
Gaytan, 42, is an artist, known for his murals in downtown Boise, at the Community Council of Idaho in Caldwell, at Whitney Elementary School in Boise, and across Idaho. Even as a grown man, Gaytan still navigates between worlds. He paints murals in schools, but he uses graffiti techniques in his other public art pieces. He works as an illustrator at the Idaho Bureau of Reclamation, but he airbrushes low-rider bikes. He grew up influenced by graffiti and Tejano street art and now sits on the Meridian Arts Commission.
Gaytan was appointed to the commission in March. As the first Latino, to the city’s knowledge, one of the youngest commission members and its only person of color, Gaytan said he feels like an outsider. But that is nothing new for him.
“Growing up as a migrant, being the new kid in school trying to fit in, whether it be this urban kid trying to introduce something new to the area, or whether it be the first Mexican on the commission, I’ve always felt like the new person, like the youngest, or there’s always this outsider feeling,” Gaytan said. Gaytan was born in Nampa and grew up in Glenns Ferry before moving between working farm jobs with his family. Gaytan started drawing at a young age. He would doodle images of characters with big heads and baggy clothes, or big bubble graffiti letters. He had a graffiti crew who would graffiti and paint after school in his father’s old shack that he would volunteer for the kids to practice.
“When it came to the legal activity... I was not caught up in all that,” Gaytan said.
When the Gaytan family would travel up from Texas to Idaho in the springtime, Gaytan brought his art influence with him. He tried to introduce it in Idaho schools. He said students up north took a while to get used to his style, but eventually they did. Gaytan went to Boise State University and majored in art. But it was years before Gaytan would call himself an artist. “Everybody else called me an artist. It was just took me forever,” he said. “Early on I had ... what are they calling it now? Impostor syndrome. I come from the school of like, you got to work to earn whatever title it is.”
After graduating, Gaytan immediately landed a job at The US Bureau of Reclamation office in Boise as an illustrator in Boise. He has been there for 20 years. He calls it his day job, the work that pays the bills so he can pursue his creative path.
“I find balance in my freelance, creative work,” Gaytan said. “Having a day job allows me to kind of pick and choose a little bit what I want to do creatively.”
He settled in Meridian in 2007, when his daughter was born. On a Thursday evening in March, Gaytan had started working on a large mural for Whitney Elementary School on the Boise Bench. He said he mostly gravitates now toward big murals and uses a combination of spray paint and brush strokes. For this mural, he used mostly paintbrushes with some spray paint.
At Whitney, Gaytan painted a series of walls along one of the school hallways. One image depicted three children sitting around a campfire together. Oftentimes clients give him a lot of creative freedom, he said, because they like the style of other projects he has done.
He will then create a mood board, with images and phrases to inspire his creation. “That stage, the development stage, for me has always been very meticulous,” Gaytan said. “I find it very time consuming.”
Gaytan’s art often depicts Latino children and farmworkers. “Art imitates life,” he said. Mike and Rosie Weems, owners of Calle 75, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Boise, admired the murals Gaytan had painted downtown near their restaurant on 11th Street. They hired him to paint some pieces for use inside. “With us being street style, we started as a food truck, the stuff that he paints speaks to the style of our restaurant,” Mike Weems said by phone. In the restaurant, Gaytan painted scenes with characters of Selena Quintanilla, a famous Tejano singer and songwriter; and El Chavo, a character in a famous Mexican television series.
“After he finished them, he came in to install them, and the colors completely matched up with the color scheme we had on the walls,” Weems said. Gaytan participated in the Meridian Arts Commission Public Arts subcommittee as a community member. In March, Mayor Robert Simison decided to place him on the commission. “Bobby was someone who applied last time around, and he was my second choice. I asked him to get involved with the arts commission, and he did,” Simison said in a March 8 City Council meeting. “He has been faithfully serving as a member of the public arts subcommittee.” Gaytan said the appointment was unplanned, but “things kind of happen for a reason.”“I had several of the commission members say, ‘please consider him for the appointment,’” Simison said. “He brings a great background to the commission as a practicing artist.” Being appointed was a boost for Gaytan.
“All the odds are against this Mexican migrant kid, because most likely he’s gonna drop out of school and work back on the farms with his family,” Gaytan said. “This guy is most likely going to end up being arrested or being caught up in some gangs. Because he’s, you know, into this or whatever.”
Tribune News Service
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