Artist explores Rock ‘n’ Roll history in murals

Mario Godinez stands in front of some of his mural art work at the corner of North A Street and Jackson Avenue in downtown Harlingen.

HARLINGEN — If you walk down North A Street by Jackson downtown, you will see different artwork. But there’s something that stands out — three colorful paintings depicting different Rock and Roll eras, with hidden imagery in each one.

Hidden as well is the signature of El Mago Art, aka Mario Godinez.

Godinez was commissioned to create artwork along this street and as a longtime Harlingen resident, he feels proud and excited to have been able to do so. Godinez, 37, still has three other paintings to do along the street but he has the liberty of not having a set deadline.

However, he sets deadlines for himself and hopes to finish before the next year.

The Beginnings

Godinez moved to Harlingen from Leon, Guanajuato, when he was 11. At that age, moving from Mexico to the United States was difficult but art was what kept him going. When he got to high school he realized it was what he wanted to do in the long run.

“I have always liked it ever since I was a little kid. But in high school I really wanted to pursue it and I made up my mind that I wanted to do something with art,” he said.

Godinez studied art at the University of Texas-Pan American, now UTRGV. He became an art teacher upon graduating, which made Godinez move to Roma to teach. Currently, he continues to be an art teacher. He started at Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy and he is now at Harlingen High School South.

Godinez teaches his students both 3-D and 2-D techniques. This involves clay and creating sculptures with random objects. He also does basic drawing and moves on to painting. He has been teaching for 13 years now and Godinez said it is rewarding to be able to teach art.

“My old high school teacher is still there and it is great to get to work with him and learn from him,” he said.

“He is like my mentor and now we get to learn a lot from each other. It is like teamwork,” Godinez said.

His interest in art began because when he got in trouble with his mom. She would ask him to draw and write a letter instead of being put in timeout. Without realizing it, Godinez was first introduced to being creative by his mom.

Later on he realized, it was what made him the happiest.

“Art is what keeps me stable, being able to express myself visually. I realized the power of it at a very young age,” he said.

Downtown Project

Godinez was first approached by a couple who had been patrons of his for years. The couple own several buildings in Downtown Harlingen and since years ago, they had asked him to do a mural. Godinez said they had always supported his art, even when he began selling prints during art night. After saying yes, it was decided the murals would depict the timeline of Rock and Roll music through the ages.

No one asked Godinez to do so but he did research for a year. He wanted to get the bands right, the staples of every decade, every single detail, he wanted it there. After doing research, he did sketches and presented his ideas and he began to work.

He started his first painting around three years ago, the first one being the 1950s and 1960s rock. After that came 1970s and 1980s rock and the latest is 1980s, 1990s rock.

“I wanted to capture the artist that influenced me but also some of the artists that are known for being revolutionary to that era, the pioneers,” he said.

In his first painting, he incorporated an LP in the middle. Godinez said it represents vinyl and he added a sun, which represented Sun Records, which was a production company that produced Rock and Roll music, starting with Elvis Presley. The colors he used were also popular in the era. Godinez paid attention to burger joints and coffee shops, checkerboard patterns, everything found through his research.

Godinez would work after school but mostly during the weekends, when he had free time. Each painting took around 85 hours to complete but they were spread out through different months.

His second painting has Jimmy Hendrix, The Beatles, and at the same time, Godinez added elements to symbolize the hippie movement and everything happening during that era.

“I also gave it more movement to kind of show the changes happening and the influence rock and roll had,” he said.

“A lot of these bands were talking about what was going on and it was a very cool time because of the changes,” Godinez said.

Another thing he did was to look at the different album covers of the artists he wanted to represent and mimic that art in his murals. There are so many hidden details, every time one looks into the painting, a new detail pops out and that is how Godinez wants it.

“If you are familiar with my art, that is kind of my style. I like for people to look at it and analyze it. I think it is more fun when you are able to find things the second time around,” he said.

“I hide my signatures, too. People think I don’t sign it,” Godinez said laughing.

The last mural he has finished has an entirely different concept than the last two. Godinez painted a cassette and created a set of eyes with the MTV logo inside. He wanted to represent how corporations can be in control of music.

“I wanted to show how music was changing and you see that, it goes from a cassette to a CD and it has a dark sky to make it somber,” he said.

Godinez already has his ideas set for his future murals. His next one has the famous Nirvana baby in it, which he wanted to use to represent a new age in music. This era also has a majority of his favorite rock artists.

“There is a melting pot or pool which is from the Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication album. They have a big red pool and we have a mix of genres inside,” he said.

He has two more murals after that one to do, the current era of rock and lastly, a jukebox mural.

Godinez is creative and talented but also humble. For him, it has been great to be able to leave his mark.

“Every artist wants to leave their mark. We just want to be remembered and the fact to be able to leave my mark in Harlingen, it’s cool,” he said.

“More than anything, that is what makes it cool,” Godinez said.

Besides being an artist and a teacher, Godinez is a father. He has two boys and one on the way. Nowadays, his biggest motivators are his children.

“There was a point where I was eager to be known and had dreams of becoming famous and now I don’t think about those things,” he said.

“After getting married and having kids, I started seeing the world in a different perspective. I want my kids to remember me as a great artist or a person that was kind of cool and creative more than other people. They are my audience and I want to leave something for them,” Godinez said.