By Monica Morones
33 year old Palm Springs native Chris Granillo is a muralist, painter, sculpter, street artist, curator, print maker; basically anything that has to do with art, he does. He is the epitome of what it is to be an artist. I recently met up with him in Cathedral City, and we talked about his growing up in the desert and upcoming projects, one being with the Agnes Pelton Society where he is being hired to paint a mural for a large mural project they are starting in the Cathedral City Cove.
Granillo grew up in the cove and didn’t have a lot of resources when he first started learning how to paint so he would always visit the thrift stores and would recycle canvas or any kind of reusable material and started out using house paint. He began painting outdoors in 1998 and was influenced by graffiti and street art from all around. Granillo attended College of the Desert and had hopes of attending art school in San Francisco but the tuition was too expensive so he did what every real artist out there does when they don’t go to art school, he kept painting, “I kept on and realized you didn’t have to go to art school to be an artist.”
Granillo left the valley and moved to Oakland in 2002 and comes back to the desert to visit his mother frequently. When I asked him why Oakland, he explained that 90% of his family lives in Oakland so that’s where he decided to move. His mother migrated to Oakland from Mexico and she met his father in the Coachella Valley where she eventually moved to. He tells me, “I remember telling my mother I don’t see my wings spreading here and growing in the desert and not a lot of opportunities, so I packed everything I owned in the back of my truck and left. I got to spread my wings in Oakland and it the best experience I have had.”
His style is a mixture of surreal and abstract with animals, shapes, and clever characters that makes you wonder what goes on in that mind of his to create such interesting content. I have many favorites of his for I am a huge fan of his work, but I really like his humming-bee characters which he adds in his murals and is also one of his signature pieces that people know him by. If you happen to see a yellow bee looking thing with a cool helmet face, guaranteed its Granillo’s work. Another one of his main characters is the masked woman who people confuse with being a ninja but is really inspired by the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico.
He is inspired by many muralists and especially the work of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, “I really like the way he warped his characters basically stretching the whole building, working with the materials.” Granillo learned the basics of how to paint a mural through graffiti and street art, “Working with a building without all the materials like a scaffold means you have to adapt to what you do have and made me aware of making the imagery bend with the architecture.”
If you follow Chris Granillo on social media you can see he posts a drawing or sketch almost every day. He is extremely active in the art community hosting drawing nights, curating murals, and has shown his work in galleries in Northern, Southern California and in France. He travels a lot and considers himself a gypsy. Last year he spent some time in France, painting with the local street artists for 2 weeks. One day I was checking my Instagram and happened to come across a picture of Solano Alley in Oakland on Nat Geo’s Instagram and saw Granillo’s work posted. They had covered Solano Alley which is a project Granillo started with a team of people and his company called Project Elefont who he co-owns with friend Manny Fresh. The alley was a rundown alley in a poverty stricken area of East Oakland where people threw trash and prostitutes and johns used to frequent, but since the project started a few years back the community has been more open to the street art and cleaning up of the neighborhood and it has become an outdoor art gallery that the community is proud of. Granillo walked door to door and asked tenants if they could paint on their back walls and he says some were receptive to the idea and some were not, but they would paint on the walls of those that approved and would go back to those who had said no and they sometimes changed their mind. If you type in “Nat Geo Solano Alley” on Google and go through the article, there is a picture of Chris Granillo in front of one of his murals that he did; such an accomplishment for an artist.
He tells me he’s starting to build a good career now, “I’m getting there, but I feel like financially I don’t have the amount of energy or funding to build a great art studio. I come back to the desert a lot to come visit my mom, she’s getting older and I want to be around more and also to get involved with the community here. The desert is growing so fast.” His goal is to have an art studio here in the desert and up in the bay.
Granillo will be one of the local artists to paint in the new mural project put together by The Agnes Pelton Society in the Cathedral City cove. They want artists that grew up there to bring the community together and show that the desert was and still is a community where artists congregate and find inspiration. Granillo also has a show coming up July 2nd at the Tilde Oakland boutique and a couple of group shows at the Coachella Valley Art Scene in June and August.
I asked Granillo what he wanted people to know about him, “I’m very passionate about the desert, it’s my home. There is a mysticism from being from here. A lot of artists and musicians came out here to inspire them to create. It adds a lot of inspiration towards my work too. I want to be able to work in the desert and have an art studio here and in the Bay and to live in both locations. I want to have a relationship with musicians and artists that are putting in work here. I did some work for Gisele Woo, she’s a very talented individual. I want to work with people that are local and are putting in the effort.”
You can see more of Chris Granillos work at: