Metro Art has been piloting a new digital art series, and the inaugural exhibition is launching at the Blue Line stations. More People Than You Know features portraits of transit patrons created by local artists. To celebrate the upcoming reopening of the refurbished rail line, we are featuring an interview with each of the commissioned artists. Make sure you look for these portraits displayed on the newly installed digital customer information panels. This is Metro’s first transit corridor with this new cultural amenity.
José M. Loza – Interview – July 18, 2019
Lives in the neighborhood: North Long Beach/North Town
Metro Arts & Design met artist José M. Loza at his studio in North Long Beach — one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Southern California, consisting of African-Americans, Latinx, Cambodians, Samoans, and Tongans. Loza spoke not only about his involvement with the Metro’s Portrait Project but also his art practice.
What is your connection to the Blue Line?
In high school, I used to ride the Blue Line to the Red Line to Olvera Street and back. As an adult, I would take the train, go somewhere in downtown LA, order an horchata and relax. The train carries people like blood circulating throughout the body.
How would you describe the type of art that you make? What’s your primary medium?
My work references personal experiences and originates from a desire to evoke a feeling or capture an idea. I also pull from oral histories and reach out to people and original sources. As an artist who is drawn to murals, I have been doing more representational type of artwork because the figurative image resonates for many people.
How did you approach Metro’s Portrait Project? What is your process for approaching and selecting your subjects?
For this project, I initially considered using the mother-and-child theme, but I soon began to feel that I wanted to show an extended family dynamic that is also strong, but depicted less often. I decided on a portrait of an aunt and her nephew. I had my wife and nephew pose for the painting; I started with photographs and envisioned them on the train. From there, I thought about the colors and the composition. Most importantly, I wanted to emphasize my nephew in the portrait because he frequently takes public transportation to and from school. The message is to inspire younger generations to use public transportation.
In general, I want the subject of my artwork to reflect the viewer. As an artist with an active role in my community, it’s important to represent people of color and include people from around the neighborhood.
You are a practicing professional artist. What made you decide to return to California State University Long Beach to pursue your teaching credential?
I wanted to become an artist since I was a kid. One summer in middle school, my parents volunteered me for a committee-based mural project that LA-based artist Elliott Pinkney was working on. I didn’t understand what he was doing at the time because I was young and wrapped up in my own thing. As I got older, I was able to work on Elliott’s other public art projects. I started cleaning brushes and helping out the smaller kids. Little by little, the artist would trust me more, and I was able to paint sections of the mural. I started to ask Elliott many questions about art. He is one of the sweetest guys and has the greatest amount of patience with me and everybody else. Elliott was a big mentor. Artists Art Mortimer and Ben Valenzuela were also.
Was their mentorship instrumental in developing you as an artist?
The mentorship from these artists serendipitously paralleled my life, as I wanted to work with communities. Because I was mentored, I got to see firsthand how much I liked and appreciated art. I was fortunate to do some mural projects where I was able to work with youths from the Long Beach area. I want to share my excitement with them. There’s a misconception growing up that you have to be one thing only, but many practicing artists are also teaching artists. So, there’s no reason I cannot do both.