By: Noah Garcia and Leah Olds
In the roomy, second-floor loft at Art Share L.A. – a massive studio, residence, and non-profit gallery space in the city’s Arts District – Francisco Palomares softly gestured toward one of the many vibrant paintings decorating the walls of his workshop. Entitled “Piñata y dulces,” it depicts a colorful, donkey-shaped piñata that casts a faint shadow, and seems to float within the expanse of its large, beige canvas.
“This item holds culture within itself and it’s not even costly,” the 31-year-old artist said. “It’s festive, it’s celebratory, and I think that’s something that I like to really celebrate in my paintings. The festivity of being Latino… it’s always a party.”
Born and raised in East Los Angeles, Palomares found himself enchanted by visual art early in life despite noticing that the arts were much less visible during his childhood. He feels that this disparity was not due to cultural apathy, but rather the socioeconomic disparities that impacted his neighborhood.
“I think what it was… it was just, a lack of certain resources. Meaning more like arts and humanitarian stuff. People are trying to survive. They’re not really thinking about these ‘extra’ hobbies,” Palomares said.
With the support of his mother, a Mexican immigrant who lived as a widowed parent, Palomares would go on to discover a number of educational opportunities in the city that would only strengthen his appetite for creativity.
As a 15-year-old, he began to study the drawing and painting fundamentals at Ryman Arts from 2005 to 2007. There, the young artist took part in the Chicano Youth Leadership Retreat, further exploring his roots as an Mexican-American Angeleno.
“I was searching for my identity. I was searching for my community. And I think East Los Angeles had that for me to find,” he said.
After finishing high school, Palomares hoped to enroll at a university that would not only provide a comprehensive education, but would also immerse him into a new and diverse learning environment.
While browsing for programs outside of his hometown, he came upon California State University, Long Beach, and decided it was exactly what he was looking for.
“Moving and getting an apartment in Long Beach, studying abroad, joining different organizations outside of Latino organizations, having teachers from all different backgrounds… it was a really enjoyable experience. It was everything that I wanted to experience and achieve,” he said.
He continued to build upon foundational skills whilst becoming familiar with art history and theory at CSULB. A strong portfolio developed as the student exhibited works at local shows alongside a growing network of fellow artists, and he would establish a myriad of artistic influences that guided his creative instincts, bringing new ideas to fruition.
“And that’s really what Long Beach taught me,” Palomares said. “How to look at art, how to write about it, how to research it, how to get inspiration from it, how to go to art museums, and how to get out of your comfort zone.”
Palomares graduated with the class of 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting. But even with his degree in hand, he quickly realized that artistry outside of academia required a different kind of discipline – one that was reliant on savvy self-marketing.
“And I’m just living paycheck by paycheck. You know, sort of [had] that young, creative frustration of wanting to make it,” he explained. “I have all this artwork I need to get it out there. And I need to make sales. I didn’t go study this much to just do it as a hobby.”
In 2021, the artist decided to take his hustle to the streets by embodying the entrepreneurial spirit of Chicano fruit vendors in Southern California.
Modifying a chrome food cart into a mobile art installation called “Francisco’s Fresh Paintings,” Palomares crafted small oil paintings of toys, snack foods, and sliced fruit whilst manning the colorful cart along the sidewalks of Downtown L.A.
After several months of fluctuating sales, Palomares gained attention around the city and even landed in a feature by the Los Angeles Times. Still, he points out that sales and exposure were secondary to the lessons he learned each day by taking out the cart.
“I think that I make noise. I bring the flavor to a certain area, and it’s like I’m protesting the area just by being there. Just by being a presence, being a person of color, and doing Mexican art. Well, Mexican-American art, which is L.A. art, which is U.S. art.” he said.
This year, the artist has been working between two studios; in his space at Art Share L.A., and with a special four-month residency at the Quinn Emanuel law firm in Downtown L.A. He is working toward a major exhibition for Quinn Emanuel in July, with the anticipation that a selection of his pieces will become permanent additions to the building’s collection.
Now, with multiple studio spaces, a residency and steady patronage for his art, Palomares feels that he is achieving what “every artist dreams of.” He looks back on his past work and education with sincere appreciation, and hopes that future CSULB alumni will allow the power of their creative vision to take precedence over financial anxieties.
“In college, don’t worry about, how you’re going to make money,” Palomares said. “I know it’s kind of hard to say that and not have that affect your mind. But you really have to grow as an artist and find your voice.”