Born in Juárez in 1959, Mario Colín lived his entire life in the Five Points area of Central El Paso, where he attended Houston Elementary and Austin High School. From the age of fifteen, he worked as a construction worker, building silos and other large construction projects across the U.S.A., at some point hitch hiking from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic shores. In his late twenties, he began to focus all his attention and energy on art, which had been an interest since early childhood, working as a muralist and portrait painter. Much of his art is of a religious nature, although he also painted secular art, portraits, and historical scenes.
Colín painted his first mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe in collaboration with deceased artist Chuck Zavala in 1987 at Esparza’s Grocery, a small store in Central El Paso. It has now become a shrine, with community members building a stone arch and bringing flowers and candles, and has been pronounced a religious site by the parish church. Since that first mural, Colín has painted over 40 pieces of public art, many of which have become landmarks. Many of those murals are in that same Central El Paso neighborhood, on or near Piedras, including the House of Pizza, Los Alamos Grocery, The Elbo Room bar, the former Sanitary Plumbing at Piedras and Fort Boulevard.
Colín twice painted a 25 foot mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe, at Alameda and Zaragoza, across from the Ysleta mission. The first version, painted in 1997, became decayed, but was a popular landmark. That mural has appeared in periodicals, art books, calendars, many newspaper articles, and in photographs exhibited in the El Paso Art Museum and galleries. In 2004, Señor José Villalobos donated and members of the community contributed money to pay laborers to replaster the wall of the century-old adobe building where it is located, and Colín repainted the entire mural for donations from passers-by and community members.
Colín’s work has also been featured on the International History Channel and Canal 44, XHUI TV, in a Ford television commercial, and numerous times in the El Paso Times and the defunct El Paso Herald-Post, as well as in periodicals such as Texas Monthly, Dallas Morning News, Texas Observer, Austin American Statesman, Stanton Street magazine; literary journals such as Mezcla and GypsyMag.com; in documentaries including Walls that Speak: El Paso’s Murals, directed by Jim Klaes; in art books such as Colors on Desert Walls: The Murals of El Paso and Texas 24:7, and in various editions of Chicano Studies: Survey and Analysis, a text book used throughout the country.
In 1998, he had a joint art exhibition with Gabriel Gaytan at the Ysleta School District’s Student Entrepreneur Center, now known as the La Galería de la Misión de Senecu. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions at various venues in El Paso, several in conjunction with JUNTOS Art Association, which also featured his paintings in Chicano Art Calendars in 2009 and 2010. He also exhibited frequently in the annual art show dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe at La Galería de la Misión de Senecu in Ysleta, winning best of show in 1998 and again in 2004.
In 2008, he was featured along with three other artists in the Hispanic Heritage Month exhibit at Fort Worth City Hall. Also in 2008, he painted Jesus and the Little Children at St. Joseph’s School, incorporating the faces of kindergarteners enrolled at the time. In 2011, University of Texas at El Paso used the image of his mural, Heritage, painted in 1991 but since destroyed, for the poster and calendar for El Paso’s Hispanic Heritage Month. Often called the Magoffin Mural, this piece was a public art project funded by the Junior League. He incorporated pictures of neighborhood children along with iconographic cultural images from Chicano history on one wall and a picture of a huddle of sleeping homeless boys on the adjoining wall.
His most prominent public work always involved designs created with input from members of the immediate community. Additionally, he researched in the historical collections at the El Paso Library to ensure that the images he used were period and place appropriate. History was a personal passion, as seen in the murals painted at the now defunct Old West Steakhouse, which gathered historic adversaries such as General Pershing and Pancho Villa, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and John Wesley Hardin and the man who shot him, John Salmen, as well as incorporating the images of people who worked at the establishment.
Colín made sure to take into account the architectonics of place and structure when creating his design, as particularly demonstrated by the work sometimes known as the Magoffin Mural. His work in that piece was once described as follows:
Using an intuitive sense of architectonics, he weaves his painted images and symbols into a framework of geometric forms and pure colors. . . . [T]he mural succeeds more because of its integrity of design and overall quality of production. . . . This mural not only speaks to the uniqueness of the American experience, it also embraces universal themes of the human condition. [Letter of Recommendation to the Commitee of The El Paso Library Mural Project, Dr. George Vargas, Assistant Professor of History, March 25, 1993.]
Colín has said that one of the most gratifying aspects of creating public art was his practice of involving children, youth, and families from the community to participate in the work that goes into creating a mural. Another community project, a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in an alley in Sunset Heights across from Mundy Park, was a donation to the community sponsored by the Tumblewords Project. Colín permitted interaction of the community by allowing local children to paint a star dedicated to their families. Even when he did very large projects such as recreating the Shrine to the Virgin on Mt. Cristo Rey in 2010, he collaborated with the community members who serve on the Mt. Cristo Rey Preservation committee, and also organized volunteer labor to do such things as the baking of the ceramic tiles, and then the crating and transport of those tiles to the site of installation.
His most recent works have been portrait-size paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which are in the personal collections of local community members such as the Família Zavala, and a series of deceased rock and roll icons, recently on display at a local restaurant called Papa’s Pub to the great pleasure of its clientele.
On November 14, 2013, there will be a retrospective of his art as part of El Chuconazo! A collaboration of true believers, a joint show with Jesús De La Cruz at Loft Light Studio, 315 South El Paso Street, in downtown El Paso. The exhibit will last from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm, with a musical performance by The Devotions, and spoken word by various local poets.
Colín died on October 5, 2013. The rosary and memorial will be from5:00 to 9:00 at Mission Funeral Home, on the corner of Yandell and Rosewood on Thursday, October 10, 2013. The mass will be at 10:00 am on Friday, October 11, 2013 at St. Pius X Catholic Church, near the corner of Geronimo and Clark.
Colín is survived by his beloved wife, Donna Snyder, his sisters Ruth Colin Price, Margie Roberts, and Emma Colín, his brothers Pete Colín and Humberto Colín, Family Zavala, and many nephews and nieces who cherished him.
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