Since 2009, Phoenix-based calligraffiti artist Mario Garcia has been arranging the Arabic language in visually compelling ways to introduce audiences to the meditative beauty of the sacred script. A hybrid art form, calligraffiti merges the traditions of classical calligraphy with the modern art of graffiti. Through his practice, Garcia bridges divides between centuries and cultures, simultaneously honoring time-honored techniques while breaking the rules of composition and form to help drive appreciation for an ancient language in a contemporary world.
The owner and designer of QLM Designs, Garcia creates large-scale work that has been exhibited throughout Phoenix, including in the Wolfswinkel Education Center Gallery at Phoenix Art Museum as part of the installation Beyond Words, which was inspired by the Museum’s 2019 traveling exhibition Wondrous Worlds: Art and Islam Through Time and Place, organized by the Newark Museum. He also regularly participates in live-painting performances in art festivals and events across the city.
Here’s Mario Garcia, in his own words.
“My focus with my style of art is to represent diversity and shatter stereotypes. I’m a Mexican-Italian artist from Phoenix who practices Islam and specializes in Arabic/Islamic calligraphy. With these elements in mind, my art has helped to produce interest and dialogue rather than fear or judgement.”
Image credit: Lena Reyadh.
PhxArt: How did your journey as an artist begin, and what inspired you to specialize in calligraffiti?
Mario Garcia: My first source of inspiration was my best friend in third grade, Josh. He was great at drawing all things, from letters to figures. I wanted to be as good as him and as versatile, so I started drawing different styles of letters, improving my 3D skills, and eventually got good at drawing people and most of the images that came to my mind. I always gravitated toward letters though, and at the age of 16, I discovered and taught myself the Arabic alphabet, a language which drew me in more than any other.
My love for calligraffiti came in 2009. Prior to then, I had a bit of a reckless graffiti phase. My love for street art met my newfound love for Arabic calligraphy, and I was inspired to use the elegant, sacred script in a much more meaningful way.
Mario Garcia, Phoenix Bird, 2019. Alcohol-based gold paint on 4’ x 4’ wooden panel. April 2019 After Hours at Phoenix Art Museum. Image credit: Lena Reyadh; Mario Garcia, Desert Landscape, 2019. Alcohol-based copper paint on wooden panels. Courtesy of the artist.
Since then, I have stuck to this style and continue to find new ways to arrange the language. It’s a timeless script with undeniable beauty and the power to intrigue viewers, without them having any knowledge on what is being written. It’s a mathematical process and requires geometric consistency. The result is always felt, not just seen.
As I approach my late 20s, I find more and more that my inspiration comes from my plans for marriage and parenthood, but also from community work, particularly teaching, live painting, and collaborating with local businesses on art services. Seeing the beautiful effect art has on others keeps me motivated to continue creating.
Installation view, Beyond Words, 2019. Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum.
PhxArt: What topics do you explore through your art, and in which media do you prefer to work?
Garcia: I mostly enjoy using a wide paint brush and acrylic paint, working on larger scales, but I also have a strong love for digital work. My focus with my style of art is to represent diversity and shatter stereotypes. I’m a Mexican-Italian artist from Phoenix who practices Islam and specializes in Arabic/Islamic calligraphy. With these elements in mind, my art has helped to produce interest and dialogue rather than fear or judgement.
Marcio Garcia, Frida, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Who inspires and influences your work?
Garcia: Some of my greatest influences include Diyar Alasadi, an incredible artist who creates modern Arabic art, and the world-renowned street artist El Seed, who specializes in modern Arabic calligraphy. I am also inspired by many local legends throughout the city of Phoenix. There are too many to count!
PhxArt: What’s something notable that you’ve worked on in the past few months that you’d like to share with us?
Garcia: Just a couple of weeks before the pandemic was declared, I did a TEDx live-painting performance. The purpose of the piece was to acknowledge a list of agreements that we all share in common, things I truly believe we all equally need in order to live and lead a good life, regardless of where we come from. These are also things that I believe could apply to these very times. I attempted to portray these concepts in my calligraffiti style with the overall shape of the Tree of Life.
PhxArt: For someone interested in learning calligraphy at home, what books, videos, pens, or art supplies would you suggest?
Garcia: YouTube and Instagram are great sources of inspiration. I’d recommend starting there, just to figure out which styles resonate the most with them. Sometimes, just picking up the pen and taking matters into your own hands can bring about some great exploration and discoveries. I am a self-taught calligrapher and have created many styles of calligraphy by just freely exploring the pen. In all my experience with teaching this, I have also found that most people can actually learn this really quickly and am happy to offer private online lessons for those who are interested.
As far as supplies, any type of flat, wide-tip utensil can work, such as a wide sharpie, highlighter, or even two pens taped together, although I highly recommend calligraphy markers by Marvy.
Mario Garcia, Peace, 2011. Liquid acrylic and spray paint on sliding door. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What is in the works for you? What can our community expect to see next?
Garcia: I’m currently working on a series of sculptures done in my style of Arabic calligraffiti to enhance the visual appeal and feel of this sacred script. I always love playing with depth and dimension in my paintings to create a deeper effect and more personal experience for the observer, and with sculptures, I believe this will only do more of that.
The pieces I’m working on will be produced with laser-cut wood and metal. It’s an entirely new realm of art that I’m exploring to really show the majesty of the Arabic alphabet. The process requires just as much time and attention to detail as painting but through means of digital software and special machinery. I am extremely excited to see these come to life and to share them with the world.
Mario Garcia, Cafe Sketch, 2020. Water-based ink and lead pencil. Courtesy of the artist.
To discover more works by Mario Garcia, visit qlmdesigns.com. For close-up, behind-the-scenes experiences of his work and process (and to find out about future living-painting performances), follow him at @qlmdesigns. To book private online calligraphy lessons, contact the artist at email@example.com.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Mario Garcia shares what’s giving him life as a creative during quarantine.
Garcia: My art truly always gives me life, even when I’m just holding a calligraphy pen. However, the one other activity I love almost as much as art is playing the guitar. It takes me to a similar place as my art but by means of a different vehicle. My guitar has been keeping me nourished through these times of uncertainty, and lately, it has also been a bit of a distraction at times. Nonetheless, it’s another form of art that gives me life, and it’s been getting extra love these past few months.