Student artist found his passion for painting by doodling on assignments in first grade. Encouraged by his uncle’s love for his art, Julious Figuroa is now studying fine arts.
Story | Mike Dolzer
Photo | Loren Probish
The endless expanses of the galaxy, planes soaring through the sky, portraits of everyday people and detailed drawings of eyes all decorate what was once a blank canvas. The canvas is the backside of a quiz, the artist is a first grader just doodling to pass the time.
For many, crafting masterpieces on the back of sheets may seem like a fun thing to do when avoiding the actual assignment, but for one JMU student, it was the starting point of his love of art.
“Even in my notebooks you could always find a drawing in it,” Julious Figueroa, a senior fine arts major, says. “I didn’t know it was necessarily art … It just progressed from there.”
Some of his earlier art still taunts him, reminding him of those days when the extent of his work was scribbling on the backs of worksheets.
“My mom hung up and framed my first drawing from first grade,” Figueroa says. “It’s in my hometown in my kitchen, and every day if I were to go there, I would eat and look at it and be like, ‘Oh, it’s so bad.’ At the same time, it’s cool because you get to look back.”
Aside from his mom, his artwork had another devoted fan: Joe, his 94-year-old uncle.
“He saw me drawing and then gave me a painting kit and I used it,” Figueroa says. “That’s when I really started to get into it.”
Uncle Joe loved his nephew’s painting so much that he even asked for Figueroa to paint him something as his dying request.
Tragically, the painting never made it to him. Joseph Salta passed away on April 3, 2015.
“I finished the painting around 5 a.m. and my mom called at 6 a.m. to say, ‘Your uncle passed,’” Figueroa says. “I didn’t get to give the painting to him.”
Whoever looks at [my art] and whatever interpretation they get from it is fine with me.
-Julian Figueroa, student artist
His uncle’s passing ignited an artistic fire in Figueroa, pushing him even further into art.
“He loved art,” Figueroa says. “It was the most significant time when I started painting.”
Figueroa has developed a personalized process centered around tranquility. He puts his headphones in, gets water and a brush, and just sees what happens stroke by stroke. He describes his current style as a mixture of free-hand and surrealist.
“Whoever looks at [my art] and whatever interpretation they get from it is fine with me,” Figueroa says. “I just go with the flow.”
This style can be seen in his current work-in-progress; a pilot surrounded by a trippy mixture of red, orange and green, accented with softer hues of violet, sky blue and brown.
These colors were deliberately chosen since they aren’t commonly seen in depictions of pilots, which make the painting stand out as surrealist.
Figueroa says his respect for pilots is why he chose one as his subject.
“I’ve always admired pilots in the Air Force or even test pilots, they just go through a lot of s—, excuse my French, and they’re inspirational,” Figueroa says.
Figueroa has been experimenting with metalworks as of late, and has even taken a class where he was taught the basics of cutting, sawing, connecting and welding.
One of the finals in the class was to make a ring. He decided to be bold and do a mock-up of one of his favorite superheroes, the Green Lantern.
“A simple way to make a ring is to get a copper wire and connect the two [ends],” Figueroa says. “My anxious butt was like, ‘Let’s make this weird box shape thing that’s super beyond my level,’ and I messed up like nine times but I still did it. It fits on like a glove.”
As for Uncle Joe’s painting, it now serves as a colorful tribute to the man who inspired Figueroa to pursue art.
“My uncle loved golfing, and I wasn’t a big fan of it but I told him, ‘Yeah, I love golf too,’” Figueroa says.
Appropriately, the focal point of the painting is an abstract golfer. On the golfer’s leaf-green cap, you can make out the words ‘New York,’ an homage to his uncle’s roots.
The golfer stands on top of a swirly blue planet hitting a stroke, with pink mist and other celestial bodies illustrated against the backdrop of a deep-black galaxy.
To Figueroa, this represents the limitless possibilities of where his uncle might be now.
“Wherever he is, I hope he’s still golfing.”