On Sept. 19, I was walking past Voices in the Millwork District. The doors were wide open and, next to them, there was a nicely dressed man, leaning against the brick building, holding a cigarette in one hand and his cell phone in the other. I stopped and asked if the open doors meant Voices was preparing for an event.
“Not exactly”, the man responded, but he welcomed me to take a look around anyway. Now, the space has a layer of dust on the floor and a large tarp lays on the ground where I recall an old “hippie” van used to be displayed.
When I was heading out I spoke with the man again and learned his name was Gene Tully, co-founder of Voices. Despite how it may appear, he explained to me that it is not that Voices is out of business or even on a break, but instead they are “taking it to the streets,” with “it” being art.
Voices is proving it is not just a “space,” but a movement— slowly and steadily breathing fresh air into Dubuque. Gene said “the power of art transforms communities,” and that is exactly what Voices is still initiating in Dubuque.
Gene told me they had a project going on down by 1st Street and Main. I decided to cruise by. I pulled in right by the A&W downtown and parked my car. The mural covered the entire south side of the 1st & Main building. At that time, the original color of the brick was still exposed in many places and a woman on a hydraulic lift stretched her arms to roll red paint on the upper left corner of the building. Cars slowed to curve around precautionary orange cones and to gawk at the transformative new sight downtown.
I began to chat with a man standing near me and found out he was the artist, so I came back the next day to get to know him and that girl on the lift a bit better.
That woman was Anna, 26, but she’s known as ZorZorZor in the art world and the artist I chatted with was Mario Gonzales, Jr., 46, but he goes by Zore—the two are dating now, but their street names are just a coincidence. The mural showcases both Mario and Anna’s work. The mural is theirs, funded by Voices, for the community of Dubuque.
At different points in my conversation with Mario he said this wasn’t actually a mural, it was just him “and a building.” Later he said it wasn’t art, because “graffiti is more pompous than art.” One time I asked, “so, it’s like your blood and guts up there?” and in response to that I receive a “yea, yea exactly.”
Something we have to understand about this new color burst in Dubuque is that no, it is not actually a mural. It is people—it is Mario and it is Anna.
Mario was the featured artist at Voices a year ago, so when the folks at Voices wanted to transform building walls in Dubuque they called him up. Mario said “yes” and one week later Anna and he began their seven day project—Anna was a bonus.
Anna explained her love of leaving art “where she is not supposed to.” She asked me if I ever drew on bathroom walls or carved my name in my desk when I was in school. I confessed using my nail to write “I love Usher” at the top of my elementary school tornado slide.
To her, her art is a bit of herself “captured in time.” She told me about her sentimentality for her childhood handwriting and doodles on the edges of her notebooks. That big sun smack in the middle of the wall on 1st & Main is her work. It is her way of continuing to connect with people even when she is not physically there.
The mural also has bold blocks of black, red, and yellow, with patches of white. Black is the night sky. Yellow is the sun. Red is blood. People often tell Mario he looks like his work, so lastly he said, “White is light. I am light coming out of darkness.”
Go and check out Mario and Anna’s work and take a bit of time to appreciate them too. Take Mario’s word for it, “If you don’t see this, you’re going to think art is something you see in museums.”