For seven years, Dino Perez has humbly peddled his artwork at the downtown Santa Ana’s monthly art walk, becoming one of the most recognized faces in the city’s vibrant creative scene. The tall, pompadoured 32-year-old hawks paintings, prints and T-shirts adorned with such recurring characters as skull boys, Mexican women, cartoony birds and lotería card iconography (hands, hearts, moons, etc.). A “graphic designer who likes to paint,” Perez’s style has inflections of Mexican folk art filtered through dark linework and a toned-down color palette.
But Perez is more than just a kind face making monthly appearances by the Gypsy Den; his presence lingers throughout the downtown area even when he’s not there. His paintings hang in restaurants, and his murals adorn walls and utility boxes. He’s also an active member of the Community Engagement project, which helps families get together for monthly coloring-book events.
Coming of age in 1990s SanTana, Perez recalls being into ’80s subcultures, music, TV, graffiti writing and pop culture. The Smiths and Morrissey are a huge influence in his life (Perez beams every time he points out the Morrissey concert poster he designed for Goldenvoice), and music influences his paintings from time to time, either by using song lyrics as a title for a painting or guiding the mood of the piece. By day, Perez works as a graphic designer; by night, he leaves his fiancée to work for a few hours in his studio, located in Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) basement.
While music, street art and cartoons clearly inform his work, what really drives Perez to create is the desire to relate to his cultural upbringing. “A lot of art I make is from art I grew up with,” Perez says. “I’m definitely always keeping in mind where I came from, my roots and staying true to myself and what I’m about.”
Last year, Perez saw a call for proposals through the GCAC website for community-centered art projects. He submitted his vision of designing coloring books for families to color together, and Community Engagement, a nonprofit partnered with GCAC, approved the idea. He now colors with families in the Lacy neighborhood once a month. “I grew up coloring with my parents and family,” he says. “I wish there had been events where I could color with my neighbors.”
Perez will bring Coloring With the Community to OC Fair’s Imaginology event in April. Besides the effect of uniting families and keeping kids out of trouble, what Perez didn’t count on was how his coloring-book participants would inspire him. “Sometimes, you’ll see someone pick a color palette, and you think, ‘Oh, cool, I never would have thought of using those colors together,'” Perez says. “It becomes a collaborative work now.”