Delivering a Colorful Message

With bright colors, graphic outlines, and vibrant elements from his Mexican-American heritage, multidisciplinary artist David Maldonado’s work merges street art and fine art at East River

Karen Krajcer

April 2022

Whether the image lives on a T-shirt or the side of a building, organic elements such as flowers, animals, and sky mingle with bold shapes and cubist elements in muralist David Maldonado’s work. At this convergence, the stories of diverse communities begin to sing. 

But before the Instagram “eye candy,” before the design partnership with The Houston Astros and Adidas, and before the commission from NASA, Maldonado hosted community open mic nights with piecemeal, borrowed equipment. 

These “Creative Nights,” Maldonado explains, were an “attempt to build a bridge” through art, music, and community. A microphone from one friend, a speaker from a neighbor, a coloring-book-style canvas by Maldonado, waiting for anyone and everyone to paint—these inclusive events brought people together. 

“Public art should serve as a reminder of humanity and empathy,” he says. Before Covid-19 pushed pause on these monthly gatherings, the Pasadena musician and visual artist bore regular witness to the impact that art can have on an audience, watching even the most “rugged and structured” people “just melt a little bit.” He explains: “Our systems have made us accustomed to seeking perfection, but art breaks that and reminds you that it’s okay to make mistakes.”

Art gives people permission to be transparent and to connect with others. 

Today, the desire for connection and community continues to guide Maldonado’s art, including his largest work to date: A 60x20-foot spray-painted mural that welcomes visitors to Houston’s new East River development. Stretching across six shipping containers, Houston-centric symbols, such as bluebonnets and an astronaut, share space with images representing local communities: mosaic tiles, the bayou itself, and the bridges that connect people to each other, their past, and their future. A cargo ship features prominently—the artist’s nod to the historic East End’s shipping industry and to the people who sustain it. Maldonado comes from a multi-generational family of longshoremen, and his mural honors this community in both subject and materials. 

Public art tells a story, and over the two-week period when Maldonado painted the East River mural, passers-by shared their stories as well. Community members hope the visitors to the new development will “keep in mind the people, keep in mind the reverence and respect to the people who were here,” he says. Maldonado believes that his mural illustrates this message of hope and that “we will continue to better this city.” 

Maldonado cherishes watching his work bring people together. “Public art is supposed to be a statement,” he says. “Not only should the art speak, but our actions should speak. It doesn’t stop with the painting. It doesn’t stop with the sticker. It stops when we stop. It’s our actions that speak.”