Music, Soccer, and El Paso: Interview with Patrick Gabaldon

Bright colors and cacti merge into law, politics, Whataburger with skateboards, following your favorite band on tour like Dawes, and soccer with tacos. This is the eclectic career of El Paso artist, Patrick Gabaldon, who shows that dreams come true with persistence and really bright palette.

Gabaldon was one of the first profiles Con Safos Magazine did half a decade ago when it was a small Chuco Town more-blog-than-magazine periodical; he was also one of the first profiles when the magazine expanded outside of El Paso and started focusing on music. And while C/S is covering artists all over, his art can be seen all over including the cover of a live Dawes album, posters of hometown soccer team the El Paso Locomotive, and political profiles such as former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and current Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.

His artwork has been at the epicenter of a community that has been at the forefront of the political scene and has been at countless rallies in his hometown of El Paso which since he started painting has not just seen a baseball team and soccer team play their first games, has also seen a mass shooting, hosted a sitting U.S. president and numerous presidential candidates (U.S. and Mexican) and even dawned their own candidate in Beto O’Rourke.

Photo by Antonio Villasenor-Baca.

Gabaldon’s work has been in the middle of all of it.

But the true success story in his art career is how it started with some hometown love and flourished into a local business where Gabaldon has been able to interact with his favorite musicians, his local heroes, new and favorite local sports teams, and anyone in between.

The still lawyer-by-day and artist-by-night continues to reflect the vibrance and color of his home, El Paso- the Sun City- into his cacti covered artwork.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Antonio Villaseñor-Baca: You were a big name already in the art community when we did the last interview but you’re definitely a staple now.

Patrick Gabaldon: Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy. All of it very unexpected. Because we just kind of take the projects as they come. And people seem to still like it. So I’m just gonna keep waiting, so long as people keep seeing something in my work that they appreciate. But it’s been a crazy, crazy, crazy growth, especially after 2018. That’s it went from a very successful hobby, to then shifting to like a business and taking it more seriously. So it’s been crazy, long time ago.

Right.

I think I had just made stickers for the first time then. I would just go to different local restaurants and coffee shops and just ask them if I could leave stickers.

One new project since then is when you started drawing like a lot of people specifically. Yeah. And it started off as a lot of like, big people in the community like Jim Ward, Marina Monsisvais. How did that start? And can you talk a little bit about what the response was?

Yeah, that was another happy accident, I think in 2017, I think was when that started. So it all became a started when I had been talking with some artists around the country that created digitally and I always wanted to try that. I don’t know Photoshop. I don’t know Illustrator. But I had noticed a bunch of different artists that I like to follow were creating on a specific app. And everybody said the same thing iPad Pro, like a $10 app, get an Apple Pencil. It’s incredible. And so I bought one, which was kind of like, I didn’t know if we’d ever have any projects to use it. I just started thinking what can I do that will force me to practice on this new medium? And my wife and I had a conversation of what would be something fun to do. And so the idea was well, I love our community. I love El Paso. It was kind of inspired, I guess by like Gaspar (Enriquez) who has done a lot of portraits. I thought, obviously, I’m not as good as Gaspar but I can do a bunch of portraits of people I respect, that aren’t just artists that are in all parts of the community here in El Paso. So it just started very slowly, with an El Paso list. And then I did 10. I was like, oh, I’m gonna keep doing more. And thinking about the El Pasoans I find inspiring, before I knew, it didn’t take very long, maybe a couple months, I finished drawing everybody. And it was a great exercise because one of the people loved it. I had no goal like in terms of oh, I’m going to do all these portraits and we’re going to show them somewhere it was just kind of like I’m just doing them because they’re fun.

Yeah.

And then it was kind of like once we did, I think Marina, Bob Moore, I would just finish the portrait, save it and then immediately drop it on the person’s Facebook wall, drop it on Instagram and then write a little thing like this is Bob Moore. This is Marina Monsisvais. This is why I drew her This is how she’s important to you. And I would usually crop a little picture so just be like their hair, or just her eyes or her smile or whatever. And then within like the first set of like three of that, then my inbox started blowing up. And look, that’s not the plan of this project. The rules that I forced on myself for that project, but then it just kind of grew to something pretty cool. And initially, I was asking the people that I would draw, I would send them a message, who should I do next? Who do you recommend to add to the El Paso list? And so that was pretty cool. Because everybody respects a lot of the same people because. I’d get a message from a friend of mine, or I’d draw a picture of somebody three, four people recommending that I draw the same person next. So it was fun. I liked doing it. did a lot of artists, local politicians, local movers and shakers. And then my one rule was if you ask me to draw you, the answer will always be no. So a lot of people reached out asking, and then they would ask me, and then I would tell them, ‘Look, I’m not going to draw you, because you asked’. So they got upset, but I figured you gotta have rules. And it’s still something I like doing. Sitting with the iPad, put on Netflix or whatever, I’ll just find somebody I think’s got an interesting face or does something cool and sitting there and sketching.

Yeah, but you also got some politicians. The ones that really stood out were obviously the Beto on the skateboard with the Whataburger and Veronica Escobar. What response did you have for that because drawing a politician, comes with the connotation of like endorsing those people?

That’s always tough. When I started doing the portraits, Beto (O’Rourke) was on there. He had already announced that he was going to run for Senate. And I wanted to include him as an ex city-council person, somebody taking a big step in the state of Texas to try and win a statewide seat. With him being from El Paso, I thought alright, that’s a pretty big deal. And of course, Veronica Escobar was already the county judge. But, and I did a lot of different politicians on that series at least, but then shifting the sketching stuff to have more of a political intention did come with risk or comes with risk. And my wife and I sat and talked about that for a while. But at the end of the day, it was a short conversation because both of us said, well, we like them. We like their policy positions. And so what if someone doesn’t like us or want to support us, because of who we support politically? That’s fine. There’s other artists that are creating that they might politically agree with better than us and power to them, find somebody that they support. So once we took that attitude of we’re just gonna do what we want to do, and if that means less sales then so be it, that’s fine. And so the Beto stuff had a growth of its own that was totally unforeseen and had a lot of risk, not only doing the image and sharing it and creating other digital images kind of following the campaign and more things we’re doing and of course, then creating digitally allowed for quick turnaround and quick content, posting and image posting and following the media narrative closely and quickly made digital art made possible. And then we were kind of caught in the groundswell in the wave of grassroots participation across the state, which was just incredible. It took my style and my work from El Paso, to Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, L.A., D.C., and even still we were in Austin a couple months ago driving around downtown and we saw tons of our Beto stickers just all over the place. And that’s awesome. Because people not only liked him as a candidate and supported him, but then they saw something in the art that they that made them smile, right? Because there’s so many artists doing cool stuff for politicians. So to be the El Paso artists doing stuff for Beto was, crazy. It was awesome.

What did it What did it mean to you? I mean, like you said, to be the El Paso artist? What did it mean to you to be that artist to be showing El Paso in all those places?

Well that means everything. Once I started painting regularly and selling regularly, then it became clear that we needed to have some clear intention with the artwork. And it was pretty early on that my goal was that I wanted for people to think of El Paso. And when they thought of El Paso, they were drawn to the color and joy that I try to put forth through my work. Because so often, I would hear from people that they think of El Paso when they think of something just not positive. So then when the art grew in terms of being connected to the political stuff, then I was grateful. And I was grateful for it because it also, I think, in a small way shifted the image of El Paso. The hope was that they would see the Beto sticker, search my artwork and be like, ‘Oh, that’s also El Paso’ and to try and create a fresh impression of the border through color. That’s the one my my most proudest things that we hear from people, especially when they’re from out of town, is ‘I immediately think of your work when I think of El Paso or when I think of back home, I think of your colors and your cactus’ or ‘I didn’t use to like cactus and now I think about them and all I see is bright kind of smiley colors’ at me. That is always the goal: to try and lift up our community through art work and it kind of stems from My infatuation and respect for San Antonio artists Cruz Ortiz, he and Olivia have done amazing work but their focus and growth in San Antonio making their idea and their creative picture of San Antonio, the image in which others now view the city of San Antonio. That is what I want for El Paso. And I’m just glad that people have caught on or have supported that idea of mine.

Right, and so it kind of coincided, right? Like the very first time that we ever did an interview was in 2016. That year did not end like a lot of people thought it would, especially how it ultimately ended up impacting the border. Has that ever in and of itself, inspired or motivated or affected your work?

Yeah. Because I mean, you’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it right? It still continues today: the narrative of what El Paso or what the border is has constantly been tried to have been written and forced upon us rather than us here creating our own narrative. And it’s been through the work of local El Pasoans and our representatives trying to shift the idea to reality. It’s no surprise that August 3rd happened when you have politicians, Trump and his crew constantly trying to stoke fear of the border for the rest of Americans. It’s not an accident. So the intent to shift that message for us to to speak for ourselves has coincided hand in hand. The reason I constantly paint more prickly pear, create more desert pieces and more El Paso border pieces is because this is who we are. We are more than what you think we are. We’re colorful. We’re community. We’re together. We’re family. And we’re not gonna let you tell us anymore who we are. And that’s only gone up because for some reason El Paso’s been put a target on us from D.C. So I feel it’s even more important. I’m lucky that a bunch of other local artists feel the same way and are creating, I think, more ferociously because of that. It’s not an accident that the El Paso artistic community started finding its footing when the national story of the border was and is negative. It makes us all a little bit prouder to stand up as we are.

There’s another way that your work has emboldened and definitely represented: through the sports teams now. I see your cap. What has that been like, having your work featured by them? And how, because I think they use one of your pieces too for like poster. Yeah. How did that come about?

So. I love soccer. It’s my favorite sport. I play a lot of FIFA on my PlayStation. When I heard that a team was coming, I was super, super excited and I wanted to be involved some how. We bought season tickets, we’re gonna re-up season tickets again. Well, I’m sure we’ll be up for as long as we live here in El Paso or SoCal forever. And it all started in like October before the first season, while more like, I think September, we had our first meeting. And it was what their marketing creative team was before they even had a graphic designer on staff, before they had their full ticket rep staff. They were like, Hey, we love your art. We’ve already been talking about soccer. Do you have any ideas that you think would help us to connect with the community? This is what we’re already planning on doing? Are you in? I was like, Yeah, man. I’m all in. I’m all in. I think it’s incredibly forward thinking that the Locomotive have made it a point to welcome a bunch of different aspects of the community, art being one. I think the poster series they did for their first season was incredible. Having a different poster for every home game, most almost all of them by different artists. I know I did two posters that they gave out at the games. I also started doing and designing and drawing game day posters for myself and posting them because to me, sports are so important for community building and for community pride. You see it in a lot of sports cities where people just feel so connected because it means more than sports. It’s a parent, a father and a daughter going to go see the Orioles every home game. And for me, my dad was always a huge UTEP basketball fan and some of my favorite memories growing up, it was me and him on a Wednesday night going to see UTEP basketball. And we did that for decades. Even still, we do that. So when the Locomotive came, it was an opportunity to create more positive energy and to help the team. But my hope is that Locomotive becomes more than a sports team, that it becomes a real club that people in El Paso can be proud of. And when it comes to soccer, we have so much talent here in El Paso anyways, I wouldn’t be surprised if every year some new El Paso kid shows up on the roster, and surprises. And again, the fact that they’ve been so in on embracing the artists community is just so cool. And I hope they continue to do that. I have a dream that one day that I’ll have a jersey that they’ll wear on the field, I made a jersey this year for some family and friends and season ticket holders that we sit with. And my hope is that they’ll see those and be like, you know, Gabaldon’s always bugging us about making a jersey with his art on it. Well, here it actually looks pretty cool. Maybe we should consider it. But I’ve told them at the club, I’m going to be a season ticket holder. No matter what. It’s just such a good time.

It’s just such a great time. the games are short. Two 45 minute halves, boom, boom games over starts at seven you’re home at nine. They’re right on the streetcar line to get there. So just park north of downtown and ride for free. They have a taco stand. Hopefully they have it again this year. That is so, so good. They made a smart call. It’s literally discada and al pastor on the spit. It’s like a taco truck there in the middle of the stadium. Good stuff. It’s my favorite. My new favorite tradition is showing up to a Locomotive game on like a Wednesday or Saturday, my wife gets her papas locas with her Valentina and her lime juice. I get my discada tacos and get a couple beers and watch the game. I could talk about the Locomotive for days. And they’re just super friendly too, the staff. And that’s a real dream come true. Because I love soccer. It’s like my favorite thing. So the fact that I’ve been able to use my art to do some really cool stuff I never thought I could dream of is wild. You know, it’s just every little project like this just blows my mind and the Locomotive is definitely definitely one of them.

I also saw that Dawe’s had picked up your work a bit.

Dream come true shit, right there, man.

How did that start? It was a while where you were posting a lot of pieces. So how long was that? And then when did they reach out or how did they reach out?

Yeah, some of the coolest things I’ve ever done are all through the art. I was able to introduce Beto O’Rourke at a big event, a kickoff event. That was cool. I was able to get this congressional award recognition from Veronica Escobar for Hispanic month which was amazing. And then the one that’s up there at the top is Dawe’s sending me a message saying, ‘Hey, we like your stuff.’ I flipped out. They’ve been so important to me. Music is incredibly important to me. It’s one of the most important things to me in my life. As a former musician, and someone who constantly listens to music every second of the day, it’s my mood stabilizer. It’s incredibly important to me and Dawes has been important to me since I was in law school almost a decade ago when I first discovered their music. So when I started creating digitally, you know, I just draw what’s in my head and things that I’m paying attention to. And at the time, I was listening to a lot of Dawes, started drawing them. They liked it. We were part of a fan group, and they liked it. And within a matter of time, word got out to the band from other fans across the country, buying some Dawes related stuff like mostly stickers because I wanted a Dawe’s sticker and they didn’t sell any. So I was like, well, I make stickers. I do art. Why don’t I just make my own and so I did, and all the other fans out there were excited because they also wanted stickers and I think the first time we got an official kind of reach out from them was one of the fans ordered a bunch of stickers and went to see them in Atlanta and then gave them a bunch. And then they sent us a message and were like ‘hey Gabaldon, thanks for these we love them’. And then it just grew from there into more portrait work for fun events because I love their music. I cannot express in true words how important their music is to me; everybody has a band like that, right? Or some creative thing in their life that just lights them up; they’re the one for me. And we saw them in Iowa on August 2nd, the day before the shooting we saw them. That’s what we were doing outside Chicago. And one of the fans was like ‘we should make shirts for the concert’. And then they were like, ‘hey Gabaldon you’re an artist, you run a business, you make shirts. Let’s do it’.

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A post shared by Patrick "Pico" Gabaldón (@gabaldonart) on

And so we made these shirts, we showed up to Iowa, everybody had these shirts that I designed, and the band in the middle of the second set was like, ‘Hey, we just want to take a moment and say how thankful we are for these shirts’. And I was very much in a rough emotional state, of course, as most of us were. And I sent them a message when we were on the flight, just expressing to them how important it was for Mo and I to have such a warm, positive, and familial experience with all these strangers we don’t know from across the country that we’ve met on the internet and it was all because of going to see them in the middle of nowhere in a barn in Iowa, and how much that really meant to us. And it kind of reached peak success, I think peak like super-fan when Taylor (Goldsmith), sent me a message on Instagram. And he said, ‘you know, we have a new album coming out. You can’t, please obviously, don’t tell anybody. But we want to use this photo you took as the cover’. I responded, ‘Whatever you need from me. I’ll do it. Whatever. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do it. That’s the least I, you know, I told us the least I could do, considering how much you’ve done for me’. And they offered they said what they normally pay. They’re their own small business as well, they own their own label, they produce their own music and distribute. And they said to me ‘our executives will reach out with our standard fee, it’s this much, and they’ll figure it out with you on getting the file and everything’, and then I didn’t hear from them and it was kind of dark, quiet for a while. And then they showed up one day, sent payment, and they were like, we’re good to go. It’s a special live album for their European tour. And they were nice enough to send me a couple copies. So I have two of them. One still in the plastic and the other one I opened and I listened to I gave it to my brother over Christmas. And every time I see it, it just, it’s so cool, man. I don’t know. It’s just incredible to know that. That was Yeah, me standing there next to my wife at this concert in Iowa, our lives were about to change pretty dramatically. Yet we were in this place for a very particular reason. And the cover photo, the album was recorded live in Richmond, and the photo’s obviously from Codfish, Iowa about a year later. It’s just a really big thing for me to have that. I’ve met the bass player once. I designed one for that show and they shared it and I designed a little poster for the European tour and they of course put it on all their social also, I recently wrote a little book. I didn’t write it, I just illustrated a little book of one of their songs and his wife, Mandy Moore and they both shared it. So this was this cool little thing that I could never have asked for. One day I hope to meet them a little bit more casual, you know, like, just to tell them that I’m just grateful for what they what they do creatively. I could go on all day, man, like, do you hear me talking about the Locomotive? and Dawes? I could never shut up.

You mentioned the book. What was that process? Like? It’s so it’s a Dawes song?

Yeah. So Taylor, the singer for Dawes, he just got he got married recently to Mandy Moore. And he wrote this beautifully sweet love song. And we were sitting, watching TV and I was sketching on my iPad. I told my wife I wanted to take some of my favorite songs of theirs, and create some art based on that. My recent series of mountain pieces, I painted seven pieces of different mountains is inspired by one of their songs. And so Valentine’s Day was around the corner. And my wife said, ‘Well, why don’t you do one of “Never Gonna Say Goodbye”?

Which is this love song. Yeah, and I thought, Oh, that’s actually a good song to add little illustrations for a nice style, so cartoony and sweet. And so it was pretty easy to to draw that song into a little picture book form and I hope to hopefully soon we’re going to make some, like just maybe five copies, send them a couple of copies. Because basically from what they told us, they really appreciated it. I love that song. It’s just a real sweet song so it made sense to make a little picture book out of it. And so, cheekily, I guess on the cover, I put, you know, never gonna say goodbye, a love song written by Taylor Goldsmith for Mandy Moore, performed by Dawes illustrated by myself. It was easy to do, because I didn’t have to write it. I mean, you know, I recently wrote a kid’s book. And that was difficult because I wrote it so it took a heck of a lot longer time than just having the base material there to work off of, so it was fun, man. It’s crazy. Like when my phone blew up, basically, my wife freaking out like, ‘oh my god. Did you see Mandy Moor’s story?!’ It’s cool to know that this person, this many millions of followers shared my artwork is cool, but to me, it was more important to know that my little cartoons affected them in a positive way; that pales in comparison to the way that their art has impacted me.

So, all that’s been done. What’s next?

I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with the way things have gone. That’s the thing with the whole journey that we’ve been on, is we try and plan a few things, but nothing we really know what’s coming. We always give to the same charities and more charities always reach out. So that’s one thing that is always been a mission in the business is, we’ve been given so much by the community, we need to make sure to get back. So it’s always nice that even when I paint a lot, and I might not have a bunch of buyers lined up, I know that Humane Society is going to call, children’s hospitals gonna call, the YWCA, United Way, all these organizations that we love to support are going to call because they know we give every time. I hope we continue to be what people think of when they think about El Paso, that they think of color, community. Friendly, unique, challenging, I hope that when they think El Paso they’ll think my artwork and also whatever that comes with, like, if they’re thinking of my artwork, then maybe that means they’ll say, You know what? I like that. What else does El Paso have to offer? And then maybe they’ll discover Christin Apodaca. Or maybe they’ll discover Jason Lucero or maybe they’ll discover Los Dos and realize, Oh, my God, El Paso is filled with amazing talent. We’ll see.

Well, that’s it for my question. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to add.

The reason we’ve been so lucky is I don’t It’s because of anything we’ve really done is just because I think we got Lucky. Like the community was looking for something. Right. And we happen to walk through the door. And I don’t know when it’ll end, if it’ll keep going. But I’m just super grateful that so many people in El Paso have supported us and supported this kind of crazy journey. Because at the end of the day, like we’re just so incredibly lucky to call El Paso our home. And so incredibly lucky that people like my stuff, and so incredibly lucky that they buy it and put it in their homes, on their fridge in their office. Put a sticker on their laptop. We’re just so so so lucky. We never forget that either.

By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca

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