Then and Now: Raphael Delgado

Portrait by Kevin Fiscus
I passed a note by delgado
“I Passed a Note,” 2020, by Delgado. “This is from a wheatpaste/collage series I am doing with found photos I’ve collected over the years.”

THEN. Ten years ago, Raphael Delgado was fresh out of art school. It was a period in his budding career when his artwork reflected a “somewhat academic” aesthetic.

“I was making things that were perceived to be ‘real art,’ like figures and classical rendering. I wasn’t thinking about longevity,” he says. “I was thinking about the next Second Saturday. It was a monthly cycle, which is almost not organic for an artist.”

shelby by raphael delgado
“Shelby Cobra,” 2010, by Raphael Delgado

He would paint images of leisure, wealth and affluence. He knew what sold.

“Google ‘décor’ and it’s got like beach, vineyards. It’s got places of leisure and things that people want to buy, and that’s what I thought art was about,” Delgado says. “I used art as a way to make money instead of using art as a way to reveal myself, or as a way to help interpret the way I’m feeling and perhaps the way other people are feeling as well.”

But one day, Delgado stopped caring. He no longer worried about whether or not his art had mass appeal. It was his breakthrough.

Raphael Delgado
Raphael Delgado

NOW. Today, Delgado says he paints to connect with people, even in a time when many people are profoundly disconnected. In May, he finished a detailed mural at 12th and S streets that was inspired by a trip to Mexico City, where he saw the Mexican flag motif, with its image of an eagle devouring a serpent, used in a variety of art forms.  

It’s a symbol he’s wanted to paint for some time.

mural delgado
Mural at 12 and S streets by Raphael Delgado. Photo by Randall Holmes/@luustra

“It started to become more potent as I was processing the pandemic,” Delgado says. “The symbol of the snake has now become this contagion, this evil, this problem, and the symbol of the eagle has become this savior, this symbol of good swooping in and attacking.”

When he was up on a scissor lift painting the snake with its menacing eyes and its angular coiled tail, people would drive by and honk or yell thank you from afar. These are the people he paints for, the people who find their own meanings within his art.

“When I was being truthful with myself as an artist, I was revealing myself. There was a stronger connection to people that needed that art,” he says. “I can make things that I’ve always wanted to do, and people gravitate toward it.”, Instagram @artbyraphael