//Amplify. Connect. Community.
Cluster of upraised fists in front of a downtown Fresno skyline

Amplify. Connect. Community.

Artist, Roeski Doeski, delves into the inspiration South Fresno roots, activism, and pop-culture gives to his work.

By Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Words have their place, but in times when they don’t, what the heart needs to say is more thoroughly expressed through a series of brush strokes, a photo, a collection of images, or an arrangement of sounds. Art, in all its beauty and versatility, is a language every human being can understand. It can build impossible bridges over the widest disparities, or amplify a message to those who would not ordinarily hear it verbalized in words. It can also capture a moment in history, much like the artwork created by Mario Gonzalez, known by his artistic moniker as Roeski Doeski, on the cover of this month’s Flyer.

Before the recent wave of protests that erupted around the world, Gonzalez’s only message he hoped to communicate was to make a connection through his art – with people and people like him. But his focus shifted, as for many, after witnessing the video that captured the murder of George Floyd.

“It hurt,” Gonzalez’s voice breaks as he recalls the details of that tragic recording. He’s silent for a few moments before he’s able to continue. “It affected me, creatively. I am definitely saying something now with the recent art I’ve [created]. It’s just been on my mind and weighing heavy – heavy – on my heart. I have to say something. I want to help. I want to do my part.”

Gonzalez was immediately inspired to create something original that any proceeds he earned from it would then go to organizations involved with the current movement. However, pulling an idea down onto a canvas that adequately embodied the objective he was after didn’t come right away. It wasn’t until the culmination of Fresno’s peaceful protest on May 31 that the concept for CommUNITY struck him.

“We were out there, and it was beautiful. Just seeing the mass of people, protesting in peace [without] conflict, it touched me,” Gonzalez shares.

The abstract fists shaped with thick, dark lines are reminiscent of the 70s-born cartoon show, Schoolhouse Rock! The song “Just a Bill” persistent in Gonzalez’s mind as he sketched out each of the closed hands. The reference creates something comforting and familiar while expressing strength in solidarity. A skyline outlining Fresno’s iconic buildings, including the well-known Pacific Southwest Building, drives it all home – literally. Using a local setting brings the viewer in, intimately connecting them to the artwork, as well as the current movement. And it resonated with Gonzalez’s audience.

Cluster of upraised fists in front of a downtown Fresno skyline

“[People responded] a lot more than I expected. [They] started asking, ‘are you making prints? I want a shirt, etc.’ And I said ‘OK.’ I’ll make some prints and donate the proceeds,” Gonzalez furthers.

All the money made from the sale of the design, aside from the cost of materials, went to Fresno State’s NAACP.

Currently, Gonzalez does not have any plans to create more prints of the artwork. However, the design has since been converted to a sticker format – a staple and common medium for displaying his ‘Roeski Doeski’ artwork.

Steeped in pop-culture references, and urban Chicano culture, many Gonzalez’s designs are mashups between the two worlds. In fact, it was an “Eat My Shorts” art show put on by Wise Fools that sparked the sticker-trend featuring this blend. Bart Simpson, “Cholo” style, was such a hit that Gonzalez went on to create a Cholo version of Marge and Homer Simpson. The urban influence comes directly from an upbringing in Fresno’s southside – or for Fresnans, ‘South of Shaw.’

Gonzalez’s background prompted a series of stickers replicating intersection street signs for places like Fresno & Belmont, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. & California Ave., and some southside classic landmarks. Old, massive business signs found their way onto Gonzalez’s stickers such as Louie Kee Market, Adrian’s, and Christy’s Donuts. Places unheard of unless one has set foot along Belmont or in Chinatown – which is many, according to the feedback Gonzalez received.

“[The designs] took off! People would see the stickers and comment, “oh, I used to live there!” or “my grandma lived there,” says Gonzalez.

The significant response to the street signs and the historic business signs from the south side of Fresno, speaks not only to a deep connection but also love for those neighborhoods. It seems that it is a large part of Fresno’s identity – that so many of the city’s residence is connected, intimately, with Fresno’s south side. A connection brought out through single images, a piece of art.

No matter the shape, the power of art is almost always universally felt, and often more successfully shared in its message than a string of words. Whether to magnify a movement or to connect over a mutual experience, art is a valuable instrument.

“There are times when words aren’t enough, where words turn into arguments or hurtful daggers. Images speak to people [in their own language]. Art is definitely a tool for protest, for revolution, for change,” expresses Gonzalez.

Follow Mario Gonzalez (under his artist name @RoeskiDoeski – not to be mistaken for popular local DJ Roeski) on Instagram for updates on newly released artwork and upcoming projects.