Quebec City artist is on a mission to beautify urban spaces, one brick wall at a time

Mural artist Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez has been developing a reputation in the city for his beautiful spray paint creations.

Mural artist Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez has been leaving a mark on the walls of Limoilou

Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez decided he wanted to make a positive impact with his art. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

Mural artist Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez has been developing a reputation in Quebec City for his beautiful spray paint creations.

Velazquez-Lopez began creating mural art in his home country of Mexico. When he moved to Quebec in 2017, he wanted to keep finding avenues for creative expression.

"I'm going to continue with my art, to help me, to give the colour to society. That's my contribution, my little contribution," he told CBC's Quebec AM.

When he was just starting out, Velazquez-Lopez said his approach to street art was entirely different. 

"When I started to make my art, I started in the street: tagging the street, tagging all the places. Probably I had a bad attitude. But we need art, we don't need vandalism. So that's why I changed my mentality. I prefer the community to see my work like art," he said.

Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez, a mural artist originally from Mexico, is bringing a dash of colour to the alleys of Quebec City. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

Velazquez-Lopez says he made a conscious decision to stop using his talents to leave a mark on someone else's property illegally. 

Instead he wanted his impact to be positive.

The first mural Velazquez-Lopez created in Quebec City was on the back brick wall of a building not far from the Stadaconé distillery in Old Limoilou.

Velazquez-Lopez was working in a print shop at the time, and his boss, Alberto da Silva, co-owned a brick factory building housing a sportswear manufacturer.

In November, da Silva gave Velazquez-Lopez the green light to transform the wall into a piece of art.

The boot was the first mural Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez completed in Quebec City. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

Velazquez-Lopez said he'd had the idea for the mural bouncing around in his head since he was 17.

Featuring a boot brimming with beautiful lush vegetables and a fleur-de-lys on the tongue, Velazquez-Lopez said the mural was his tribute to his adoptive home.

Once he saw the finished art for the first time, da Silva was impressed.

"I was surprised. I didn't think it would be so beautiful. I was surprised by the artistry of it."

Another of Velazquez-Lopez's murals can be found behind a tailor shop in an alley between 5e and 6e streets.

Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez did this mural freestyle, directly from his imagination onto the wall. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

Featuring a scene with birds and fish, Velazquez-Lopez created it freestyle, meaning that he didn't prepare a sketch in advance. 

He simply painted it from his imagination.

"It's a big opportunity for me, I think for the community, to create beautiful places like that," he told CBC.

Recently, Velazquez-Lopez was approached to create a mural for another alley in Limoilou as part of a beautification project.

In the past few weeks, he's been working on a mural using a corrugated metal wall behind a business near 6e avenue and 8e street as his canvas.

The mural Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez is working on is inspired by the snails that live on a nearby tree in the alley. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

Christine Ares, who lives nearby, said that a few neighbours had submitted a project to Nature Quebec last summer, hoping to get some funding to make their common spaces more green and livable. 

"We went door-to-door to meet with our neighbours and start discussing how to make our alley more green, to make it more beautiful so it could be a place for gatherings," said Ares.

She said the idea of doing a mural gained a lot of interest and the building's owner got on board.

"Juan really has a lot of talent," said Ares. "The kids come home from school, they come down to see how things are advancing, they invite their friends to come see."

The neighbourhood children told Velazquez-Lopez that the tree that stands next to the wall is home to many snails of different colours.

Neighbours got together to make the alley more green and a place where they could gather. They approached Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez to create a mural to brighten the space. (Susan Campbell/CBC)

This ended up serving as the inspiration for his mural.

"All the people come here to give me ideas," he said. "I start to create a little sketch in my head, then after that I start to play with the colours. I start to create with all the element — I'm going to play with the nature, but I'm going to play with the people in the street."

Listen to Juan Manuel Velazquez-Lopez describe his artwork:

Based on a report by Susan Campbell for CBC's Quebec AM