Artist Interview: Hugo Zamorano | Muralist

by JoAnna LeFlore

March 18, 2018

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When you google this guy, what comes up are plenty of links that showcase a career as an emerging graffiti artist and painter. You will find out about a Tedx Talk and about half a dozen public murals he’s painted across Omaha. But when you meet Hugo in person, you will also find out that he is really humble about his success. He’s a cool dude who just wants to see his community thrive through the inspiration of art and collaboration. The smart person learns from their mistakes and a wise one learns from others’ mistakes. Those are some words of wisdom Hugo chooses to live by. “Although a good friend told me once that we all have to make our own mistakes. Which is true, but I’d rather try to avoid some.”

 Hugo Zamorano,  Smeagol From 39TH , 2016, woodblock print, 29 x21 ½ in.

Hugo Zamorano, Smeagol From 39TH, 2016, woodblock print, 29 x21 ½ in.

 A couple mistakes lead to enlightenment, he remembers. As a preteen, he was sneaking out with his childhood homie in LA to essentially stay out of trouble with the gangs. Ironic right? But seriously – art became a way to express himself growing up.

 Hugo Zamorano,  Through The Window , 2016, oil pastel and spray paint on illustration board, 40 x 32 in. 

Hugo Zamorano, Through The Window, 2016, oil pastel and spray paint on illustration board, 40 x 32 in. 

His parents moved here when he was 14 and eventually Hugo was allowed to take his art down a more serious path becoming a mentor through the Kent Bellows program. He also landed a full-ride scholarship to UNO and through the encouragement of his family, continued to grow his skills. He loves to paint. He lights up when he talks about some of the mural projects he’s worked on helping to tell the historic stories about Omaha’s ethnic history along with contributing to the existing culture.

Recently, Hugo finished an aerosol mural on 13th and Williams Street revealing the story of immigration between a Bohemian ruler blaming the Aztecs for ruining cultural heritage. The mural has more complexity when you look closer to see that both parties are to blame for the loss of appreciation and recognition for the other’s heritage despite the fight for territory.

 Hugo Zamorano, 13th and Williams, 2017, spray paint, photo courtesy of the Artist

Hugo Zamorano, 13th and Williams, 2017, spray paint, photo courtesy of the Artist

“I’m gonna blame Hip Hop to be honest. When I was little my dad was always playing it, listening to N.W.A. and Kid Frost. Eventually my parents became religious and they stopped listening and what not. But when I was in the third grade I remember one of the first songs that I really liked was by Nas, it was called I Know I Can. That really got me into it because when you usually hear about Hip Hop they say it’s always about sex, drugs and naked women. You know it always has a negative image. So when I heard that song I was like this isn’t negative at all. One of the lyrics to Nas’ song says, I never worked a day in my life. It sounds dope to me and that’s what keeps me going knowing that I can live doing what I love.”

Making the connection of Graffiti art to its origins with Hip Hop are put into action as Hugo participates annually with the Abstract Concrete festival that happens at the Bancroft Street Market. It’s a notion of honor to be asked to paint here and even better if you are asked to tag concrete slabs next to some of the city’s best aerosol artists.

 Hugo Zamorano, Graffiti Writing, 2017, UNO Student Center, spray paint, photos courtesy of the artist

Hugo Zamorano, Graffiti Writing, 2017, UNO Student Center, spray paint, photos courtesy of the artist

 Hugo Zamorano, TedX Backdrop, 2017, spray paint

Hugo Zamorano, TedX Backdrop, 2017, spray paint

JoAnna Leflore: What are some recent accomplishments for you?

Hugo Zamorano: Ah man, I’m engaged to my best friend, I bought a house last year at 25 with the money I made from making art, I live off of my passion which is art.  I got best emerging artists award for 2016 (Omaha Entertainment Arts Awards), and the Mexican community mural I painted with my mural team, A Midsummer’s Mural, got best public art for that same year. I feel like traveling is an accomplishment for me.  I went to London in 2015 I think it was and Thailand in 2016 with my fiancée.  I think traveling is an accomplishment because in our society I feel like that’s not something that is encouraged a lot because people act like the USA is the best place in fucking world -- ha!  There are a lot of nice places in the US that I haven’t visited, but other countries are always more of a culture shock because you have to really do some research and you have to navigate as an outsider.

 A Midsummer’s Mural,  Del Futuro Al Pasado , 2016, acrylic, 25 x 80 ft.

A Midsummer’s Mural, Del Futuro Al Pasado, 2016, acrylic, 25 x 80 ft.

JL: You seem to really enjoy doing community work as a part of your artist mission too. Do you plan to do  more of this?

HZ: The Latino Artists Exhibition I helped coordinate at Bancroft Market back in 2015 was really a big deal. There was a printmaker from New York and two Art Collectors who showed up. That was a major collaboration with five other local artists along with the OLLAS team at UNO. I was just really happy to see everyone work together to pull that off. I can’t wait to do it again.

JL: What do you hope to bring attention to for your city, state, nation?

I guess I just hope to bring some positive change through art. And to keep making Omaha a great place for creating artwork, and a place to come for art.

More examples of how Hugo makes a point to give back involve being a teaching artist through WhyArts? where he recently taught students from Norris Middle School how to paint a 40-foot temporary wall. 

You can see more of Hugo’s work around town too. If you’re in the neighborhood, check out these locations:

UPCOMING SPRING 2018: Werner Park Mural in celebration of their 50th Season

Business Development in Little Italy in collaboration with Omaha Creative Institute (13th and Williams Street)

Bancroft Street Market (10th and Bancroft Street)

Lithuanian Bakery Mural (5217 South 33rd Avenue) 

UNO Milo Bail Student Center (2017) and Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center