Raphael Delgado is a muralist, fine artist, and community leader based in Sacramento, CA. A studio artist by origin, Delgado told me over Zoom that he’s historically favored working indoors, preferring climate control to the elements. His studio is a veritable destination in Sacramento, replete with vibrant canvases, a Facebook page, and monthly events (in another life where gatherings were legal.)
As he's grown in his career though, public art has played an immeasurably large role in his practice. Delgado's many murals color countless facades — his distinct style has established a reliable visual motif throughout Sacramento, harmonizing with the varied notes of the city's greater creative scene. Delgado also serves as a Board Member at Wide Open Walls, the city’s prestigious mural festival.
All photos by Kevin Fiscus
The artist’s biography at Wide Open Walls states that he was born in nearby Oxnard, CA in 1981. “His father worked for galleries and museums as a custom picture framer and his mother was an artist,” it recounts. “During his childhood, it was common for finished works of Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Rivera and other masters to hang in his home while they were waiting to be picked up by their owners.”
Delgado went on to study at the San Francisco Academy of Art. “Art school tries to strip you down, and then rebuild you,” he explained during our chat. “I've tried to retain some of the naïveté and childlike fascination of drawing.” This purposeful energy entangles with the cubist and impressionist influence of his youth to create something new — artwork which portrays everyday figures from unexpected angles. Faces resound with vectors, echoes, blocks of vivid hues. These paintings feel like Picassos, polished for the digital era — clean and ready for their closeup. While Delgado’s creations are stationary and two-dimensional, confined to canvases and facades, his work moves.
Believe me when I tell you Delgado’s not all love and light. His optimism is the most impressive kind — built on purpose. “I dealt with death early on with,” he told me. “I almost died when I was a kid. I was six years old. I was unresponsive at the bottom of spa for like six, seven minutes. They revived me.” To make the matter more impactful, as if it were possible, this pool party is his first childhood memory. His family has consistently reminded him of the event his whole life, as if he could forget, in tones that color an emotional rainbow. “It was a constant reminder of my time here,” he continued. “I always felt I was on borrowed time. I try to live up to that."
He cited his first forays into muralism as a singular point of growth in his career. The art form requires a different scope of consideration than painting. Murals don't live in a collector’s private home, they live in the streets and belong to the community. Delgado’s intimate relationship with Sacramento keeps him attuned to the city's needs. He recently painted a Madonna and Child mural for his community. “I thought there was a need for something a little more innocent and more soft, feminine.”
“People vibe on it,” he said of painting in public. “It makes me really happy, spreading joy. We put energy into our art, right? Writing or photography or music, there’s energy stored into it. When people are seeking something deeper, a deeper meaning into their life, and they see something like that, that we created — it works. And that's art.” As an artist, Delgado honors a sense of duty.
The impact and reach a mural could generate proved undeniable. “Also, there’s this kind of impermanence — it weathers,” he pontificated. When a mural starts belonging to the community, the artist loses a measure of their ownership. Delgado’s public art is a part of someone’s morning commute, a background in someone else’s selfie. “I did [a mural] in Fresno, California, and I never saw it again,” he laughed. “I haven't seen a picture of it. It's just there. Maybe when I drive past it one day, it'll be new.”
Delgado finds that muralism, with all its hyperactive energy, drives an element of his creative practice. “It's a very inorganic way of working, where people are watching you,” he explained. “You're embarrassingly on display the whole time. It's almost a performance.” However, he added, “I like the pressure. I like being under the fire. I like procrastinating… I don't like it. I mean, who likes that?”
This element of persistent contemplation has allowed Delgado a strong self-awareness and an accompanying peace. As a result, his work strives for authenticity and makes no concessions. “This is all me,” he said. “I have nothing to hide. I guess that's part of my art. There's nowhere to hide, there's nothing to hide. If I just sit down and draw, it’s a Raphael. I have no choice.”
Using that power matters now more than ever. Regarding the pandemic, Delgado asserted, “There’s no sitting this one out, right?” Reality dramatically shifted at the drop of a hat, leaving virtually no one unaffected. Not only has life adopted an array of new meanings, but the dust hasn’t settled enough to see which will stick — uncertainty rules the day. The upside: “Artists are mobilizing, creating, reinventing themselves, reinventing platforms.”
“There's a lot of healing,” he continued. “There's a lot of coping. Artists are here to help people cope, in a sense, with reality, with spirituality, with the feelings that are hard to describe.” He focuses on a scale that feels meaningful, personal. “I want to be a leader here in my city,” Delgado said. “I think a leader does by example — there doesn't have to be a formula. You can do murals, you could do prints, you could do lectures, photography. Anybody can be the next great artist, really. I think that the future for me is making it acceptable to be creative. To put your art out in the world, and to put your voice out.”
There’s gotta be a reason greater than himself. “I've always wanted to beautify my surroundings,” he offered. Sometimes Delgado has to do that with his very being — he’s perpetually the life of the party. “Beautifying my surroundings doesn't have to be just with colors and imagery… Say we're having a campfire, we went fishing, there’s a group of people. I want to tell some stories. Let’s have fun, let's let's provoke thought.”
Delgado walks this why by actively engaging with the place he calls home. Just two years after arriving to the state capitol, he founded a community drive called Crayons to Canvas that collects art supplies for at-risk kids and developmentally disabled adults.
He calls the creative impulse a humanistic endeavor — “It's what it is to be human.” What’s more, the creative impulse is an asset to decidedly own. Delgado said, “Whether you can write or sing or whatever, art in general, it's a gift.” He’s chosen to use his gift to connect with others, to share something himself through the lens of work that shimmers, work that shimmies, work that dances like he does where two or more are gathered with a funky tune. A mission like this can sustain a person through the elements. It’s spiritual climate control. Still, Delgado’s taking to the streets.