HOCU | Local muralist brings color to C-U


Photo courtesy of Rafael Blanco Website

Muralist Rafael Blanco paints the mural “UNR Diversity” at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2020. Blanco painted a mural in Urbana called “Dancing on Illinois” located on Illinois Street.

By Odeth Rubio, Contributing Writer

The Champaign-Urbana community has quickly become an art outlet with not only its festivals, concerts and exhibitions, but also with its murals springing up across towns. Downtown Urbana has numerous murals in the area with vibrant colors, promoting an art presence. 

Rafael Blanco, a muralist born in Spain, has recently worked on and finished a mural in Urbana. Blanco said he came to the U.S. as a 19 year old with a scholarship to Florida Southern College, later transferring to Saint Mary’s College of California. After finishing as an undergraduate, he attended The University of Nevada, Reno, where he then received his MFA. 

He said he had been a studio artist for 15 years hoping he would become a gallery artist. However, while working as a gallery artist, he said he came to realize it was not what he thought it would be.

“(I) would like to be able to paint until the day I die,” Blanco said.

Blanco became an artist from the influence of his mother, who would take him to different museums every week in Madrid. Growing up, he said he looked at art by Picasso, Dali and Rivera. Blanco’s grandfather was also a well-known sculptor in Spain — always around art and the lifestyle that came with it. 

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    Blanco said his first experience with public art was in 2014 during a 24-hour mural competition where he did not sleep or rest. During this competition he believed the process “was liberating” and he was “able to connect with hundreds of people at once.”

    While he did not particularly like the end result, he quickly fell in love with the process. He said that his purpose as of right now is not to do gallery shows, but instead to create more murals. 

    “The best advice I can give is to practice. Whatever your art form is, really try to master your skill. I think nowadays there is too much conceptual art, that the skill is being lost or we don’t give importance to skill anymore, not as it used to be, and it is something that we cannot really forget,” Blanco added.

    His most recent mural was completed in Urbana and titled “Dance on Illinois,” spanning through a building and its two walls. One wall contains the image of a young woman dancing with both of her arms up. The background is striped light blue, turquoise, orange and yellow with a shadow that appears to be extending from her. Similarly, depicts a young man dancing with one hand over his head, and the other pointed in the air. Both can depictions seem focused on their moves in an interesting and detailed work of art. 

    “I think no matter what mural I’m working on, being able to actually just paint, (makes) everything stop and all my worries are left behind,” Blanco said. He added that he is never happy with end results, and he believes many artists feel the same — although he has a love for the process.

    Blanco added that more artists are drawn to do murals, making a note on the areas murals are done in.

    “Usually, we paint in places that are not pretty to start with, (places) that actually need help, so I think, just by making anything, people usually tend to appreciate that someone is trying to improve that place,” he said.

    The idea of the mural was presented through a real estate company which aims to provide resources in public art as they “want to improve many units that they have,” Blanco said. 

    Social media, he believes, is taking practice time from artists. He also encouraged artists to apply themselves to opportunities that come when artists put themselves out there. Blanco recognizes that he often gets denied as an artist, but he also gets opportunities. He said that he believes that denial is something individuals who want to succeed need to embrace, as it helps artists grow. 

    “Within the last two years there has been an explosion with murals and public art,” Blanco said. “So I think we are seeing that more now in the Champaign-Urbana community.”


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