Supernatural artist Michael V. Rios

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on November 12, 2018

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  Artist/Musician Michael Rios is best known for his artwork and visual collaboration with Carlos Santana on the multi Grammy winning CD Supernatural.

I had an opportunity to visit him in his studio lined wall to wall with breathtaking art in various forms alive with vibe and full spectrum colors. A roomful of Rios, mystical and magical energy.

Mike is a native of Oakland, California. While in his sophomore year at Oakland’s Fremont High School, Michael’s artistic talents caught the attention of his teachers, and he received a scholarship to the prestigious San Francisco Academy of Art College, which he attended from 1964 to 1966.

Upon graduation from the Academy, Michael worked as an illustrator for the famous San Francisco men’s clothier, Roos Atkins. Rios then opened his own commercial art and graphics studio in North Beach. He also created children’s books, billboards, paint ads and other elite level commercial art. Mike became a major up and comer in San Francisco’s advertising community. Michael soon became a creative partner in Union Street’s “Winston, Rios & Brown”.

Mike did not consider himself a Latino artist, just an artist with a vision.

He was making a name for himself on the San Francisco advertising scene, at the same time admiring the work of psychedelic poster artists popping up around the city. After a few years, Rios became tired of working for “squares in a square business.”

He flew to Europe with the idea of landing a hipper job and moving his young family there. One day, while walking through Paris, he decided that he would simply start over and threw his portfolio in the trash.

“I wanted to be in the company of artists doing heartfelt stuff. I thought, ‘I don’t want to grow up so fast,’ ” said Rios, who is now 71.

Mike worked with acrylics to watercolors, while concurrently studied music with local Latin Music legends while playing with several bands. Rios created some of the first large murals that made the Mission District famous and his effort to “beautify the place I live in” brought him national attention.

After returning from Europe, Rios fell in with a group of grassroots artists in San Francisco’s Mission District. During this time, Rios agreed to paint the side of a community group’s building that was helping

“I wanted to do this big cartoon strip up there styled after Robert Crumbs work, I had previously worked with Crumb.”

The mural, which became the first of many for Rios around San Francisco, was at 23rd and Folsom streets and depicted everyday scenes of the time, including people going to work and the welfare office and men in court and jail.

“I made the police look like pigs. I made the people look like rats, moles or with cat and dog heads. They weren’t really representative of people; it didn’t depict that we live in a rat race, but you could see that in it,”

Another mural he did on South Van Ness Avenue paid homage to Santana as a Rock and Roll star from the Latino San Francisco experience. Rios didn’t meet Carlos until former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer, Michael Shrieve, had Mike paint a drum set for him, this is when Rios and Santana met and became brothers and co-collaborators in art.

In 1986 Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Santana, Rios created the mural Inspire to Aspire, located on South Van Ness and 22nd Streets. Musical heroes, icons and symbols common to those who lived in the Mission are represented in this creation that spans three buildings. It was the inspiration for what became a beautiful friendship and a long, artistic collaboration between the musician and the painter.

Michael’s work for Carlos Santana has included concert backdrops, custom clothing designs, guitars, and several record albums covers, including the Grammy Award winning “Supernatural.” Michael’s commissioned artwork has appeared on several recordings, including Grammy Award Winner Poncho Sanchez’ “Latin Spirits,” and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Steve Wynwood’s “About Time.”

Michael Rios has created original artwork for such clients as the Latin Recording Academy, the Mars Family, the Andre Agassi Foundation, Sony Signatures, LP Percussion and AGI interactive. Today, Michael Rios’ work continues to cross boundaries and is highly regarded for its power, vision and color.

Since then, Rios has painted numerous albums covers, T-shirts and banners that hang over Santana’s stages.

Michael is going through a severe health crisis and has just completed the process of chemotherapy. He is pensive alert ethereal and looks much younger than his 71 years, he speaks in a very lyrical rhythmic pace, painting philosophical word pictures and scenarios, it is clear to me that he has spent many, many hours with Carlos Santana, they sound striking similar.

He asks, “What do you want to ask me? I told him that my only concern was to know what he wanted to say, I encourage people to tell their story in their own voice this way its authentic. Mikes says,” Everything I have to say is around you, the paintings sketches, posters, art work this is my voice this is how I speak this is all I have to say” …

AC: Murals in the beginning were political sentiments made to bolster a thought or a cause, your work is rooted in that Latin American tradition, do you have a political statement to make?

MR: My work is not pro or anti anything, my ideas don’t come from my mind or my body, it comes from a life force its spiritual. I try to convey a vision through the mechanics of my art and draw paint sketch what I feel. I do it through music as well, I play the Cuatro a 4 stringed Puerto Rican guitar.

AC: Tell me how your art and music work together?

MR: They both comes from the same place, music is my way of expressing my art though audio, I have played in many bands and even got Miles Davis Producer to check us out once. Miles is a major inspiration to me. I am able to see with my ears and hear with my eyes. Sounds create pictures, pictures inspire sounds. The objective is to take from my spirit and inspire a reaction to what I do, there is no good or bad, it just is and it is up to the one experiencing it to ascribe a value to it.

AC: You the first to do a mural in San Francisco’s Mission district the mural and because of it hundred of other exist today how did that come about?

MR: I was in partnership with Rene Yanez and The Gallieria de La Raza, big respect to a tremendous artist and visionary Rene who recently passed. We were getting funding from some source the only provision was they needed a wall painted on the side of their building.

They wanted just a regular paint job, I volunteered, but once I went out there, I realized that the place they wanted me to paint was a route where many school kids passed every day. My main intention was to entertain the kids in fact it still is, because if the kids get what you are trying to say, the adults without preconceived bias usually get it as well.

AC: What was the reaction?

MR: I was on Walter Cronkite national news.

AC: You were a well-respected local artist then you met Carlos Santana then you…

MR: Carlos put me on the map…

AC: How did it feel to go from local to international? Carlos’s CD sold 10 million…

MR: 40 million…

AC: Tell me about your relationship with Carlos you two talk alike

MR; Carlos and I are Brothers, we come from the same spiritual plane, we understand each other in a deep and mysterious way. I have been able to so some Album Covers, set design, T shirts, he has put me on the world canvas.

AC: It seems to me that what Carlos does with music in its intricacies texture, dramatic intent, beauty beat and form, you can do visually, what do you think about that?

MR: The paint brush and the pick are one in the same.

AC: Looking back your legacy your body of work surrounds us and be seen at  what would you like to people to know?

MR: At the age of 15 I followed my art, I think that the Nobelist cause is to help and inspire people, this is what I hoped that I accomplished, this is what I hope to continue doing.

Mike Rios Art work is for sale at his website, he is will be a master that generations to come will draw inspiration from, history will remember him as a unique voice and a true artist who has influenced several generations.

Mario Siguenza November 12, 2018

Mike Rios is an amazing artist and an inspiring human being !!

patricia de larios November 17, 2018

a fascinating and insightful portrait you’ve done of an important artist – from here, among us! Al Carlos, muchas gracias!

Sam Shay November 17, 2018

Michael is very a spiritual human being, a consummate artist. I met Michael while taking care of him as a patient, and then we became good friends. I admire his mental strength, positive outlook in life, and a strong will to persevere. His life story is very accurately narrated by the Herald, and we are here to celebrate his artistic achievement, and I am honored to be his friend.

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