When Jose Zavala was a child, he never knew his not paying attention and doodling in class would save his life one day. Even while painting walls with graffiti during a rebellious youth, it never occurred to Zavala that people someday would pay him for his creativeness.
But they are — and while art has become the focus of his life, it wasn’t always that way, recalls the Villa Park resident.
“When I was young, like 17 and 18 years old, I was gang banging in Chicago and getting high,” Zavala says. “By 24, I was homeless, sleeping in Douglas Park in Chicago. I had nothing.”
When family ties fell through, and Zavala was left to sleep on a park bench, he took up an offer by a recruiter to join the Navy. It didn’t take long for that to collapse beneath him, and when Zavala was discharged for a positive drug test, he again was left with nothing.
Even though the Navy didn’t work out, it gave him a taste of what he could have — a good life. He had begun to focus on his artwork in the Navy, and sold some to acquaintances there. So he set off to Seattle after his Navy friends recommended it as a good place to start over.
“I knew I needed to change my life,” Zavala says. “I didn’t have to be Mr. Tough Guy, because no one knew me in Seattle. I decided I was going to be nerdy, and meet nerdy people. I just knew it had to be something different.”
And it worked. Zavala, clean for three years, had his own apartment, and finally had his life together. Instead of graffitiing walls, Zavala was drawing and sketching on anything he could find, including pieces of cardboard. That’s when he decided to make the trek back home to mend all the bridges he had burned.
He turned to art as his outlet throughout all the hardships. As if countering his bleak past, Zavala embraces vibrant color to express himself. A testimony to that is his newest exhibition, “Que Colores,” featured at the Donna Pope Gallery and Studio, where a reception is planned.
“His earlier days were pretty bad, and life was difficult,” Elmhurst gallery owner Donna Pope says. “His life has turned around, and he is just enjoying using color to get the fact out that he feels good about himself and things are better. He’s passionate about his art.”
Zavala’s work ranges from painting with acrylic on canvas, to marker, pen and colored pencil. Some of his work has serious undertones, but Zavala still uses colors that pop and grab attention.
He’s come a long way from graffitiing walls and drawing on cardboard. Zavala says he can finally afford proper canvases to work on.
“I hope people focus on my bright colors now, so they don’t see my dark past,” Zavala says. “My outlook is so bright, and that’s what my inspiration comes from. I used to be homeless, and now here I am. That’s pretty cool.”
Artist reception nears
WHAT: “Que Colores” is on exhibit through April
WHERE: Donna Pope Gallery and Studio, 185 N. York St. (upstairs), Elmhurst
WHEN: Reception 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 22; gallery open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and by appointment
MORE INFO: Zavala’s work at artzavala.weebly.com; Donna Pope’s at www.encounterwithangels.com, 708-987-3366