If you've been to downtown Redwood City recently, you've noticed the buildings around Courthouse Square covered with some striking public art and messages in support of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. It was created in response to local businesses boarding up their windows in anticipation of the city's June 2 protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Central to the collection of paintings, drawings, words and flowers is the artwork of North Fair Oaks muralist and illustrator Jose Castro, located in front of the Fox Theatre.
Castro was walking downtown with his girlfriend when he ran into an acquaintance painting on the boards.
"We asked him how he got the opportunity to paint and he mentioned the owners had wanted to beautify these boards to bring peace and show their support to the cause," Castro recalled. He introduced himself to Fox Theatre manager Ernie Schmidt, who told him he was welcome to paint there on one condition: that it came from the heart.
"I knew for sure I wanted to paint a portrait of George Floyd, to highlight his story. The power-to-the people fist was my second go to; an iconic logo that reads black power but also flexible in our modern day to represent all cultures," Castro explained. "The peace sign was the last logo I painted, wanting to tie everything all together and remind the people that our city comes in peace."
Soon, Castro went live via Instagram and was joined by friends, local activists and former students from his time as an art teacher at College Track in East Palo Alto, all working to turn a bleak, fear-based situation into a powerful, art-filled statement.
"I sat in front of my theater all week, sometimes up to five hours, to witness the many people cry, reflect. Parents brought their children so they could understand what was happening," Schmidt said. (Schmidt was so moved that he later created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for Castro's art supplies.)
Castro's already gained some fame in the local art scene for his stunning, vibrant mural depicting the diverse cultural past and present of the North Fair Oaks community on Middlefield Road, unveiled in 2019 and made with the help of veteran muralist Arthur Koch and local youth.
Growing up in the district (the unincorporated area bordering Redwood City, Atherton and Menlo Park), he said he's been into making art since childhood, starting with anime and "Pokemon," then art celebrating Chicano culture in high school, followed by art school for college. In addition to his freelance art career under his brand Anonymous Recipes, Castro also works nearby at Sigona's Farmers Market. His art, his work with youth and his love for his community, he said, have helped him find his voice.
"Knowing that I've inspired and continue to motivate my people is everything; knowing they repost, re-look and respect me is everything. I am a product of my environment," he said.
As for his recent downtown street art, what was once temporary is now set to become a permanent piece of local history. It'll remain in front of the Fox Theatre for a few more days before being framed and stored by the city until its final decision is reached on where to display the work.
"I asked the manager and owners of the boards and the Fox … that the boards stay local," Castro said. "To preserve in our community and to show history that we brought the fight to Redwood City and we stand here in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters."