Father, son celebrate Serrano’s with colorful mural - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Father, son celebrate Serrano’s with colorful mural

December 5th, 2019 development
Father, son celebrate Serrano’s with colorful mural

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Noe “Such Styles” Baez used to do his art in the dark of night – hidden from public view and guided only by streaks of moonlight.

His brand of graffiti art was not socially accepted back when he first started, Styles explained. It was the 1980s and spray-painting buildings was considered delinquent behavior.

So, Styles went underground, painting in old train yards and hoping to remain undetected from the cops.

But on a recent afternoon, Styles could be seen painting in broad daylight outside City Hall and across the street from the Chandler Police Department.

There was no reason to hide because he had been asked to paint a mural on the back wall of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant.

The Serrano family is celebrating 100 years of business in Chandler and commissioned Styles to paint a mural that commemorates this milestone.

“This is their story,” Styles said, pointing to his panorama of purple desert skies and cactus patches.

The Serranos moved from Tucson to Chandler in 1919 and opened their first of many mercantile stores.

Styles displays the family’s Tucson roots by painting the city’s famous San Xavier Mission in the mural’s background.

There are 10 roses lined up across the bottom edge of the mural; two are white and the rest are red.

Styles said the white roses represent Ernie and Eva Serrano, who opened the family’s first Mexican restaurant in 1979. The remaining roses represent the couple’s eight children.

“The mural they designed and spray painted reflects our history as well as the three pillars of our business – faith, family and food,” said Ric Serrano, president and CEO of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants.

It’s fitting their family mural was made by Styles, Serrano added, since he created it with his own family.

Champ Styles, the muralist’s oldest son, has been tagging along with his father to graffiti projects since he was a toddler.

“It’s like in his DNA,” the senior Styles said.

The father and son have worked on projects all over the Valley. Their work has been displayed in galleries, museums, and clubs.

Champ said his father never pressured the younger Styles to follow in his footsteps. He was bit by the graffiti bug as a kid after watching “Style Wars,” a documentary about New York City’s street artists.

Champ was quickly hooked, but his dad was strict about treating graffiti as a discipline that had to be learned and practiced.

Champ recalled his dad forcing him to spend long stretches of time learning how to paint each letter of the alphabet.

Sometimes his father purposefully made it more challenging by turning the lights out, the son said, replicating the conditions Such had to paint under as a teenager.

This art form is so temporary, Such would teach his son, because it may exist one day and then get painted over the next. Therefore, it was necessary to know how to detach quickly from the work and to let it go.

The father learned this lesson early on in his career.

Such said he completed his first graffiti project while attending Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School in the early 1980s. He painted a Christmas-themed mural near the school’s racquetball courts.

Its depiction of Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus were meant to be perfectly wholesome, nothing that would rile the nerves of school administrators.

When Such returned from winter break that year, the teenager noticed all his work had been sandblasted off.

People back then didn’t really understand what this was, Such said, so it was vital for his son to see that graffiti was like all other types of art – a form of creative expression.

Champ credits his dad with teaching him not to be close-minded about culture. If Champ wanted to be great artist, his father encouraged him to study the history and technique of all types of artwork. 

He was like Mr. Miyagi, Champ added, referencing the wise karate master of the “Karate Kid” films.

As Champ got older, graffiti became legitimized in the art world and was no longer considered a form of vandalism.    

Such credits this shift in public opinion to the power of the worldwide web. Graffiti was generally more acceptable in Europe, he said, and attitudes started to change once Americans saw how artists overseas used this medium.

When Champ became a student at Marcos de Niza, he spearheaded his own mural project that championed diversity. The school let Champ do it and he decided to add his own personal touch to the portrait.

Champ said he made a stencil of his father’s name and sprayed it on one corner of the mural. It was a subtle tribute to an artist who once had his work erased on the same campus decades earlier.

“It just kind of came full circle,” Champ said.

The father and son now try to promote graffiti in a positive light by going into local schools and teaching lessons on street art.

They particularly enjoy doing community projects like the Serrano’s mural, as the duo thinks of their work as portals into the stories of their friends and neighbors.

“It takes you to another place,” Champ said. “It’s an attraction.”