When Jesus Torralba wants to work out designs for a new mural, he heads to a clandestine painting wall in Southeast Portland — an impressive full city block, covered in colorful designs (with the building owner’s permission) from artists all over the area.
“This space has allowed me to grow artistically,” Torralba says. “Like if I’m really stressing about something and I’m gonna do a commission, and I want to try something different, I can come here and just try things that I haven’t tried.”
Torralba is one of Portland’s most prolific muralists. His distinctive work can be spotted on walls all over town. “My focus right now is on my Indigenous background where my folks are from — my dad is from Oaxaca. And I’m trying to like home in on the imagery, the culture, the sense of where my blood is from. I’m trying to bring to life a lot of my culture through my art,” he says.
Torralba has been drawing since he was a child. His studio features stacks of journals and sketchbooks, filled with elaborate drawings of monsters and menacing creatures. “My style of art started more with character work, for sure,” he says. In his teens he started painting outside with friends. “We’d just find little alleys or little bridges — anywhere there’d be space for us to paint.”
During that time he developed his signature, “Heysus,” an interpretation of his given name, Jesus. He played with the letter forms and structures, finding new ways to make himself known. “A lot of it for me when I was a kid was trying to create for sure, but also I wanted people to see me,” he says. “They needed to know that I existed in a way, whether it was my real name or this persona.”
Within a few years he was getting commissions to create murals in public spaces. The skills he’d developed from years of sketching and painting began to pay off.
Lately his days are very full, painting murals around town and sharing his designs in his tattoo studio in Vancouver. And in his rare moments of spare time, he’s back at the painting wall with friends, trying out a new design.
“I love it. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop doing it. I’ve met a lot of older folks… and they still come out here and paint. And that’s how I want to be when I get older. Just kind of be like a veteran on the wall.”