From Doodles to Murals:

From Doodles to Murals:

Following the Spiral With Christian J. Roldán

Looking back at his artistic path, muralist Christian J. Roldán describes it as a spiral journey into the heart of “a little kid who was too much into writing and doodling.” Growing up with the complex social problems in Puerto Rico, imagination was the vessel that allowed him to escape into a dream world. But art as a discipline was always on the periphery of Christian’s early life – never the center of his spiral.

This wasn’t by choice. It wasn’t a lack of passion or interest that kept art in the outskirts of Christian’s everyday life. It was because he didn’t feel seen – the same emotions that would eventually kickstart Christian’s career and inspire his upcoming mural for the Villa Victoria community.

An Artist in the Making

As a teenager, Christian didn’t have the confidence or the means to pursue art. He applied to an art program in High School, but didn’t get in. This rejection fed Christian’s insecurities and the idea that art was only a hobby.

Growing up in a humble family, the message at home was always that art couldn’t offer a lucrative career. If you wanted to prosper, you had to pursue a different path. And since Christian wasn’t interested in medicine or law, when it was time to go to college he decided to give engineering a try.

“I remember taking Calculus, but instead of going to class I spent so much time outside avoiding the subject that I failed the course. So, I took Calculus again the following year and it was the same story. That’s when I realized that engineering wasn’t for me and fell in love with sociology, instead.”

An Artist With a Plan

What Christian saw in sociology was the opportunity to connect his passion for social sciences and the arts. Although he wasn’t confident in his art portfolio, Christian believed in his ability to impact the community through creativity. So, he paired his sociology degree with an art education program.

This combination, he figured, was a chance to gravitate a little closer to the world of art while also developing his critical thinking. And he was right.

After college, Christian moved to Chicago to work as a case manager for the community. But although he knew that his job was meaningful, Christian still craved a deeper connection with the people he served.

After sharing his drawings with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Christian was asked to create a mural for that year’s “Fiesta Boricua” event. This was the moment when the childhood doodles evolved into something bigger and Christian’s artistic life spun closer toward the center of that spiral.

The invitation from the Puerto Rican Cultural Center was what Christian needed to dive head first into a medium that he had always shied away from: wet paint. Through acrylics and oils, he learned about color theory and began to explore the intersection between culture, personal history, and artistic expression.

An Artist With a Career

What started as a 9x13-foot mural became a new career path for Christian, and the beginning of his evolution as a muralist. He felt seen, and this showed in his art. The following year, the Center commissioned him to create a bigger mural on a wall that was 120x20 feet. Resources were limited to ladders, house paint, and brushes; but the opportunity was huge.

“This mural was important to me because it opened my mind to the possibilities of what I could do with my art. It helped me believe that I could do it, it allowed me to develop my skills, and encouraged me to use my talents to support the community.”

What Christian discovered in the Puerto Rican community was a safe space to make connections, and people who inspired him to express his culture through art. So, he started seeking out groups beyond the city of Chicago.

Through shared language, culture, experience and aesthetics, Christian felt a deep connection to Puerto Ricans in Boston, Houston, and other parts of the United States. Through this shared cultural experience, Christian’s work became a reflection of the diaspora’s collective memory.

An Artist With a Tribe

As a creative who believes that public artwork can change society, Christian’s goal is to engage his audience, trigger critical thinking, and inspire others to take action. His work today speaks of the political situation within the island and what Puerto Rican immigrants endure when they live in the U.S. He feels compelled to spread the messages that Puerto Ricans advocate for through images that resonate with larger audiences.

Christian’s vision for the Villa Victoria community mural is an abstract piece that symbolizes the presence of Puerto Ricans in the diaspora. He feels strongly about creating a territorial mural, making the residents of Villa Victoria visible to outsiders and helping people feel seen – bringing them closer to the center of their own spiral.

“When people are made to feel invisible, they endure sustained oppression from a system that is not held accountable for their actions. Especially in the diaspora, it’s important to show the presence of those who occupy a space. Through the Villa Victoria mural, I hope to encourage interactions between community members and an exchange of ideas that inspire a sense of belonging.”

For the children of immigrants, Christian’s intention is to offer a reminder of their family roots and the culture that they represent. And for outsiders, he’d like to spark curiosity in learning more about the culture and creating unity.

An Artist With a Bright Future

Regardless of what Christian creates, the magic of his art is that each person can interpret it in a different way. With his work, Christian wishes to inspire others on an individual level but also to preserve the collective memory on a more macro level.

“If there’s a lesson behind my immigrant story, it’s that feeling seen and validated can change a person’s personal story. In the future, I hope to create murals that serve as a space for others and that challenge the visual landscape.”

As Christian follows his artistic calling, he finds himself gravitating more toward the center of that spiral. He continues to work with community organizations, is an active member of the Chicago Public Art Crew, and also serves as co-chair of the Arts and Culture Committee for the Puerto Rican Agenda. His message of self-determination and self-actualization permeates across all of his art and continues to inspire the diaspora community to work together.

To learn more about Christian, visit his website and make sure follow us on facebook for details, which are coming soon, on his exciting Mural Unveiling “Diaspora Colors - Dejando huellas” at Villa Victoria coming on October 3rd. As an artist who’s inspired by the Puerto Rican people, Christian loves hearing from the followers and exchanging ideas with the community.