By: BreAnna Bell
In 1998, he came from Peru to the U.S. trying to make it as a musician playing traditional Peruvian music through his drum set. He thought that this would be his big ticket to be successful it in the U.S., however, this changed when a visit to a local art space ignited his true passion of painting.
José “Pepe” Piedra was born in humble beginnings in Casma, Peru. He started painting at an early age and began playing the drums when he was a teenager. After graduating from the National Fine Arts School in 1987, he became a professional artist whose paintings employ surrealistic style with oils, acrylics and mixed media techniques. While painting was a big part of his early years, it became an afterthought, but a visit to the Torpedo Art Factory, located in Arlington, Virginia, shortly after coming to the U.S. revived his passion.
“My first time seeing the beautiful space inside….seeing all the artists’ studios and working inside… I fell in love with it,” he said.
Since then, he has become quite the accomplished muralist and acrylic artist. His work can be seen all throughout the D.C. Metropolitan area. His most recent work in the U.S. can be seen in Prince George’s County at William Paca Elementary School titled, “Healthy Living.” However, he has work that can be seen in Lima, Peru; Crystal City, Virginia; and on Georgia Avenue in Washington, D.C. among others.
“Murals say something to people. They bring attention to things in communities that people need to see or know about,” he said.
According to the artist’s statement from his page on the Maryland State Arts Council’s registry, José Piedra’s work contains vivid colors that can make his audiences relive past memories. The statement says, “In my paintings, I seek to capture the pureness, the joy, and the solemnity of a life unstained by mankind’s selfishness. My compositions exhibit colors and forms that, when combined with ordinary images of day-to-day life, creates a sense of magical reality.”
“Pepe” Piedra also gets inspiration from his home in Peru. All of his paintings of landscapes are done based off of memories. He draws from his childhood in the Andes, his rich ancestry that traces back to the Mochicas (100-700 A.D.); but, he is open to using all kinds of influences when expressing his art.
He drew on inspiration from Barack Obama’s first victory in the 2008 U.S. presidential election for his “Black History, Community, and Civil Rights” commissioned mural for Sunrise Academy. The mural was a message for the kids at Sunrise Academy, which primarily catered to children with special needs, to say “everyone can do it.”
Piedra has spent a lot of time working in schools as well. Besides doing commissioned work, he also spends his time teaching art classes.
(Above: José Piedra)
Since 1984, José Piedra has been an art teacher. He’s taught classes at summer camps in Peru; WVSA Arts Connection in Washington, D.C.; Barbara Chambers Children’s Center, Henson Valley Montessori School, and his Blue Moon Studio School in D.C.
“I like teaching and developing new artists…. I like working with children with disabilities as well because most of them are artists and don’t know it. Art is one of the ways for them to express themselves,” he said.
Phyllis Bell, a writer and Piedra’s neighbor, had high praises for the work he does in the community.
“You picked the best artist in town,” she said.
Steven Skerritt-Davis, a program director for the Maryland State Arts Council was also effusive about the artist.
“Personally, I love his work,” he said.
José Piedra continues to paint and show his work for the Hyattsville community. The artist has worked with a multitude of nonprofits, is currently listed on the Maryland State Arts Council’s artist registry, as well as on the Torpedo Art Factory.