Jose M. Loza stands in front of one of his pieces from “Things Unseen.” Photos by Abel Reyes.
Artist Jose M. Loza has spent every day of the last year and a half within the four walls of his home. On just one of those nights he created “Hazard Pay,” an art piece highlighting the closure of two Long Beach grocery stores. Today, that piece and many others sit within the four walls of Flatline in North Long Beach, for all to see.
“Things Unseen,” Loza’s latest art exhibit, illustrates what it was like for many people to experience long periods of time with little but their immediate surroundings and the issues that have dominated recent headlines.
“You don’t know what moments are going to hit you or inspire you,” Loza said “The whole last year with activists, and the protests. You ask yourself, what’s your role in it?”
The main way that Loza tries to support people is through the images he makes.
On a weekly basis, you’ll most likely find Loza creating murals, painting power boxes, and even screen-printing t-shirts on the streets of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s there that he fulfills his self-applied role to a community filled with people of color, immigrants, and working-class people who are mostly unseen by mass media.
“I consider myself Mexican American and that’s part of who I am. You look in the mirror and you got the nopal en la frente,” Loza said. “When I was younger, you kind of wanted to escape from that, but being older, I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
The working-class mentality from his family shows itself in his ability to be resourceful like his father and inquisitive and creative like his mother, Loza said.
“You have to be considerate of the themes you’re dealing with. It could be very easy to get lost working on peace,” Loza said. “And you also have to figure out the context of time, like who’s getting affected.”
This mindfulness and this background are all reflected in the work you see in Loza’s exhibit.
One image is meant to illustrate the time The Kroger Company closed two Long Beach stores in reaction to a city ordinance temporarily requiring large local grocers to pay employees an extra $4 per hour in “hero pay.” Nearly 200 Kroger employees faced layoffs or transfers following the announcement .
“I didn’t live too far away from the stores, and so you just see this is happening in your neighborhood now,” Loza said. “And I made it. It was overnight when I did this piece.”
Another image echoes the message chanted on the streets of Long Beach in 2020, “Welcome to Long Beach. Black Lives Matter! Defund LBPD.”
“We live in a world of visuals and how we interpret them,” Loza said. “And sometimes we need protest posters, we need protest signs, and to me, I saw it as a righteous cause.”
“For me, you look at the protests, you see the activists on the street, and you ask yourself again, what can I do? How can I help out?,” he said
And you can see Loza’s support for these movements all throughout the city of Long Beach.
With his insightful and contemporary mural work, Loza not only gives himself the chance to have his work in a new community but also have the community help him with his own work.
When Loza is creating a mural, more times than not, he has kids, teenagers, and adults help him finish simple parts of his work.
Dating back to when he was still a student at Long Beach City College, working on murals created a therapeutic job for him, one that he can manage. And mainly, one that allows him to think about art all day.
“It helps me understand and interpret the world around me. I’m a visual person, so I think that’s why I’m drawn to two-dimensional, three-dimensional visual artwork,” Loza said.
But even with the amount of time given to create visual pieces, not everything he created during the quarantine made it to the exhibit. Trying to create art not about a pandemic, whilst the art was created during that time, was a visual challenge Loza wanted to avoid.
“The way the pandemic affected me, was more like my need to actually do something, feel productive, and to create a visual response to what’s happening around me,” Loza said.
All the art in “Things Unseen” was curated by Elizabeth Munzon, the owner of Flatline.
Once Loza started to accumulate all his work for the exhibit, and introducing a theme of community of North Long Beach, the exhibit began to build itself, Munzon said.
“He’s not only a local artist in the neighborhood but also a local Long Beach artist. And so I thought that this would be a really great exhibition to show in a space but also in this space especially,” Munzon said, referring to North Long Beach.
Flatline is currently the only art space in North Long Beach, and one that frequently features local Long Beach artists.
“This is totally needed. A lot of the spaces that are art focus or art related, they’re in downtown,” Munzon said of Flatline. “And since then I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from the locals.”
To see “Things Unseen” book an appointment with Flatline via their website. Flatline is open on weekends from noon to 6 p.m. and will have a closing reception for “Things Unseen” on Sept. 19 with a workshop led by Jose Loza from 2 to 4 p.m.