Juan Diaz is on a roll.
The Colombian-born, Naples-raised artist began garnering local attention for his work when was just in high school. Now, Diaz is 30 and has a lengthy list of group and solo exhibitions to his credit.
Next up is an exhibition that's sure to that will literally keep Diaz's talents rolling, as well as show the current direction of his work: As part of the first Go Skateboarding Day at Fleischman Park on Thursday, June 21, Diaz is painting 30 skateboards that will be raffled off to the event's participants. The day of the event, he'll also create a graffiti mural inside the park building.
Although he has worked in a variety of traditional mediums, including oil and acrylic paints, Diaz says he is increasingly drawn to the world of contemporary street art and to the large-scale format that it allows him to explore.
But this isn't your grandfather's graffiti, he explains.
Instead, street art is coming into the mainstream as a valid art form, finding a place in the finest galleries and modern art museums. Diaz adds that how more and more established artists are exploring the same medium that's occupied by such celebrated street artists such as Shepard Fairey or Banksy. (Banksy's work appeared at the upscale Naples Art and Antiques Show this February.) Fairey is an illustrator who is best known for his emblematic Barack Obama "Hope" poster, and Banksy is a British graffiti artist and activist of legendary cult status.
Diaz encourages potential patrons not to view street art for what it has been, but for where it is going. The history of the form may be rooted in rebellion, but it's not about committing wanton vandalism.
"If I wanted to break some rules, I would be graffitiing all over the city," Diaz says. "But I'm not doing that. I respect beauty."
Two years ago, Diaz began shifting away from brushes and towards paint cans. Learning how to work in a new medium was exciting, and he remembers just handling the paint cans and shaking them back and forth in anticipation of what the spray would eventually do. He made visits to larger urban areas, such as Miami's vibrant Wynwood neighborhood, to soak up the contemporary street art scene.
"I really enjoy the discovery, my own personal discovery," he says.
Naples might not have the same thriving street art community as Miami, but Diaz notes that when you are an artist, you can and should find inspiration everywhere.
"Every moment of my life is inspiration," he says. "I don't seek inspiration because inspiration is everywhere."
Diaz says that as he became more involved in the new direction of his work, he was also thrilled to try his work on surfaces of different scale and texture. Plywood became a preferred format because of the way it challenges him and allows him to create new techniques of expression.
"I love the grain of the wood, and I use the grain of the wood," he says.
The son of a professional sculptor and ceramist, Diaz began making art as early as 5 years old. His father recognized his gifts, he says, and encouraged them. Later, as a teenager and after the family moved to Naples, Diaz began taking art classes at the Von Liebig Art Center and exhibited his works at the Von Liebig and the Marco Island Art League.
Eventually, his skills caught the attention of nationally acclaimed artist Jonathan Green, who lived in Naples at the time and who became his mentor. He also went on to exhibit in galleries around Southwest Florida and in South Carolina. Diaz explains how those experiences helped to shape him and give him the artistic skills to know where he wanted to go next.
"If you want to create something new, you have to know what has been done," he says.
For him, that is street art. It's a passionate form that allows him to seek freedom of expression as an artist. That's key to his creative process, having the feeling of freedom in all things, he explains.
"It doesn't what medium I'm exploring, it's just the subject of my work," he says.
Skateboarding is an appropriate tie-in to street art, since the sport and the art have a long history together. Diaz adds that he used to enjoy skateboarding – but with maturity he decided to put a bit of healthy distance between himself and the skate park.
"I don't really do it anymore. I can't really risk breaking an arm," he says with a laugh.
But it wasn't Diaz's talents with a board that attracted organizers. Go Skateboarding Day has been held internationally on the first day of summer since 2003; this is the first time it will be held in Naples. Co-founder Davis Wolf says Diaz's work has a free form, high-impact appeal that will resonate with attendees. About 350 skaters are expected, most of whom are likely to be 12 and older, Wolf says.
"It has a great appeal," Wolf says of Diaz's work. "It's very colorful, very graphic."
IF YOU GO
Go Skateboarding Day
What:An international skateboarding event held for the first time in Southwest Florida. A day of skateboarding demos by local skaters, trick competitions, music by DJ Ceron, live graffiti exhibition by Juan Diaz, family activities, food, raffles and more.
When: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 21
Where: The Edge Johnny Nocera Skatepark at Fleischmann Park,1600 Fleischmann Blvd, Naples
Admission: Free. Proceeds from rides and raffle tickets benefit local charities.