When The World Is a Canvas: An Artist’s Tale with Joe Pagac
Welcome to another enthralling episode of “Life Along The Streetcar”, where we journey into the colorful and boundless world of artistry! In this installment, we are excited to present a captivating conversation with the prolific muralist, Joe Pagac, renowned for transforming blank walls into dynamic landscapes of vibrant imagination.
🎨 Episode Overview: Dive deep with us into the mind of Joe Pagac, a maestro of monumental murals, as we explore his artistic evolution, the pulsating stories behind his iconic works, and the brush strokes that shaped his signature style. From the unfeigned passion emanating from every piece to the challenges of transcending conventional artistic boundaries, Pagac unfolds his philosophy on muralism and details the interplay between his art and the communities they adorn.
🎨 Highlights Include:
- Joe’s Artistic Journey: Discover the path that led Joe to become one of the most distinguished muralists, and hear firsthand about the influences and experiences that molded his artistic vision.
- Creative Process & Inspiration: Delve into the intricate tapestry of Joe’s imagination as he reveals the sources of his inspiration and the process of transforming conceptual threads into colossal masterpieces.
- Interactions with the Community: Explore how Joe’s creations resonate with and reflect the communities they inhabit, and learn about the role public art plays in societal conversation and change.
- The Future of Muralism: Gain insights into Joe’s perspective on the evolving mural landscape and the emerging trends and innovations shaping the future of public art.
🎨 Connect with Joe Pagac:
Whether you’re an avid art enthusiast or a casual admirer of creative expression, this episode promises a mosaic of insights, inspirations, and reflections on the transformative power of art. So plug in your headphones, immerse yourself in the world of Joe Pagac, and see the world through the kaleidoscope of his artistic journey!
Good morning, it’s a beautiful Sunday in the Old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTDT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson community sponsored all -volunteer powered rock and roll radio station. This week we have an interview with Tucson muralist Joe Pagac. He recently completed a new mural on the side of the YMCA building in downtown and so we wanted to share his story. The interview is part of the Meet the Artist series from the Tucson Gallery and we’ll have that for you in just a moment. My name is Tom Heath, today is September 24th, 2023 and you’re listening to Life Along the Streetcar where each and every Sunday our focus is on social, cultural, and economic impacts within Tucson’s urban core and we’ve shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From a mountain to the University of Arizona and all stops in between, you get the inside track right here on 99 .1 FM streaming on downtownradio .org, also available on your iPhone
or Android with our very own Downtown Radio Tucson app. If you are interested in connecting with us directly on the show, we have a Facebook and Instagram page and if you want information on our book, past episodes, or to hit our contact page then head over to lifealongthestreetcar .org and if you’re out there listening to the podcast you can find that on Spotify, iTunes, all the major platforms out there. Well, as I’ve mentioned a few times on this show, I am partners with a couple of others in the Tucson Gallery and we are bringing Tucson artists to the world scene by connecting them with all the people that pass through downtown Tucson and we’re also celebrating how lucky we are in Tucson to have such a tremendous talent pool and one of those talented artists is Joe Pagac. We talked with him earlier in the year as part of our Meet the Artist series, so this is something done through the Tucson Gallery, I had the pleasure of hosting that podcast as well and we’ve talked to a lot of local
artists and sometimes there’s some crossover and it makes sense to share the information on a different platform. So the interview you’re going to hear today is from Joe Pagac, it was done as part of Meet the Artist and it was done over at the Tucson Gallery, so here’s some reference to that throughout the interview, but it’s appropriate now because if you go downtown and next to the YMCA there on the west side of the building right near the back side of the Presidio Museum, you’re going to see a beautiful new mural that was just completed by Joe, so we thought you know it’s a good time to share his story and get that back out there in the world. Welcome to the show Mr. Joe Pagac, rhymes with magic.
Yeah, hey, thanks for having me.
Absolutely, I think a lot of people when they see your name on the murals, they’re not exactly sure how to pronounce it, so we always tell them it’s Joe Pagac, like magic.
Yeah, that’s the way to do it here in America, I was actually, I just got back from finding some of my old relatives in Slovakia and they pronounce it Pagac, it’s a pastry over there. Well, there’s nothing that rhymes with that. No, there sure isn’t. So we’ll go with Pagac. We’ll go with Pagac and magic and I think that’s appropriate because people see your work and they’re like, man, there’s some kind of magic going on there. You’ve been a Tucson muralist for how long? I started when I was 24, so it’s 18 years I’ve been doing this full time. Wow, how do you get, like what were you doing before that? I was a loan officer for a little while. I was an assistant manager at Einstein’s Bagels. I worked bussing tables at TGI Fridays. Were you doing art during this time, too, or you’re just like, you know what, I’m tired of this bagel, I’m going to go climb on a scaffolding and paint something on the wall. And how do you get from bagels to murals? So I was in college, didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. And my sophomore year, I took a drawing 101 class just to kind of fill the space.
I needed a full load of credits. And the teacher took me out in the hallway and she was like, wow, you’re so good at this. Like, are you an art major? I was like, no, no, no. And she was like, you should do it. You should do it for a living. I was like, nobody makes a living as an artist, right? It’s like the joke is, what does the artist say to the engineer or whatever? Do you want fries with that? So I was like, really, you think I can make a living at this? And she was like, yeah. So I ended up just switching majors, became an art major. And then when I graduated, I didn’t really know what to do with that. So I put an ad in the paper, artist for hire. And I think because murals are their own billboards, it’s just I started getting more and more mural calls. Well, you know, because I was doing everything at first. What was your first mural? Do you remember? I think the first mural I did that was for just a total stranger, it was a fence between a guy’s yard and his neighbor’s yard. He
had me paint an underwater scene and he had me include naked mermaids on it. And he had me paint the neighbor’s side, too, while she was out of town. And she came home and was like furious and then actually built a wall right against his fence. Oh, my gosh. But it was a cool mural. And then, you know, it was just like, like just little jobs and the more murals I did. Is a mural still there? Like, can you still kind of see it if you wedge between the fence? I haven’t driven by there. It’s in a neighborhood over by where Magic Carpet Golf used to be. And we don’t want to be too specific with all your fans and start a frenzy over there tearing up tearing up the neighborhood. Yeah. I don’t know. I bet if that guy is still in that house, that mural is still there. 18 years. 18 years. So. And then so you do one and then someone sees that and like, man, this is pretty cool. Can you do one for me? Yeah. So it’s all it was word of mouth. And then I ended up getting hired by a interior designer and
she would actually we were doing a whole bunch of murals up in like fancy houses in the foothills. And so it was a lot of like, you know, Tuscan scenes and stuff like that. But I did that for a number of years for her. And she the condition was she got to sign my work. But I could use it in my portfolio because she already had a big name going. OK. So like right off the bat, you know, in my in my mid 20s, I was already getting these big commissions to paint these Italian murals and I was getting to like paint for three weeks and then go to Italy for two weeks and then paint for three weeks and then go to Mexico. And so it kind of started this lifestyle that I still keep going where like as soon as I’ve got money in the bank to leave town, I go travel or hike for five months or, you know, whatever. And the brief time that I’ve actually known you, you’ve been hiking across the United States. You’ve flown to Hawaii to see a volcano. You flew somewhere to get involved with the avalanche. You
know, you’d make snow angels. Right. You just got back from Europe and in somewhere in there, you decided you’re going to walk across Tucson to raise money for the food bank dressed as a hot dog. Yeah. And I haven’t known you that long. Right. Yeah. I mean, this was all in the last year. I think everything you just probably last six months. Right. Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah. I mean, that’s just how I’ve always kind of lived my life since being an adult is like as soon as there’s money in the bank, I hit the road and I have different definitions of being an adult. I’m just saying. But that’s good. That’s awesome, man. It’s fantastic. And then you get to the way you generate your money, I think brings you enjoyment too, right? Yeah. I mean, for the most part, there’s, you know, there’s some jobs that I love more than others. I think a lot of the bigger scale stuff gets into more feeling like you’re doing a construction job. And, you know, sometimes I’m like hanging off a nine story building on
a window washer scaffold and like, you know, a hundred degree heat and it’s humid and a miserable and like afraid for my life. And I’m doing that for weeks. So you get, you get, there’s some trade offs, right? I guess if you do that, you can go to Hawaii. That seems fair. I mean, I think it’s, it’s not as glamorous once you start getting into the really large scale murals. The one I’m working on this week is over at FC Tucson, which is a soccer club and it’s indoors. It’s ground level. It’s like a nice flat wall. It’s air conditioned. Yeah. It’s so nice. And I just, I put on like podcasts and audio books while I’m working or call friends I haven’t talked to in a while and just chat while I paint. So those are the, those are the dream jobs. There you go. So if you’re a muralist, the advice is to find the indoor ground level air conditioned jobs. Exactly. The only problem is those ones don’t advertise for themselves. You know, it’s the scary outdoor ones that keep getting your business. What’s
like the, cause you’ve done, and let’s, let’s be clear, you’ve done murals all over the United States. You’ve done Washington DC to, I mean, where, where is Joe Padgett art right now? Yeah. So I have a whole bunch in Washington DC. I’ve done them in Miami, Las Vegas, LA, tons of them in Phoenix. I have a whole bunch in Pecos, Texas, weirdly, because it’s one of those things where once I did one, they kept bringing me back. So I’ve gotten around quite a bit. And does your style remain the same? Like when you look at a Joe Padgett in Tucson, especially with the more recent, you know, last 10 years or there is some element that people would recognize as being Joe Padgett. Do you, do you, does that sort of carry through, do you have, do you have Jackalopes riding bicycles in Vegas? Yeah. There’s like buff, the one in Vegas, the big one I did was for Buffalo exchange. And so there’s like Buffalo floating on balloons and like helping each other out to, you know, grab clothes out of trees and
stuff like that. So some of that carries over the ones in DC, I don’t think you would recognize as mine at all. They’re much more realistic. They’re, you know, historical people and events and stuff like that. I do remember, I don’t know how many years ago, but you did that mural of the, uh, the postal worker, the jazz musician and that, that got like national attention. Cause I remember reading about that in a lot of different newspapers. Yeah. So that one has gotten a ton of attention. Some of the murals I do, the one here in Tucson actually, uh, with the people and animals riding bicycles that I did in 2017, I see that everywhere when I’m traveling, people use it as a, just if they’re talking about Tucson in a magazine or a news article, that one shows up a lot, which is really cool to see. Yeah. So then they don’t get your permission to do that, right? Cause it’s a public art or right. Yeah. As long as you’re showing like the surrounding area too, if it’s just a street shot, that’s,
it’s fair game and they’re not advertising anything besides Tucson. But, um, for me, I’m not super litigious or anything anyway. Like I just love having that art go all around the world and knowing that people are excited about it and want to use it to represent the city. Do you ever reach back out to your, uh, your, the drawing teacher that encouraged you? Do you ever, yeah, you know what I did? I went back and found her years later and I was so excited to tell her that I had made a living at it and she had no idea who I was.
You know, I mean she had a lot of students, I’m sure. So, uh, aren’t you that pastry guy, but Jack, what is that? Although I did recently, like two years ago I was on a road trip and I looked up my high school art teacher cause I, you know, I took some art classes before and I looked her up. She was in Idaho and she was super excited. We went and got dinner together and it was really cool to see her and catch up. So, um, yeah, and she still follows me. I think a lot of my, my art teachers and just regular teachers from a earlier life still follow me. I’m friends with them on Facebook and stuff. I think most of my teachers have disowned me by this point, but I’m glad that Joe has that following. Hey, we’ll be back to the second part of that interview with Joe Patrick in just a few minutes. But first I want to remind you that you’re listening to life along the streetcar and we’re at downtown radio at 99 .1 FM and streaming on downtownradio .org.
All right. Uh, let’s get back into this interview. If you’re just joining us, we’re talking with Joe Padgett, a Tucson muralist, uh, the, uh, the actual interview was recorded earlier in the year as part of the Tucson galleries meet the artist series. Uh, there’s more information on their website, the Tucson gallery .com. There’s a whole video section or whole media section and all the different podcasts. But occasionally we do see crossover making sense between, uh, the two shows. And since Joe Padgett just completed a mural in downtown on the YMCA, we thought, you know what, let’s bring that interview back and make sure everybody hears Joe’s story.
I mean, is there a retirement plan for muralists? Like how do you, I mean, is there a transition? Do you start doing, um, like more traditional canvas art or are you just always going to be hanging off of roofs? So I already am working on, um, I’d really like to get more involved with like the national parks and stuff like that. Cause one of my big loves is just being outdoors and hiking and camping. So, um, in the background, you know, in my evenings, I’m a home working on a whole bunch of designs and stuff like that for the national park system. Um, and I’m hoping to start getting that going more. Um, one of my dreams would be to just travel from national park to national park in a van or something and just while I’m there work on merchandise and artwork for them and then travel to the next one. We’ll see. It just combines perfect. Everything just gets combined into one thing. That’s perfect. Totally. So we’ll see. That’s kind of one of the things I’m pushing for right now. Um, I have
a number of kids books that I’ve like written and illustrated, but they’re just not quite where I want them to be yet. Oh wow. Um, so I even have like printed out hard copies of them, but I just like, they’re not quite where I want to put them out in the public. Um, so that’s another, and you said you’re writing them, so you’re doing the story as well as the illustrations. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and then I also like, you know, on top of everything else I’m doing, uh, I have now like four properties that I’ve bought and fixed up over the years and made all fun and quirky and artsy. So it’s kind of like a, I just, anything I can do where I’m like creating something with my hands makes me happy. So construction falls into that really well actually. And, and I remember when we were talking originally about the gallery and one of the goals here was to help up and coming artists get a little bit more knowledge, exposure, and a chance to meet some of the, um, some of the, uh, more experienced
and seasoned artists. And I was like, what, what advice would you give to a muralist that’s starting out? And you said, don’t do it.
No, I mean, I mean, I think it’s a great, if you’ve got what it takes to come out and you have to be, well, you have to be good at art, but you’ve also got to be good at marketing yourself and doing business and doing all the paperwork and stuff like that. Like on a good year, I would say I do painting a third of the time and the rest of it’s like going to meetings and, you know, doing mock -ups and like doing all the tax work and all that stuff. So it’s not, it’s not just painting every day unless you have an agent, but, um. Tax stuff gets you every time. Tax stuff. Yeah. When you’re doing, uh, doing these mock -ups, I’m assuming there’s a combination, but how often does someone come to you and say, just create us something? Or do they come and say, Hey, we want, we want pigs on balloons or. It’s the full range. Um, I honestly, I prefer when people have something they want. If someone just says, create me something awesome. I want it awesome. I want it different than anything else you’ve
ever done, but I want it just like your style. That’s really hard. That’s where the magic comes in, right? That’s where, there you go. And sometimes I just get those, like, you know, I’ll be laying in bed at night at, you know, 11 o ‘clock at night. It’s like, I’ve got it. I got to wake up and, you know, but, uh, sometimes those are hard. And if somebody comes to me and they say, you know, I want a Buffalo floating on balloons, I can put that together quick. So you’re, you’re, you’re some of your ones here in Tucson, like the whales. Was that you, or was that a, so the whales, the whales was me, it was actually, they made me tone it down. It originally, the whales had a little Saguaro scenes on their backs. They were like little floating islands with birds circling them. And there were scuba divers on bicycles riding on a beach below them and then floating and swimming up to swim with the whales. And they made me tone it down. Wow. They were like, that’s a little much. So, um, yeah, some
of that stuff gets, gets pulled in when you’ve got corporate sponsorship. What’s the, what’s the, what’s the process then? Do you, do you create something on paper? Do you, is it digital? How, how do you get like, like that, that exists somewhere, the scuba diving bicycle writing? Yeah. Yeah. Um, so now I do everything on the iPad. I switched over a few years ago, just procreate, which is I think what every single artist out there uses now. But uh, before it was like pencil drawings and you know, then I’d scan them into the computer and try to manipulate them in Photoshop a little bit and then go from there. But um, yeah, I mean I have so many mural designs and uh, just art designs in general that cause a lot of times it’s like three or four designs will go to a client and they shoot down, you know, three of them. And uh, yeah, so they’re all just sitting there unused and unseen. And then scaling it to a large building. So do you, is it math? How do you, how do you, it’s just a grid like
geometry was actually a really useful class for me. It’s a geometry. It’s not just for, not just the art for all of this stuff for sculpture and art. And I do a lot of like, you know, building stuff for hotel Congress for years building, and you know, like the taco and temples and the taco and the hands and all that. It’s all geometry and construction stuff. But um, yeah, it’s just a grid. I put a little grid on the, on the drawing and then a huge grid on the wall and I just fill in square by square kind of where stuff’s going to go roughly. And then from there, once I kind of know where stuff’s going, um, I just learned the hard way. You know, it’s like you’re, you’re up there on the wall and you’re like, there’s no way a nose is this big. And then, so you make it smaller and then you get down after a couple hours of painting and realize you made it way too small. So I just trust, trust the process, trust the grid and then it gets things to look right in the end. And let’s, some of your
projects, I, is it, there’s a sculpture coming, I think, or is it out? So it’s, the sculpture’s done. Um, we’re just waiting for the install, but it’s going right up on the river path between, uh, it’s like St. Philip’s Plaza and the Rito racetrack. So it’s going to be, it’s a Javelina riding a tandem bicycle. It’s riding on the front and you can sit on the back and take photos with it and stuff like that, but it’s life size and it’s going to be super cool. It’s my first bronze sculpture. I’ve got a sculpture down in the airport already between the ticket counters that I did that I did all by hand. But this one’s, this one’s had the help of a foundry. Yeah. So do you have any idea of the release date for that tandem bike? I don’t know. We’re hoping to get it in, in the next week, but then, yeah, yeah. Um, we actually almost installed it this week, but there’s crazy weather going on and we didn’t want to install it while it was snowing. So, um, I think it’s going to go in this coming week,
but it’s going to be, I think we have to let it set up with the concrete and stuff like that. So I think like next month will be the unveiling and I’ll, I’ll definitely let everyone know about it. A couple of last questions here. These are just for my benefit, but do you, do you work on multiple projects at the same time or are you one and then move on to the next? No, I’m, I always have like 10 or 15 projects in the pipeline that I’m in different stages. That’s why I can never get ahold of you. Right. Yeah. So there’s always like the one or two that I’m currently painting and then the ones that I’m working on, uh, mock -ups for, and then once I’m going to, you know, initial meetings for calls and then it’s, uh, so it’s, it’s a constant thing. And then all of these cities where you’re putting up murals, am I, is Tucson really as special as I think it is with the amount of muralists we have here or is this really something we have across the country and it’s just, I see it cause I’m in Tucson.
No, I think Tucson, Tucson’s got a couple of great things. One that I noticed is we have a huge painting season. Like you go anywhere else and it’s rainy or it’s snowing or it’s, it’s just not good for painting. So it’s really good to paint here cause you can paint almost year round. Um, the other thing is Tucson’s just super supportive of the arts in general. People like to put their money into it. They like to put the press on it. They like go and take photos with it and support it, you know, with their own pocketbooks if they can. It’s, it’s a really supportive city and in general we also have less vandalism of murals here. I mean occasionally stuff gets tagged, but compared to a lot of cities, like there’s plenty of cities out there that you just can’t keep a mural up. People tag over it within days and it’s just destroyed. So, um, Tucson’s a great place for murals and I think there’s very few cities like that in the country that really are as supportive and have that many muralists.
But I think one of the things is that Tucson is drawing them in and the ones that are coming up are like really getting supported well and can make a living at it. So it makes it easier to, you know, I was thinking of just from the talent standpoint, but without the community support, without the respect, I guess, yeah, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you, if you can’t paint cause someone’s not going to pay you or they’re going to tag it or it’s going to be snowing. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, and I think that’s what keeps a lot of the talented people here is, uh, you know, it’s supportive. I actually, when I graduated college, I was talking to all my classmates and I was like, yeah, what are you guys doing when you graduate? And every single person was going to Los Angeles or New York and I was like, well, I’m going to stay here. You know, nobody’s staying here. I’m going to see what I can do here if there’s no artists here. So were you born in Tucson as well? I was born in
Tucson, but, um, you know, and for a number of years I was one of the only muralists here working. So, um, you know, slowly, slowly as more muralists have come up and now there’s a huge community, but for a long time I was like the only guy out there that was getting the calls I think. So I made it easy. Do you have influences? Do you follow people on Instagram that you look at their stuff or you just don’t? I really like, I’m not super into social media. And so, um, I go on and post stuff on there, but I’m not, I’m not really into, I know we have time. You don’t even, you don’t know if you have time. And if I do waste time on there, it’s on Reddit and like, I don’t know, and I’m not following any art stuff on Reddit either. It’s like just all garbage. So I try to delete it when I can occasionally I’ll reinstall it, but where can people find, you know what you’re posting? What’s your Instagram? Facebook? Yeah. So my Instagram, um, I have Joe Padgett, which is my art stuff. And then Joe
Padgett, the person is all my like other stuff I’m up to my hiking and traveling and stuff like that. Um, the hotdog hike that I’m putting together to raise money for charity. Let’s talk about that. So sure. Yeah. I mean, it’s when, first of all, what is this and when is it happening? So when I was hiking the Pacific crest trail, I was doing a lot of wearing costumes while we were hiking. And I jokingly, uh, was talking to some of the people I was hiking with about getting hotdog costumes next and nobody was into it. But I thought when I got home, I would do it. And then I thought, well, if I’m doing that, I should do it for charity and make a spectacle out of it. And then I mentioned it to a number of people and they were all really into it and wanted to join. So I decided to just turn it into a big thing. So we’ve got 30 people dressed up as hotdogs hiking from March 15th and 19th. Uh, we’re going through the Rincons and the Catalinas. It’s going to be about 20 miles a day. So it’s going
to be brutal. It’s going to be a hard hike. Uh, and then the hope is to just, you know, make a spectacle and steer people toward donating to the food bank. And uh, so you can go to hotdog hike .com and then that I’m surprised that URL wasn’t taken already. It was a little more expensive than .net or .org, but I paid the extra for it, hotdog, hike .com, hotdog, hike .com. So that, that has all the, all the information about it and you can donate there. And then, uh, yeah, my other ones, it’s just Joe Padgett or Joe Padgett, the person, um, P A G A C P A G A C. Yeah. And then you can also just, if you go on Google and type like Joe muralist, Tucson, that’ll pull me up and you can find me from there. Yeah. You go on Google and find yourself with that easy of a search. You’re doing something well. Right. Yeah. That was our interview with Joe Padgett. It was recorded, uh, through the Tucson galleries, meet the artist series. If you want more information on the gallery or, uh, the other artists
that have been a part of that podcast, you can head over to the, uh, tucsongallery .com website. Uh, they are also on Spotify, uh, um, under, um, uh, I believe it’s called meet the artist. It might be Tucson gallery. Um, but you can certainly find them on Spotify as well. Well, my name is Tom Heath and you are listening to life along the street car on downtown radio, 99 .1 FM and streaming and downtown radio .org.
Well, we hope you enjoyed our interview with Joe Pagac, um, courtesy of the Tucson gallery and their meet the artist series. The, uh, the talents we have in Tucson is just completely amazing to me. And when I just have the opportunity to talk with, with these, uh, really brilliant people, it just, it’s, it’s overwhelming and humbling to know that they’re just amongst us here in the community and just going about their business. Speaking about going about their business, Ted Przelski is going to be appearing just a few minutes with words and work. It’s his weekly show where he interviews writers and others from the labor movement. And, uh, we’re always looking for new content and topics for life along the streetcar. You know, you’ve got to be involved, you’ve got to be passionate about something and you’re listening to this hyper local show. So you’re probably in tune with your town. So let us know your comments, your questions, your concerns, and if you’ve got a Tucson focused social
media account or, you know, someone who does, uh, like last week with old Pueblo curiosities, let us know, you know, cause this collaboration is really the key to, uh, creating a more impactful community dialogue. And if you want to reach out to us and share a hidden gem or, or tell us about a story we should cover, uh, tell us that we’re doing a great job or we’re not doing a great job and here’s how you could, then you can email us through our contact at lifealongthestreetcar .org. You can also, uh, head over to Facebook and Instagram and share some comments there or tag us in something that you think we should be covering. Well, each week we have the, uh, courtesy and luxury of, uh, playing Ryan hood as, uh, our opening music. And we want to thank them for that today. Uh, we’re going to leave you, uh, with some music from the, uh, future islands. This is back from 2020 and in honor of our, uh, guest today, it’s an album called as long as you are. And the song is called the painter. I
hope you have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life. Along the streetcar.