BOYLE HEIGHTS — To glimpse a mural by the artist GERMS is to experience wild interpretations of Chicano culture and religious iconography. Where disembodied luchador masks float on tentacles and the sunbursts shine forth like La Virgen de Guadalupe. On East 1st Street in Boyle Heights where the newest GERMS mural is going up, the colors are familiar and people on the street stop to watch the artist apply grin, teeth and eyeballs to his work.
Jaime Zacarias or GERMS speaks about his art with a certain matter-of-fact reverence and carefully chooses his words, though his art speaks with such loud effervescent spirit. The artist from South L.A. prefers solitude when working, but here in Boyle Heights he is surrounded by tias and abuelitas on the street, mothers with their babies and children in hoodies. And even though GERMS calls Cheech Marin a patron ,the artist remains modest about his work.
I noticed that you sell your work on Instagram. Do you find social media to be a big part of your career?
The reason why I sell stuff on Instagram is so I can make it affordable. Due to my success, some of my work is not affordable to everyone now that I’m showing at bigger galleries, museums. Essentially I do giveaways of the 4×5 works for cheap. It keeps people interested, and I get to hold onto my bigger ones for important shows. I wouldn’t want to overprice my stuff to the people who’ve been watching my work over the years.
How did Cheech Marin become a fan of your work?
I had been showing around L.A. and we had bumped into each other a few times at some shows here or there. He saw my art evolve over the years and now he has over eight or nine pieces.
Do you feel that your work comes out easier now that you have had more time or maybe it’s almost second nature to you?
In terms of mural work I like doing it quick, because it has a fast life. You can’t put too much time and effort into a wall. It can get painted over or tagged on. I just try to do it the most efficient way possible. As far as paintings like this – If I was in my studio it would take a bit more time. From the big brush to a little brush I would take more time detailing the work and exploring it.
I read somewhere that you speak English, Spanish and German? Is that true or were you joking in another interview?
No, I don’t speak German. I was probably joking around before. I’m GERMS, but I don’t speak German. It goes back to a lot of the humor in my work. Can’t take it too seriously.
What was your childhood like?
When I was growing up I saw a lot of gang violence and drugs, and I tried to stay away from all of that. I never did graffiti. I was surrounded by a lot of it. But I grew up in a strict environment. My dad was really strict with us. If he would have caught us tagging he would have scolded us, which is good, because it kept me in line. Getting a scholarship to Art Center after high school really helped me out. It gave me the opportunity to see that there were more possibilities to explore my art than just my own personal reasons. Before it was just for fun, but then I saw that it could become a career. I don’t really like doing anything else besides painting.
GERMS’ mural, part of the Latagrafica series, can be found at Hardware Studio, 2026 E 1st street Boyle Heights 90033
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Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.