In 2006, Agustín Patiño painted the mural Plaza of Art and Cultures on the corner of Broad and Ontario Streets. Over the course of two years, the artist rendered a visual bridge between South Providence and the far reaches of our interconnected, “small” earth and to nature itself. A newcomer to Providence at the time, the Ecuadorian native could barely speak English, but passersby would stop and ask him questions, curious about what he was doing there day after day; some even made their way into the painting.
Over the course of his career, Agustín has painted countless portraits of influential people – Carlos Fuentes, Fernando Botero – even a billionaire or two. Earlier this year, he painted a commission of David Cicilline standing on a city street; the congressperson first admired Agustín’s work while officiating the unveiling of the Plaza mural as then-mayor.
Many people recognize him as a street artist, “but no one knows my real career,” Agustín says. “Even in my country, no one knows because I’m super underground.” He prefers to “be myself,” a self-described “iconoclast” with an “obsessive” technique, while his murals often contain extensive symbolism and conceptual meaning. He sometimes incorporates the tops of real trees into his paintings, or uses trompe l’oeil, such as the faux escalator appearing in his 160’ x 25’ mural at Wheeler School’s Air Museum. Themes of global interconnectivity and nature appear throughout Agustín’s work – even his portraiture. If you look with a magnifying glass, in Cicilline’s portrait you can find tiny animals in the background: cows, dogs, and horses.
The artist has exhibited in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan art cities, like New York and Miami, yet chooses to live in Providence with his family, painting out of a small basement studio in Olneyville. He grew up surrounded by rivers, lakes, and national parkland in the towns of Giron and Cuenca, studying architecture for three years before completing a bachelor of arts in Quito, where he trained in painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and ceramics. The beauty of the Amazon continues to inspire him and will be featured extensively in two major upcoming exhibits at Casa de la Cultura in Ecuador.
A world traveler, Agustín sees Earth and its cultures as “super small” and “singular,” with cities and nature irrevocably interconnected, especially given the current impacts of climate change. He teaches painting classes regularly at the Providence Art Club, but for four years he has also taught painting to smaller groups of people experiencing poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and other challenges, including immigrants and veterans. He describes them as “my teachers – my philosophers. They teach me a lot every second.” Agustín feels he has witnessed art’s transformative power firsthand. “Art is the only way to help this planet,” he says. “There is no other way. But it’s not easy to change the world with art.”