For four weeks, Raymond Nunez, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has been painting a mural of colorful hibiscus flowers and dolled-up women’s faces that covers two outside walls of the old service station, previously Eric G’s Barber Shop before it closed two years ago.
Now, the building’s recent makeover is a win-win. Myraz owner Myra Barboa says she’s happy with her business’s fresh look, while the artistic endeavor marks a new ambition for Nunez. Not only is this his first mural, it’s his first time painting, period.
“I’ve found eyes are the most important and most difficult part of painting portraits,” said the 46-year-old the afternoon of Aug. 22, training a tiny paintbrush dabbed in white on the facial features of one of the women he was painting.
Nunez, who has been living in Gilroy for the past two months, has been confined to a wheelchair ever since a 1989 motorcycle accident in San Jose that caused him to lose function in his legs. Prior to the accident 24 years ago, Nunez built houses in San Jose. Becoming a paraplegic, however, forced him to switch his line of work.
Nunez has never taken a formal art lesson, but he taught himself to draw in his early teenage years by tracing other people’s work. When his life circumstances changed, Nunez tapped into his creative skills, working out of his own garage in east San Jose as a tattoo artist since 2000. Nunez learned how to tattoo by observing friends in the business and described it as “drawing without an eraser.”
“The first tattoo I ever did was on my own leg,” Nunez said, taking his left leg in his hands and turning it to show the face of a Native American figure on the side of his knee.
All of his limbs, in fact, are covered with ink art tattooed by Nunez himself. Many of the designs represent in some way his Native American heritage, he noted.
Barboa first met Nunez when he was helping out at a car wash in Gilroy a couple months ago. The two started chatting and Nunez told her he was a tattoo artist.
“I asked Raymond to give me these tattoos,” Barboa said, pointing to a curved line of small stars that trace the side of her face and nape of her neck. “I then got the idea to (hire) him to do art on the building.”
Normally, Nunez sketches his tattoos on paper before permanently penning them in. But this time he decided to take a creative leap and just start painting the mural since he didn’t know what to expect of the process.
The result proved lively and vibrant.
Throughout August, Nunez was paid to transform the otherwise nondescript sides of the building into a work of art. He also painted garlic bulbs on the mailbox – a familiar homage to Gilroy’s culture and history – and painted “Myraz” in cursive script on the shop’s large window.
Several customers have already complimented Nunez’s near-completed work, and Barboa hopes the mural will give the budding painter more opportunities. One of Barboa’s customers has already hired Nunez to paint a statue for him.
“He’s our little miracle,” said Barboa. “Even though he doesn’t have the ability to move his legs, he can do anything that everybody else can.”
Nunez said he hopes to pass on his love for art to his two youngest children, who are 3 and 6 years old and live with him and his wife in Gilroy.
“We doodle together,” Nunez said, the thought bringing a smile to his face as he continued to paint. “I get them to make cards for their mother.”
Nunez can be reached at (408) 991-3056.