An artist unmasked

Peter Gutierrez

Photo By Lauren Brooks

A low hissing sound fills the hot summer air as a masked man whips a can of black spray paint across a glossy sheet of paper. Within five minutes, artist Peter Gutierrez has created a spectacular painting: two silver dolphins diving into a royal-blue ocean against a background of soft white moonlight. The dolphins are one of the 300 paintings Gutierrez creates, but he does the best-sellers only at the Thursday Night Farmers’ Market in downtown Chico. This is his third year at the market, where he performs for onlookers interested in observing and buying his work. Gutierrez, who usually wears a mask because of the paint fumes, is often surrounded by a dozen or so viewers. He paints better when he has an audience, he said. Depending on the weather, Gutierrez sells anywhere from one to 25 paintings each Thursday. They sell for about $26 each. Gutierrez spent two years in his native Mexico learning a super-fast spray paint technique. He’s been making a living on his artwork for the past seven years. He enjoys performing at fairs and festivals and has won awards in Reno and Sacramento for his artwork. “I’ve won all over the place, but that doesn’t make a difference,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a show. I like to do it.”

What types of pictures do you like to make?

Landscapes and fantasies. I do a lighthouse, Alaska, Hawaii, pyramids. Pyramids are a classic in this art. I do a lot of landscapes.

How do you paint the pictures so fast?

Practice. There are 150 tricks, and to do this you need to practice or you forget them. The secret is to seal the paper with a sealer. With this technique, if you take more than seven minutes, it’s not a show. Right now, I do less than five minutes. Three minutes for black-and-white.

How did you learn to do spray-paint art?

Four semesters in school—the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City. This is a technique from Mexico. It was invented 35 years ago in Puebla, Mexico.

Do you do other art styles besides spray painting?

Yes, I do sculpture, I do jewelry, airbrush, watercolor—everything.

What’s your favorite spray-painted picture?

My favorite? [Pauses.] The pine tree. I call it “The Pine.” It was my first painting. And black-and-whites are my favorite.

Have you always been interested in art?

Since I was little I remember painting. For me, it’s fun to do it. [Laughs.] Tons of paper and thousands of cans.