Stan Padilla, political painter

Royal Chicano Air Force co-founder talks about the big new mural at Golden 1 Center

Stan Padilla, artist, educator and activist, stands with a mural he painted for students of the United Auburn Indian Community Tribal School.

Stan Padilla, artist, educator and activist, stands with a mural he painted for students of the United Auburn Indian Community Tribal School.


“Flight” will be unveiled at the Golden 1 Center March 1, the Kings’ Latino Heritage Night.

Saturday, advocates for equality and human rights gathered at the Southside Park Ampitheater, a place of pilgrimage for activists in Sacramento. A mural honoring Latino culture in the neighborhood there has served as a backdrop to events and protests for thousands of participants, even Cesar Chavez. The city commissioned the mural in the 1970s from the Royal Chicano Air Force, an artist collective nationally recognized as masters of Chicano/Mexican art. Now, the group is producing another gift to Sacramentans, unveiled March 1 at the Golden 1 Center: A 30-foot-tall piece titled “Flight.” Stan Padilla, who helped paint the Southside mural with other RCAF artists, is working with fellow RCAF co-founders Esteban Villa and Juanishi Orosco, plus 25 assistants.

What does this mural mean for RCAF?

It’s the culmination of our ancestral lineage: We’re bringing the themes, symbols and aspects from the Aztec world to our work in the present. It’s a crowning glory honoring social justice and civil rights movements. RCAF stands for using creativity to meet those ends. This is a heritage mural, a social art with trust and cooperation. There are no lead artists; we’re all taking the lead, moving beyond personalities to honor this legacy.

“Flight” means to move beyond the ordinary: How can we change, better ourselves and move forward in a social justice way? For us, just to be painting there is social justice. We were poor and to do this, it’s a big deal. This is long term—thousands of people will experience it over the years.

Where did RCAF draw symbolism?

“Flight” comes from the Aztec Mesoamerican myth of the coming of the Sixth Sun: That we have had worlds before on this Earth. Our ancient myths tell us under the new sun rising, we’ll see an integration of all people into a greater corona of humanity.

It looks like we’re falling apart, if you look on the ground. But if you look broader, all the old issues are being dealt with: racism, sexism, militarism. We’re breaking through. At least the truth is being told, not hidden in a closet.

The fifth era we’re living in ends with earthquakes, civil war, plagues and general degenerate behavior—that’s how we’d know. Then, a new sun, the sixth, moves us into consciousness—self-awareness.

Walls, once painted, become portals of understanding. When people don’t have avenues to speak, they paint it on the walls. In times past, people weren’t as literate, and so often got information from murals. Simon and Garfunkel said, “the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls.”

What is flight, anyway? It’s not just getting on an airplane. It’s elevating ourselves to a higher level to see these things; to get some altitude and perspective on things.

Last year, we saw water protectors standing up. It’s like grass breaking through concrete. Germination is stronger than parking lots. That’s what I see happening.

What will the mural look like?

It’s a triptych, three parts unified into one. A vertical panorama rises up like a tower, with the bottom level showing third-world astro-pilots: People at the control booth, all of humanity and races working together to get this flight going. Esteban Villa, the artist, calls it MASA—the Mexican American Space Administration.

The middle section is mine, a reconfiguring of the Sixth Sun. It shows a kaleidoscopic view of the sun with a butterfly of transformation and change, showing navigation, where we’re going. I’ve added hidden poetry, which won’t be seen but felt; telling the story in the painting like a time capsule. You’ll just see the outer metallic. I used to paint cars. This will have pearlescents, candy-apple red and golden solar flares.

The top panel, Juanishi Orosco’s, shows a man and a woman drifting into the cosmos together, to self and their place in the scheme of things, with ancient pyramids and classical themes often used by Mexican muralists.

RCAF has a rich history of championing Latino culture. How does this relate?

We feel like prodigal sons coming home to that arena. It was an old Mexican barrio torn down before the space ship. This means Latinos are coming home. We’re natives. We’re from here. We can only speak of this in a bigger view than politics. This is brown, indigenous land. You can bubble over it with tin cans. It doesn’t change the nature of it.

We’re native sons using Fibonacci sequences. When this is finished, you will be able to come to the Golden 1 arena and the Golden State and see a golden message. That’s fine, they play basketball there and have concerts there. What’s most important is people graduate there. People will attain a golden diploma and the possibility of a greater future, being initiated; of starting something new.

We were all the first to be educated. When you’re first in line to stand up—my grandparents didn’t even speak English. These things are universal. It comes from our cultural expression.

The pieces are carved 18 to 20 inches from the wall, actualizing. They’ll be filled with natural light as well as a bank of lights behind. Colors will change all day long. Even at night, some will still be seen.

I don’t know if there will be anything brighter in all of Sacramento.