“Under restoration. / trying to piece together / 100o murals inside my mind” — so read the opening lines of mexican jazz part 22, a poem Israel Francisco Haros Lopez wrote in late 2015. He recently sifted through more than 1,600 poems he’s posted on Facebook, and landed on that one as a statement for his upcoming solo exhibition. Niomi Fawn of Curate Santa Fe, who’s working with Lopez as part of her visual art program at Iconik Coffee Roasters, had challenged him to take a deep dive into his past writings.

"She asked me to find a poem, and that's the one that stuck out for me," Lopez says. "For this show, I'm trying to get to the work that's just been sitting in my head. Even though I produce a lot, there's so many ideas that I always feel like are on the back burner." Lopez and Fawn worked together to dream up the show's title, The Future is Ancient. For Lopez, creative expression is a form of cartography that points his audience back to truths of pre-Columbian cosmology—and forward to a future that's permeated by an elevated consciousness.

Over the past 17 years, Lopez has developed a semi-figurative symbol system of glyphs he jokingly refers to as "Aztec gibberish." It's a contemporary takeoff on Nahuatl, the intricate, pictographic language of faces, animals and abstract symbols employed by the pre-Columbian Aztecs. He's incorporated the imagery into several monumental bodies of work, including illustrations for his Chicano Codex coloring book series and paintings on enormous Tyvek scrolls. "Of course, it's so much more than gibberish. I'm creating a map for people to bear witness to," says Lopez. "I'm mapping out a new language through images, but it's also a very practical map for artists about how to survive."

Similar to the work you’ll find in Lopez’ Chicano Codex coloring books.
Similar to the work you’ll find in Lopez’ Chicano Codex coloring books. / Courtesy the Artist

Lopez grew up in East Los Angeles. “My mom was a single parent who made $6,000 a year working in a sweatshop,” he says. “We lived in little rooms that we’d rent from other families.” In his small corner of the world, Lopez spent late nights scribbling poetry in spiral notebooks. “You would see when I would fall asleep, and the pen would skid off the page,” Lopez says. “I remember using the word ‘prolific’ a lot. I wanted to be prolific writer, and I’d write that over and over in my work. At the time, I didn’t have any clue what the hell that word meant.”

The murals of LA were Lopez' childhood museum. Inspired by the way words and images flowed together in the street art surrounding him, he started drawing. In his senior year at Theodore Roosevelt High School, recruiters from California College of the Arts spoke to one of his classes. "I got excited about art school, but then I realized, 'I'm going to need a portfolio, I'm going to need money,'" Lopez says. "So I shut the dream down." That is, until his friend filled out a college application for him and he was accepted to the Univeristy of California, Berkeley.

Years later, after earning his bachelor's degree in English and an MFA from California College of the Arts, Lopez moved to New Mexico to work with teens who can relate to his story. He's a teen liaison for the Santa Fe Public Schools' Adelante program, which provides diverse resources for homeless children, teens and their families. One of his initiatives there has been to create murals in public spaces with the youth. "What I needed when I was that age was a safe space with no judgment," Lopez says. "It allows these teens to imagine what they're going to do after this. I didn't think I'd live past 19, and when I did, I didn't know what to do next." The answer he discovered: "Create, create, create."

For The Future Is Ancient, Lopez has created a series of 8-by-11-inch paintings on canvas. His idiosyncratic imagery has carried into the new body of work, with a fresh jolt of inspiration from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock. The exhibition envisions a future where our digital fantasia is grounded by a concrete ethic to protect nature. "This work looks at ancestral stories, but also at technology in this really abstract way," he says. "I'm asking what it's going to take for us to continue forward. I think Standing Rock to some degree is a testament to where we're going, and how people can connect back to their ancestors and their hope."

Just as social networks helped the Standing Rock movement build community and amplify their message, Lopez has created a set of signposts through his own digital presence. This Friday, his map leaps from the virtual world onto the walls of Iconik.

Israel Francisco Haros Lopez: The Future Is Ancient
5 pm Friday May 26. Free.
Iconik Coffee Roasters,
1600 Lena St.,
428-0996