“It’s exciting to see people’s expression through the glass behind us while we paint; I can see a lot of little wheels turning in their heads.” – Panca

The bridge leading to the entrance of the Museum has a new look thanks to artist Panca. The 48-foot-long mural, SMILE, consists of bright, cheerful colors and welcomes visitors with whimsical smiles. She also created new designs for the six cylinder cement columns on Clay Patio. Each pole has a different set of colors and patterns.

Panca is originally from San Diego, but moved to Tijuana when she was 19 years old. Tijuana continues to be a big source of inspiration for her art today. She enjoys traveling to Los Angeles and San Diego, and she identifies with a bi-national identity. Our Manager of Exhibition Development, Megan Dickerson, sat down with Panca to ask her a little bit more about her journey as an artist and her inspiration for the Museum’s new bridge mural, SMILE.

Q: When did you know that you wanted to pursue art as a career?

Panca: I think I knew around 25 when I started doing murals and getting paid for it. Even then, I would say I was still on training wheels, but I was taking it seriously – like, “Oh, maybe I can do this without having gone to school or anything. I can pull it off if I keep practicing.”

Q: What was the inspiration for the columns and the bridge mural, SMILE, here at the Museum?

Panca: You asked me that the other day, but I just realized when looking at my Instagram photos that there are a lot of rainbows here [at the Museum]. When I came to have meetings with you guys, I must have noticed it, and it stuck in the back of my mind. There are a lot of rainbows that are created because of the glass on the entrance of the Museum. Not that the Museum is plain, but it does have a grayish look to it – even a kid said so! So those little rainbows stand out, and I think I picked up on it. When I thought of this design, I thought – I’ll use my palette and then add faces to it, so it can go across the whole building including the glass. I think people will see the connection when they see the reflection.

Q: How would you describe your artwork?

Panca: I think it’s definitely surreal; sometimes geometric, sometimes dark humor and I can sometimes do political. But I also have another side where I like to explore color and shapes and creatures. A lot of the creatures are based on some of my pets or some of the people that I see. Depending on the area, I tone down the intensity of the sinister things I see and make it for a child.

Q: Why do you enjoy painting murals? What’s the most difficult part?

Panca: The most difficult part of painting a mural is that everyone can see your process, and your process isn’t always that beautiful. It’s kind of like when you’re doing your makeup and someone takes a picture of you and you’re like AHHH [mimics putting on mascara with an open mouth]. Have you ever done that? And your partner takes a photo of you? It’s like you’re getting ready in front of everybody, and you have to be like, “Don’t look at me!” [laughs].

But everyone here has been super encouraging. A kid came up to me and said, “Those are my favorite colors. You’re doing a good job!” There was another kid who, as he left, he was in awe, which was really cool. A lot of kids have come to the Museum before and then come back to see that it’s different – so I can’t wait for them to walk over the bridge. It’s exciting to see people’s expression through the glass behind us while we paint; I can see a lot of little wheels turning in their heads.

PancaQ: What is your connection to the Museum?

Panca: When I was 7 or 8 my best friend’s mom took me to the Museum, the first [location]. I remember the truck… I got to paint the truck, and we had these little jackets on, kind of like little bodysuits. It was super fun, because I think kindergarten was the first time I got to learn to paint, and this was the first opportunity where I actually got to paint something on a large scale. I remember that so well… I remember that we went to the Spaghetti Factory afterwards. It was just a whole day, and you know, I was so happy. My parents were immigrants. They were super hard working, and they probably wanted to bring me here but they just had no time. The fact that my mom’s friend brought me here was so cool. I always remember that. And now I’m here, and I’m installing – it’s really cool!

I think the Museum provides a lot of really good energy, and the kids can feel that. It’s like when you go to Disneyland and you know it’s Disneyland – you hear the screaming. To be honest, here it’s very peaceful, and as an artist working here, it’s really cool. It comes into my process of thinking and it’s one of the best places I’ve ever worked at.

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