Colombian artist shares his iconic work with Verona in two new murals

A Colombian artist who has created iconic posters for street protests and rock bands is now painting two murals on a historic building in downtown Verona. 

Tavo Garavato has been screenprinting posters for two decades, working with artists like the Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop, Cafe Tacvba and Juanes. He’s painted towering street art on multi-story buildings in downtown Bogotá, Colombia. And he’s collaborated with brands like Levi’s and Gibson, putting his designs on jackets, guitars and more.

Now, he’s painting in Wisconsin for the first time, by invitation from the owners of Alice Good Coffee shop at 300 S. Main Street. 

The shop’s four owners, three of whom are Colombian, were living in Colombia in 2021, when protesters took to the street to oppose a controversial tax proposal — and later to demand solutions to several other social problems — and were met with police violence. At least 28 people died as a result of the government’s “unnecessary or disproportionate force,” the United Nations found.

Many at those protests carried the same poster: a raised fist set against a red background, a design Garavato created and shared for free. Soon the image was appearing at protests by Colombian expatriots around the world, getting so many downloads that file sharing site WeTransfer shut down Garavato’s account. The artist painted a massive version of the same image on the side of the Monumento de los Héroes, which the Colombian government removed later that year to make way for the subway. 

And it caught the attention of the future Verona coffee shop owners. “His art touched us so deeply,” said Sara Serrato. “It’s the kind of art that moves your heart and soul in so many ways.”

A few months later, she began making plans to open Alice Good with her husband Camilo Beltran, her sister Laura Serrato, and her sister’s husband Ralph Stern. They envisioned a coffee shop that would import everything from its coffee to its T-shirts from Colombia, and let Colombian producers keep a larger share of the profits than most coffee businesses do. 

“One of the things we wanted to emphasize was how we can give value back to the producing countries,” Stern said, explaining that, on average, less than 10% of the purchase price of coffee goes to the people who grow and harvest the beans.

Though the shop, more than 4,000 miles away, was still just an idea, they could already picture Garavato’s work on the walls. 

“We were like, ‘We’re opening up a shop. We really want to have an art gallery in the coffee shop and we want to support Latin American artists and local artists. We want you to make a mural there,’” Laura Serrato said. “And he was like, ‘Yeah, sure, let’s do it.’”

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Fernando Rico (green shirt) assists Tavo Garavato with the mural.

They found a space in an 1840s building on Verona’s Main Street and opened the cafe last September. Now, as it celebrates its first birthday, the mural is finally happening. Garavato had plans to come to the U.S. to paint a mural at the Mexican Consulate in Seattle, so he contacted the Alice Good team and began preparing for his first trip to Wisconsin. 

Then the owners told landlords Lainie and Ben Eustice about their plans, and one mural became two. 

The couple had been considering adding a mural since buying the building in May 2022, but it wasn’t easy to find the right artist. 

“I have looked at other artist’s work and followed them on Instagram, but nothing I saw really inspired me the way Tavo’s art did,” Lainie Eustice said in an email, explaining that she was particularly enthused by his painting of “women fighting and persevering.” The two were “thrilled” when they learned that Garavato was finally coming to town. 

The murals are only the latest to come to Verona’s Main Street. Toot + Kate’s Wine Bar, located at 109 S. Main St., and Miller & Son’s Supermarket, located at 210 S. Main St., both got new murals in summer 2022. 

“We’re very excited,” said Allison Plumer, tourism coordinator at the Verona Area Chamber of Commerce. Plumer said Visit Verona, the Chamber’s tourism arm, is looking to support mural projects at two or three more area businesses in the next year, and interested businesses can contact the agency to learn more.

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Columbian artist Tavo Garavato paints a new mural on the back of the Alice Good Coffee building in Verona. 

‘Three ideas in one mural’

The two sets of owners gave Garavato free rein to design the two murals. 

For the indoor piece, which will cover a roughly 8-foot by 11-foot wall to the left of the coffee shop’s counter, Garavato chose a design featuring three elements, each tied to the shop’s social justice mission. 

On the left, Garavato stenciled peonies, a recurring motif in his work. The flowers, he said, represent rebirth, inspired by a quote from the last speech that former leftist guerrilla leader and presidential candidate Carlos Pizarro Leongomez gave before he was assassinated in 1990: “Para que la vida no sea asesinada en primavera,” or “So that life not be taken in the spring.” 

On the right, an angel grips the handlebars of a bicycle. It’s a nod to the many people who ride the nearby bike trails, but it’s also a symbol throughout Latin America of those who’ve been forcibly disappeared, whose bikes sit waiting for their owners to return. 

And at the center, an upturned palm represents the coffee growers behind the business.

“Not a lot of people know where coffee comes from, that it’s a fruit and it’s (often) picked by hand,” Laura Serrato said. “There are a lot of hands that touch the bean and the whole process for you to get your coffee in the morning.”

“We created a hand that’s in the act of sharing its manual labor,” Garavato said. “It’s these three ideas in one mural.”

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The mural has a 3D element, which can be viewed with 3D glasses, available at the counter within the coffee shop.

Grab your 3D glasses

The outdoor mural, too, bears heavy themes, inspired by Latin America’s femicide epidemic. Garavato has stenciled the same image in Bogotá, Austin and in Street Art City in Lurcy-Lévis, France. “And now here,” he said, explaining that the mural will fill the back wall and extend across part of the facade of Taqueria Los Atlantes.

But the serious work comes with a novel twist: Viewers will use anaglyphic 3D glasses, available at the coffee shop and the taqueria, to see two different superimposed images. 

Unlike a 3D image, which appears when the viewer looks through the red and blue lenses simultaneously, Garavato’s mural is designed to be seen with one eye at a time, so that each image appears in isolation. Open just the right eye and the blue lens reveals a red image of a woman with a flowered bandana tied around her face, Garavato’s interpretation of “las adelitas,” the Mexican women who took up arms in the Mexican Revolution. 

Open just the left eye and the red lens reveals a blue skull, “because we’re all the same on the inside,” Garavato said.

Beside each image, in English and Spanish, are the words “Don’t forget that you’re alive.” It’s what Joe Strummer of The Clash said when asked what message he’d like to share with the world. 

For Garavato, who covers his face in photos, murals like these mean far more than the posters he makes for top-selling artists, or the fame that comes with them. 

“It’s not the faces that interest me,” he said. “It’s the art.”

Many of the people who spot the new art in Verona won’t know Garavato’s name or his formidable portfolio anyway, but Stern is excited for the mark the artist will leave behind. 

“I hope the new murals will be a symbol of welcome to all, of building connections across different places and languages and cultures, and just a source of warmth and good vibes for everyone,” Stern said.

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