Today, the concept of “breath” has new significance, forcing us to reevaluate our priorities and beliefs. We are aware of it as we put on a mask to venture into the community and navigate the realities of COVID-19. We are aware of it when we hear George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” echo across the nation, becoming emblematic of the fight against racial injustice. Breathing has also come to symbolize our need to feed our spirit and find space in our life for respite and reflection. For artist Rayos Magos, 35, time to create is his moment to step away from the anxiety and uncertainty of the world and…breathe.
Rayos works full-time for a non-profit community health clinic, but having to work from home during the shelter-in-place (SIP) has blurred the lines between business and a sacred space for pleasure and relaxation. A wrench has been thrown into his normal routine since, like many of us, once he rolls out of bed, he is already in his office. His art has become his saving grace, giving him structure and routine as he enters his studio.
"The limited social interactions with friends and the community have made me dig deeper into themes, symbols, internal dialogue, and contemplation of the world."
As a third generation Mexican American born in San Jose, Rayos has discovered and connected with his cultural heritage through art. He utilizes his skills in printmaking, drawing, painting, and mixed media to branch out and connect with others. “The limited social interactions with friends and the community have made me dig deeper into themes, symbols, internal dialogue, and contemplation of the world,” he adds.
One of his works created during this time is a monochromatic linocut print presenting a lively pair of lungs etched with bold lines and the words “Just Breathe.” The piece is a reminder to take moments to breathe deeply while also bringing awareness to the fact that not everyone is given the freedom to do so. Breaking away from working in isolation, Rayos also worked on a couple of murals. One, a few blocks away from San Jose City Hall, is called Heart Space, a mural consisting of his trademark hands cupped into a heart shape, which provides shelter around a yellow heart emanating from the center. At the top the words, “Black Lives Matter,” are written in bold, vibrant letters. “By participating in the activation of these spaces, I felt I was doing my part in the larger community by beautifying and offering messages of hope, solidarity, and compassion to all impacted by COVID-19 and systemic inequalities.”