You Can Take the Boy Out of Phoenix But You Can’t Take Phoenix Out of the Boy: The Art of Sentrock

Joseph Perez, also known as Sentrock, left the deserts of Arizona in 2012 for Chicago, unsure of what he was looking for. By this time he had already developed his mask motif and his bird boy had made an appearance or two. In Arizona, he danced with his crew, For the Love, and freestyled large panels at dance competitions off Grand Ave. But something was missing. He packed his bags and left everything he knew headed for Columbia College, and although his college career was short-lived, the city provided a place for him to take flight.

JC Rivera and Sentrock- Everybody’s Something, 2014, Chicago

He quickly found the classroom was not the best place to foster his motto ‘stay fly.’ Instead, he hit the pavement with his portfolio and found galleries excited to work with him, including Galerie F. Through these new connections he began to collaborate with JC Rivera, Tubsz, and Ruben Aguirre, developing his technique and cementing his imagery. He has been making his mark from South Lawndale to Ravenswood and everywhere in between. The locations were recently documented via Google Maps.

Sentrock learned to paint in grade school. As a youngster, his school ran an art initiative program where they invited artists including Martin Moreno to mentor the students. Although the artist was a little too young to recall the details of his first encounter with Moreno, the name imprinted in his memory. He explains, “I don’t know how I really remembered Martin, but over the years that name just kind of resonated and years later, I stumbled into one of his art shows and I remembered him…and surprisingly he remembered me.”

Martin Moreno posing in front of his portrait by Sentrock, 2013

Only a year after moving away, in 2013, Sentrock returned to AZ for the exhibition, Generations: Inspirations of Bird City at the former Willo North Gallery in Phoenix. Originally planned as a solo exhibition, the show took on a new meaning when the artist invited Moreno and Luis Gutierrez to show alongside him. He asked Moreno in a promotional spot about a project that got away or something he hopes to accomplish before retirement and Moreno replied, “I was taught very early that the next best piece is yet to come. So, I don’t know what that piece is, but I can only tell you these words of encouragement, that your next piece has got to be better. As long as you strive for that and keep that in perspective, your best piece is yet to come.”

That is certainly something Sentrock took to heart. He is a prolific artist, constantly sketching and developing motifs including ‘Stay Fly’ and ‘Stay Free’. He explains, “the bird mask is symbolism to freedom or escapism. The ability to fly away is something I always use my art to do, get away or escape. I think a big part of it started from how I grew up, seeing family members and friends locked up throughout my childhood always inspired me to stay free.” Although he does not recall when he first came up with the idea, the masks have certainly been used more consistently in the past 3 years. This boy does not have a name per say, “but I would say I call all variations ‘Bird City Saint’ or someone who wants to fly away and do good.”

When he started toying with ‘Bird City Saints,’ “it was this idea of a real/surreal place. I took Bird City as a nickname for Phoenix and added the Saints and started using it in my work.” It has since taken on a life of its own. Sentrock explains, “A lot of people from [Chicago] and Phoenix… people from my background started to inquire, ‘what is it?’ and wanted to be a part of it. I thought it really is not a group or a club, but more of a saying… think ‘Thug Life’ from Tupac, a motive that he ran with. But now people are representing it and forming their own crew. If they feel it, and feel like that means something to them, I felt like I had to let that be.” With this in mind, he reinvented his former website to include the work of other artists such as Eduardo Urbina, Sola, Lost Angell, and more.

He started working with the National Museum of Mexican Art’s after-school art program two years ago. For someone who was so impacted by a program like this, it was something he knew he always wanted to do. He shares, “It’s super dope and refreshing, a reminder of why I participate in these programs, but there is also a bit of pressure. In your head, there is the ideal situation ‘Yeah, we’re inspiring the youth, inspiring the next generation,’ but in reality… what does that actually look like? There are teenagers looking up to me and others in this position and we just have to make sure that we are being responsible, guiding them in the right direction.” But make no mistake, the artist feels blessed, “It is something special to be involved, to give these artists a platform…an outlet.”

Throughout the years, his work has remained positive. Often toting aspirations such as rise from the ashes, until we all shine, you are beautiful, and beauty from within, it is hard not to smile when viewing his work. “I got into making art for the expression and the message. I start off with sketches and ideas.” Sitting down with a pad and marker he first lets the ideas flow naturally. “Then, once I find a design that I like I will rework it a few times as a painting or a detailed drawing.” Although he usually has an idea of the finished project, he has surprised himself once or twice, especially with his freestyle paintings. He explains, “the hard part for me is that I don’t have my colors chosen yet. Nothing is really planned. I am more spontaneous and when I do those it can be surprising and I usually like them more.”

Chicago has been amazing for the artist and he has no intention of leaving in the foreseeable future, although returning home is always in the back of his mind. He and his new wife Summer hope to travel more. He feels indebted to Galerie F who has been placing his work since 2012, even when he has not recently exhibited, but Sentrock is interested in expanding his collectorship. Over the years the artist has collaborated with different companies to create some great hoodie designs, shoes, and pins but it’s not something he “[wants] to invest too much time into… It takes a lot out of you.” He is also taking on less mural commissions so he can focus on his own ideas and “not someone else’s vision for their company.” I for one am excited to see what’s yet to come.

Follow Sentrock on social media for his upcoming projects!

Sentrock spoke with Diana Ledesma via the telephone March 6, 2017.

Images courtesy of the artist.

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Further Reading:

Bird City Saints Website

The artist’s Instagram

The artist’s website

About the author:

Diana Ledesma is an arts professional living in New York City. She obtained her masters from New York University in 2016, completing her thesis on the status of the Mexican American art market.

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