Spotlight on Downtown Artists: Joe Pagac

February 12, 2016

Danny Martin's mural on the Rialto Theatre honors two recently lost icons, Lemmy and David Bowie.

Danny Martin’s mural on the Rialto Theatre honors two recently lost icons, Lemmy and David Bowie.

By Kai Parmenter

To say that Downtown has long served as a nexus of culture and artistry in Tucson would be an understatement.

Case in point, the Downtown area is positively brimming with fantastic mural work from a small retinue of local artists who are continuously creating new pieces in the area. You may have noticed the recent spread on the east wall of the Rialto Theatre, featuring the likenesses of late music icons David Bowie and Lemmy, as rendered by Danny Martin.

Just south along the same wall is an equally stunning mural by Salvador Duran, whose artwork and stomp box-infused flamenco guitar have long been Tucson mainstays. Further material by Duran, and many others, may be found at Solar Culture, a 3,000 square foot warehouse-turned-gallery featuring work by a diverse array of local artists.

And then there’s Joe Pagac, whose work features prominently all over the Downtown area. A Tucson native, Pagac’s murals have graced the walls of everywhere from the Rialto Theatre and Hotel Congress to the historic Warehouse Arts District and beyond.

Pagac stands in front of part of his largest creation, located on the back of Borderlands Brewing Company.

Pagac stands in front of part of his largest creation, located on the back of Borderlands Brewing Company.

“As soon as I graduated, I just put an ad in the paper…and kind of took whatever jobs came my way,” says Pagac. “Murals were what I was getting the most calls about, so I started pursuing that, and within three months of graduating I was able to quit doing construction and pursue art full-time.”

Soon after, Pagac was approached by an interior decorator, who, after seeing one of Pagac’s murals, invited him to join her team of designers and faux painters working in the foothills and Oro Valley.

“That really boosted my career because I didn’t have to worry about finding work,” notes Pagac. “She was bringing me work, and I just got to design it and paint it. I got to build up a really nice portfolio; I got to practice eight hours a day. It was a perfect opportunity.”

“And then the economy crashed, then rich people stopped buying murals,” notes Pagac, smiling. “I got a job at Trader Joe’s just by fluke, I was in there buying juice one day, and…I had all my paint clothes on. The owner chased me down in the parking lot and was like, ‘Hey, are you an artist?’”

One of Salvador Duran's murals, on the east side of the Rialto Theatre.

One of Salvador Duran’s murals, on the east side of the Rialto Theatre.

Turns out they were looking for someone to help them revamp the store.

“I had no work lined up at the time,” says Pagac. “I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’” Pagac spent the next year at Trader Joe’s, designing and painting endcaps, murals and everything in between. They even offered to send him nationally to work in other stores, but Pagac declined. “It was really fun…[but] I didn’t want that to be where I ended up. I felt like I could do more.”

By that time, Pagac had built up a sizable clientele, including a number of projects in Downtown, where he “wasn’t as reliant on people’s disposable income, it was more like businesses starting up, and street art, stuff like that.”

A friend of Pagac’s who was a concert promoter approached him about doing “performance painting,” wherein Pagac would design a mural around an upcoming show then paint it in a matter of hours, often covering dozens of feet of wall space.

The concept was an immediate hit, and for a time Pagac found himself repainting the same six walls live every month, sometimes in front of hundreds of even thousands of people. Not long after, Pagac was doing mural work for Bookmans and the Rialto Theatre, to name just a few.

“Having that Rialto wall has really helped me get into Downtown,” notes Pagac. “The unfortunate thing is…I’ve done so much artwork [in Downtown] but like eighty percent of it’s already gone,” says Pagac, citing the relatively high turnover rate for artwork such as his. “At any given time there’s a lot of stuff up but it’s not even close to the amount of work I’ve done.”

Part of Pagac's latest work-in-progress in the Warehouse Arts District.

Part of Pagac’s latest work-in-progress in the Warehouse Arts District.

In addition to his work as a muralist, Pagac has been involved with what he calls “fine art,” including illustrations for books and magazines, sign painting, and large-scale fabrication. His work has appeared in a number of gallery shows for smaller pieces. He also spent some time doing promotional work, including joint ventures with Hotel Congress for themed parties.

According to Pagac, his next artistic pursuit will somehow involve sculpture.

“I bought a welder this past year so I can start working on stuff…I haven’t taken it out of the box yet,” says Pagac, again smiling. One can only imagine what he might come up with once he has.

To learn more about the art of Joe Pagac, or contact him regarding a project, visit his website here, or email him at