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‘Inflating Inspiration’: The impact of 3D balloon murals on El Paso’s Community

SalmaPaola Baca
Tino Ortega works on upcoming “Amor” mural at 7715 Paseo del Norte Blvd.

El Paso, Texas, a city steeped in Chicano culture and history, has recently become adorned with vibrant 3D balloon art murals, captivating passersby and residents alike. Among the talented artists behind this unique trend is Albert “Tino” Ortega, whose passion for art and community shines through his creations. By exploring Ortega’s vision, inspirations and creative process, he delves into the significance of these murals in El Paso’s cultural landscape. 

Ortega’s journey as an artist traces back to his childhood, where his first mural experience in middle school ignited a lifelong passion. A desire for fulfillment and happiness drove him from being a contractor for the military to a full-time artist, a sentiment deeply intertwined with his artistic endeavors. Ortega’s commitment to painting the world stems from a profound belief in the transformative power of art and the importance of leaving a positive mark on his community. 

“It wasn’t too hard of a transition leaving my career two years ago, so you know, two years ago, I was actually a contractor for the military, and I was traveling the world with the military,” Ortega said. “I got stuck overseas in Iraq during COVID. I remember the lockdown I was overseas for that. That was just a wake-up call for me, I’m not really living my life to the fullest, and I’d like to do that.”  

One of Ortega’s favorite murals, the Carmelita Torres, pays homage to a local hero deemed the El Paso Rosa Parks. Situated near the Puente, this mural is a testament to the resilience and courage of individuals fighting for justice—a theme echoed throughout Ortega’s work. His dedication to highlighting significant figures and cultural symbols reflects a desire to celebrate El Paso’s rich heritage and empower its residents. 

The transition to 3D balloon art murals was inspired by Ortega’s fascination with photorealism and the interplay between art and environment. Drawing inspiration from artists like Kip Omolade, he sought to incorporate the surrounding community into his murals, creating visually striking pieces deeply rooted in their surroundings. Using real balloons fixed to the wall, Ortega captures the essence of his surroundings, infusing each mural with a sense of place and belonging. 

“Typically, I try to do words of encouragement, words that we use, cultural words that hold meaning, that hold history, so I like combining the idea of history and culture with these balloon murals, but also making sure that it’s of something that’s positive,” Ortega said. 

The creative process behind Ortega’s murals is guided by a desire to spread positivity and cultural pride. Words of motivation and artistic references are carefully integrated into his designs, serving as a reminder of El Paso’s identity and heritage. Despite occasional controversy, such as with the ‘Con Huevos’ mural, Ortega remains steadfast in spreading joy and inspiration through his art. 

“A lot of people got offended when I did the ‘Con Huevos,’ but you know that’s typically seen as a like sign of encouragement, and it’s a way to say to do something courageously, and you can’t control what people think, and everyone’s going to have their own biased opinion,” Ortega explains.

Central to Ortega’s work is the notion of literal and metaphorical reflection. His murals encourage viewers to reflect on their surroundings and cultural identity. Through themes of resilience, unity, and cultural pride, Ortega’s murals contribute to the cultural landscape of El Paso, fostering a sense of connection and belonging among its residents. 

“The ‘Chuco’ that I did was also prevalent in the history that’s part of our culture, and you know where we get our nickname from Juarez because typically, you don’t give your own nickname to yourself; somebody else gives it to you, so it’s good to see how Juarez gives us that,” Ortega said.

Moreover, Ortega’s art catalyzes community engagement and reflection. In the aftermath of the August 3rd Walmart shooting tragedy, Ortega was inspired by the outpouring of support from across the country, reaffirming his commitment to giving back to his community. His murals serve as a beacon of hope and resilience, encouraging viewers to reflect, during grieving, on the past, embrace the present, and aspire to a brighter future.

“It’s always been about giving back for sure, about reflecting in the grieving process of where we come from, where we are right now, and where we want to place ourselves in the future,” Ortega said.

The 3D balloon art murals of El Paso, spearheaded by artists like Tino Ortega, are more than mere decorations—they are reflections of identity, strength, and community spirit, through his dedication to celebrating local heroes, empowering residents, and spreading joy. Ortega has transformed the city’s landscape, leaving an indelible mark on its cultural fabric. As El Paso continues to evolve, Ortega’s murals stand as a testament to the power of art in shaping narratives, fostering connections, and inspiring change.

SalmaPaola Baca is a staff photographer and may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
SalmaPaola Baca
SalmaPaola Baca, Photographer
SalmaPaola Baca is a senior at UTEP majoring in engineering innovation and leadership with a concentration and minor in civil engineering and an emphasis in computer science. Her passion for photography enables her to be photographer at The Prospector. While a full-time student, she freelances while planning to grow her platform through travel photography. After graduating, she wants to pursue a master’s degree in architecture while working on her photography simultaneously.
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