It was love at first sight when then-2-year-old Kingston Lara saw a spray-painted mural on a wall by Leos Market at H and Third streets a few years back.
The mural was gone not long after a family snapshot commemorated that November 2012 day, but the artwork made quite the impression on little Kingston, who has an autism spectrum disorder. Though his speech and language are minimal, said mom Kamica Lara, he communicates well through his facial expressions and body language.
And “he’s a true artist,” she said. He loves to sing and dance and play with musical instruments. He does artwork with sidewalk chalk, acrylic paint and play dough.
After seeing the mural, Kingston became a big fan of graffiti artwork, she said, and lights up at the sight of the bright colors and bold lines.
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This year. Lara, events coordinator for Modesto Centre Plaza, decided to give now-5-year-old Kingston a “dream bedroom” decorated in ’80s urban style: graffiti, an old-school boom box, Converse, skateboards. She got two metal lockers and contacted a friend, John Black, chief executive officer of Peer Recovery Art Project, to ask if he knew of an artist who would paint them in the style of the mural Kingston so loved.
Black soon got back to her with the news that six artists had offered to do the work. He gave her the names of the painters, including Hocus Manriquez of Ceres.
“My heart fell to my stomach,” Lara said. She knew Hocus had painted the mural at Leos – a co-worker recognized his work in the 2012 snapshot in Lara’s office – and she once sought him out to tell him how much the painting meant to Kingston. But they didn’t say in touch, and she never imagined she could get him to paint the lockers.
As for Hocus, when he agreed to do the locker painting, neither he nor Black had seen the photo, so didn’t know it was Hocus’ own art he was being asked to work from. They knew only that a little boy with autism loved urban art.
“He said, ‘I’m down,’ ” said Black.
“I said it’s a good cause, I’d do it – but it could have been any other artist,” said Hocus, who added that it blew his mind when he later saw his own, long-gone mural in Lara’s photo. He took the day off work Friday to do the locker painting in the afternoon on the sidewalk outside Peer Recovery.
The locker paintings show things that are special to Kingston. He likes sports, so there’s a basketball. There are musical notes, a minion from “Despicable Me,” a toy train and a crown with “King” spelled out below it. “Right away he recognized the train and said, ‘Choo-choo train,’ ” Hocus said.
Black sees the story as a great example of the power of artwork. “A 2-year-old autistic spectrum child saw this artist’s work and became inspired on urban art,” he said. “They tore down the art, but it lives in that little boy.”
At Peer Recovery, “we try to make connections with people,” ha later added, “and art is a vehicle that everyone can agree upon.”