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Coco Loco: Bay County restaurant murals tout Mexican heritage

By SAM EASTER, The Bay City Times

BAY CITY, July 23, 2014 (AP): Mike McMath, wearing a paint-speckled T-shirt and a University of Michigan cap, speaks with a blue-collar easiness on the murals he's painting at Coco Loco Mexican Bar and Grill. He's been hard at work splashing artwork inside and outside the building since fall. The work is nearly complete.

``There's seven arches on the outside, and working with the owners we've come up with themes of Mexican heritage—mariachis, piñatas, the dancing and the agave fields,'' he told The Bay City Times ( http://bit.ly/1kXcxfC ). ``I bounce around from arch to arch. It's tough, because I work so fast and so intense that four or five hours of doing that is like 10 hours of regular painting.

``It's very focus-intense,'' he said, ``but fun.''

McMath, a Midland resident and a father of three, is the owner of FauxPlay Decorative Painting, a company that specializes in mural painting and faux finishes—much like the painted brickwork inside Coco Loco in Bangor Township. Working alongside his brother, his niece and apprentice and a small staff, the company has served clients throughout Michigan and Chicago, counting professional athletes and the Detroit Institute of Arts among its clients.

At Coco Loco, McMath said he has particularly enjoyed the opportunity he and his colleagues had to bring Mexican culture to life.

``It's nice, because I become a pair of hands,'' he said. ``They (the owners) facilitate the idea, and I make it happen. We work through a couple of images and try and capture the right theme.'' He said he was concerned at first about making paintings too stereotypical, but he's pleased with the result; sitting inside the restaurant, he points out a farmer and agave field painted near the bar.

``You have to ask questions sometimes,'' he said, noting that some of the work can seem ambiguous. ``What is this wall, what is this mural about? You get a little bit of an education.''

Coco Loco owner José Costilla said he is pleased with McMath, who's painted at some of his other local restaurants through the past several years.

``Every single mural, there is a story,'' he said of his restaurant's interior, from folkloric dancing to the tequila distilling process. ``If you follow the murals, the process is there—the whole process of tequila, from the agave fields to the aging of the tequila.''

Besides his paintings, McMath is also a performer. He and his brother Scott often team up as ``Empty Canvas,'' which features an original work of art created as music is performed.

While his brother plays guitar, McMath paints and sings, often bringing up audience members to add a few brushstrokes. At a fundraiser event in Frankenmuth, he said, Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo came up to give it a try. Izzo later signed the painting, McMath said, which raised more than $3,000 for charity.

The duo performs biweekly at the patio at the Riverfront Grille at the Doubletree hotel and conference center in downtown Bay City. The duo's next show takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday.

A 1984 graduate of Midland High School, McMath said he always knew he wanted to be an artist.

``It literally was kindergarten,'' he said. ``I always thought I was the best artist in the class. It sounds arrogant, but that's what leads you to what you want to do.'' In 1990, McMath graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Michigan. ``The year I graduated, I had seen a person do faux marble. I had no idea how to do it, and I bought one book and I've been painting houses from there.''

As for his work at Coco Loco, much of it can be seen driving by the restaurant. You'll have to do inside to see the interior murals. McMath said he can't pick a favorite.

``It's like picking a favorite kid,'' McMath said. ``It's impossible, because each one has a different story.''

Information from: The Bay City Times, http://www.mlive.com/bay-city


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Revised: 07/29/14 19:18:08 -0700.




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