Mercado owner Jesse Gomez was trying to decide whether to paint the back wall of his restaurant’s Hollywood location—it just faces a parking lot, after all—when he got the idea to commission an art project instead. “The first person I thought of was Carlos [Nieto III] because he’s done a lot of art work at the restaurant, and I just thought it’d be really cool to take advantage of the space,” says Gomez.
Nieto, an L.A. artist who finds his inspiration in the cultures of Central and South America, was all for it. “I instantly was on board,” says Nieto. “I’ve been working with a bunch of different artists over the years, so I just got several that I really liked working with, and they were totally down with it.” They collaborated over the mural for a few weeks and called it The Skull Project.
The result is a striking, colorful piece made up completely of skulls as depicted by each of the artists, which included Kamanchi, Monique Kimberly Sugar, Andrew Murga, among others. The skeleton motif fits right in with Mercado’s aesthetic, from the “o” in the logo (it’s a skull) to the the dios de los muertos-inspired art inside the restaurant, including a large, 3-D mural by Nieto that features a calacas mariachi band. It’s the perfect backdrop for chef Jose Acevedo’s famous carnitas.
Nieto’s contributions include an origami-inspired skull set against a yellow-hued background as well as a close-up of a black and white skull at the top right corner of the mural. “I’ve always loved the human form…and lately, it’s a little more existential, where I’ve been delving into the whole idea of who we are and where we come from, the fact that everyone has a limited time here on earth,” says Nieto. “I’m really drawn to the whole idea of representing how fragile life is through skulls.”
Because the mural is in the back of the restaurant, Gomez calls it “our secret art project.” He’s been encouraging guests to go out and take a look, and the reaction has been one of excitement. “Everyone who goes back there has probably snapped a picture.” Whether it becomes an Instagram sensation remains to be seen.
The Skull Project mural can be seen at Mercado’s Hollywood location, 3413 Cahuenga Blvd. West, 323-512-2500