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