South Phoenix artist inspires hope through colorful murals

She is chalking up all of the credit to her Mexican heritage and her abuelita. All while growing up in the small mining town of Superior.
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 10:17 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - For many artists, there’s no larger canvas than the side of a building. When you drive by those murals, you may wonder, “Who painted that?”

Local artist named Emily Costello said goodbye to corporate America years ago to follow her passion and artwork rooted in her Mexican heritage. Chalk full of Mayan and Aztec symbols, you’ll see glimpses of a culture she’s proud of. There is a vibrant piece on 17th Street and Indian School, and it’s all her.

Costello calls this mural esperanza or hope. One of her hopes is to paint, draw, and create on whatever surface she can get her hands on, and to watch her use a brush is mesmerizing. “These are the fruits that the nopalas give, so this is kind of symbolic of being resilient but also paying homage to the things that nourish us,” she said. Costello has been painting since she was a child, but it was just a hobby until 12 years ago.

“Being an artist, you tend to make things that you like, and you tend to speak to your own experiences, and when other people can relate to that it’s really gratifying. So it’s, you know, I’m really lucky,” said Costello. “I said, it’s now or never. This is my full-time passion. So, this needs to be my full-time career.”

Leaving the corporate world behind wasn’t easy, but Costello said it was a road she could no longer resist. Costello is self-taught with a taste for acrylic. She uses are to express her culture, something that is ingrained in her soul. Hispanic culture can be described as colorful and spirited, and nothing speaks to that louder than her vibrant artwork.

“We were surrounded with beautiful desert scenery, the colors, just the colors of the mountains, the foliage and everything else, the bougainvilleas and our food- red enchiladas,” Costello said. “Sacred hearts. Luchadores. I use a lot of Aztec and Mayan symbolism. Things that relate to memories, spirituality, love, to everything that all of us as human beings experience.”

Some say her pieces are reminiscent of Frida Kahlo. It’s moving work that dances with color enough to get the attention of countless suitors in Arizona and beyond. Costello has had more exhibits than you could count.

“It’s a little surreal and it’s even a little mind-blowing when people compliment your work,” Costello said. Most recently, she is the name behind the new look of the Arizona Lottery ticket. She’s also part of the intricate public art coming to the Valley Metro light rail on Central & Roeser. Costello said that in this part of town you will soon see depictions of luminarias that will be 12 feet tall. The plan is for the art to be lit up for passengers and passers-by to enjoy.

From humble beginnings, and still humble today, Costello describes herself as a “messy” artist. That’s her charm. “I like to get all hands in and I like to get a little bit sloppy about it. But I think that’s part of the creative process, and that’s what’s fun about it for me, just letting loose,” she said. “So, you just get in there and you’re hot, and you’re sweaty and it’s the best thing in the world.”

She said she chalks up all of the credit to her Mexican heritage and her abuelita. While growing up in the small mining town of Superior, she said the full of characters she met are people she still draw from today. It’s the life of an artist she embraces with her full heart.

“It’s just in your blood, and you have to get that creativity out. It’s your own self-therapy,” Costello said. “It’s a way to express yourself.”