What's Up South Texas!: Graffiti artist transforms dark past into inspirational art for others

SAN ANTONIO – A graffiti artist who is a recovering alcoholic has turned the dark times in his life in a beautiful canvas.

Michael Arguello said drawing has always been a part of his story.

“Me and my older brother would always draw. It didn’t matter where we went,” said Arguello. “We always had a sketchbook or (were) drawing on napkins at restaurants.”

He said his mother later realized his gift and began paying for art classes for him.

“Unfortunately, I was kind of a troublemaker, so that didn’t last too long,” said Arguello. “I just couldn’t stop butting heads with the instructors.”

That trouble continued as he got older.

“During high school, that is when I started getting a little rebellious, and my parents had gotten divorced at this time so it was real easy for me to skip school and run off and do whatever I wanted to do,” said Arguello.

Drinking at a young age was Arguello's biggest problem, and he did drugs at the same time. He later dropped out of high school and got his General Education Development diploma. His problems, however, grew.

“I was still managing to draw, and I would smoke a lot of weed and draw, like a lot,” said Arguello. “Drawing got to where it was an escape because I am sitting there in my room with a whole bunch of beer cans behind me and I am drawing some kind of scene and I was just focusing on that and didn’t worry about anything else.”

As he continued to drink, his art never stopped.

“It went from smaller canvases to bigger canvasses and then canvases went to smaller walls to bigger and bigger walls,” said Arguello.

He continued to get into trouble.

“From the age of 18 to like 27, life was kind of a blur,” said Arguello. “I just did excessive drug use and alcohol and wrecking cars and causing havoc. I caused a lot of stress on my mom.”

He said he got his first and only DWI when he was 21, and that was when he started seeking help.

“I ended up going to treatment centers -- I’ve been to four laughter," Arguello said, laughing. "Don’t give up!”

Unfortunately, when Arguello l found out he was expecting a child from his now ex-girlfriend, he hit rock bottom.

“I was just trying not to have a child,” said Arguello. “I was scared because I couldn’t even take care of my own life. I didn’t have a job. I was staying with my mom. I was just super scared, because I knew where I was at and I wasn’t fit to be a father. So I just started throwing them back more and more because somehow, I thought that would make it better.”

Arguello tried overdosing, which landed him in the hospital.

“I just remember bawling my eyes out and screaming and praying and praying and saying I didn’t know what to do and that I just don’t want to be here anymore,” said Arguello. “I completely lost it. I had no hope. That makes you willing to do anything to not be that way.”

Already diagnosed with bipolar disorder and constantly falling into depression, Arguello knew he had to do something. He said his life began to change when he saw his baby girl for the first time.

“I was in a rocky relationship, but I was there during the whole pregnancy,” said Arguello. “I was there, and the doctor lifted Logan over the little curtain, and I was, like, super happy. I remember I was crying, but in my head I was thinking, ‘Dang, I really hope she doesn’t go through the stuff I went through.’ You just never know.”

He said he started recapping the things he put his family through.

“I was just thinking, ‘I totally understand what they went through,’” said Arguello. “Seeing their son coming home so drunk and falling down and hitting the coffee table and throwing up all over the place. Them having to call EMS for me. I just couldn’t imagine seeing Logan like that.”

Arguello's mom helped check him into another treatment center when Logan was three months old. She was 7 months old when he got out, and now he has been sober ever since for 13 months.

“I just knew I had to (do) whatever it took to separate myself from alcohol,” said Arguello. “When you are an alcoholic, there is no one out there that can make you stop. Not your mom, not your daughter, nobody. You have to want to do it for yourself.”

Now, Arguello shares his story with others going through what he went through in life, all the while continuing to inspire others through his art.

“I think everyone needs to see that dark side to appreciate being at a better spot and being at some place where you can look back and say, ‘I can’t believe I went through that.’”

Arguello, who still paints at different events and who is also a full-time graphic designer, is also involved in the San Antonio Street Art Initiative. The group’s latest project involved artists from all over, painting pillars under a bridge. Arguello’s pillar is dedicated to daughter, who will soon be 2 years old.

“Everyone has a story,” said Arguello. “I felt that this is a certain narrative of the dreams and aspirations a person can have. Starting off as a kid, you have a clean slate. So me conveying different stages of my daughter’s life shows anything is possible. The little girl seen on one side of the pillar represents a child drawing on the wall random things. The next side you see a ballerina. That little girl maybe is imagining herself as a ballerina when she is older. Then the next side is graduation, which is something I never did, but something that she will be able to do. She is walking off into the distance, where her life is a mystery. Then there’s her as an astronaut. It is space and no one knows what is out there. So it is a cool way of saying there is no limit of what you want to do.”

Arguello said though he has really dark times in his life and though he still struggles every once in a while, he doesn’t regret the labels of his past.

“I don’t regret being a dropout,” said Arguello. “I don’t regret being an alcoholic. I don’t regret any of those things, because they are a part of my story and are the things that make me the man I am today. When I meet people and speak to people in the community, I can relate to those who are struggling with things that I used to struggle with and hopefully show them that anything is possible.”

He said he wants his little girl’s story to be better than his story, but he wants her to understand that the outcome of a person may be different from who they were in the beginning.

“I want to explain to her it doesn’t matter where we came from, it is how you can flip and use that to benefit other people,” said Arguello. “Even though there is a lot of dark stuff in our world and we go through dark stuff, those images can be just as beautiful as going through happiness. I don’t think anybody is lesser than or greater than anybody else out there. The best way of proving someone wrong is being successful at whatever you want to be successful at.”

If you know someone like Michael who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.