Frame of Mind: Jimmy Peña - The Bend Magazine

Frame of Mind: Jimmy Peña

Inside the mind and visual world of multimedia K Space artist, Jimmy Peña.

photo of Jimmy Peña, K Space Corpus Christi artist

Jimmy Peña photographed in his K Space studio | Photography by Matthew Meza

It’s fair to say Jimmy Peña’s artistic talents are intrinsic. Instead of humming along to the music on the radio, a 2-year-old Peña, sitting in the backseat of his parents’ car, painted a picture in his mind. He remembers Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” blaring through the speakers: “I saw this image in my mind. To me, ‘La Bamba’ wasn’t a song, it was these two elongated shapes interacting with each other — one red, one green — and they were on a checkerboard floor, dancing around.” Decades later, Peña would revisit his first memory of “art” as a concept and painted the very composition he imagined that day in the car. 

A self-taught artist, Peña dropped out of high school and joined the Army. While serving, he talked his way into painting murals — one of his favorite mediums — at his duty stations in Gunzburg, Germany, and Junction City, Kansas. After three years as a radio operator, he moved back to Corpus Christi, taking a bellman job at a hotel downtown. 

In 1991, he took a painting gig at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History, where he met Raychelle Schaudies. Four years later, Schaudies called Peña to share the news that she and her husband Erick had established a community art space, K Space Art Studios, and she wanted him to come by. The rest, as they say, was history. 

“So much has happened to me because of this place. I owe everything to this studio and the people here,” Peña said. “These people have inspired me countless times. I got my education through them — just watching and talking with them.” 

He speaks about K Space in a way that paints it as a safe haven for people who feel underrepresented or cast out. “We support each other,” he continued. “We respect each other and we don’t censor anyone. We aren’t afraid of showing people’s truths, and to me, that is what art is about.” 

Much of Peña’s work features political undertones and themes of an unjust world. Perhaps partially inspired by his time spent in the Army, Peña isn’t necessarily interested in making “beautiful things.” Instead, regardless of medium, he is more interested in unearthing the sometimes harsh realities of life and using that as inspiration. “The ideas are out there in the universe, like ripe fruit,” he said. “You just have to look for them and pick the one you want.” 

When starting a new piece, it isn’t about technique or medium for Peña, it’s about the story. As he shows off the piece he is currently working on, before he even mentions the materials used, he begins to share the narrative. Not the narrative he hopes to convey to the onlooker — that’s not on him to decide for others — but the story he uses to guide the direction of the piece. This is an integral part of Peña’s process. Though he’s dabbled in a variety of mediums from mixed media to acrylic on canvas and beyond, charcoal on wood is his bread and butter. Akin to discovering secrets hidden in the wood, he described this medium as one that always keeps him on his toes.

There is always something deeper hidden within the grain. That’s where I find the narrative that will act as a guiding light for the rest of the piece,” he said. “I start with an idea and it typically doesn’t go as planned; it diverts to something else, something unexpected, and I like that even more.” 

Peña’s most recent contribution to downtown street art is the mural titled “I Saw Diego at the Washateria.” The idea came to him when he and his wife were at the laundromat. On a smoke break outside, Peña noticed a faded, hand-painted advertisement on the side of the building. “I thought to myself, ‘What if Diego Rivera came to do his laundry here? What might that look like?’” An image slowly began to take shape in his mind. Four years later, K Space Contemporary’s Summer Mural Arts Program was looking for a design to inspire its 2023 summer mural, and Peña’s composition was finally brought to life. 

An integral piece of Peña’s story is his rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis in 1988 while he was still a bellman. “The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” he said. But continuing to create was crucial for him and over three decades later, he firmly believes his craft saved him. It’s given him a reason to keep going, and in turn, art has served as his most reliable medicine. 

“Something that slowly occurred to me is that if I didn’t have this studio space as a reason to get out of bed in the mornings, my arthritis probably would have gotten worse,” Peña said. “I’ve taken so many medications and have had all these different treatments over the years, but the drive I have to come up here every day and work on my art, that really has saved my life.”


Next up in the “Frame of Mind” feature is Leticia “Letty” Gomez