In the heart of downtown Riverside, Martin Sanchez has built a folk art shrine out of trash on the grounds of where his home and Mexican restaurant are both located.
At Tio’s Tacos, Martin Sanchez takes recycling to great creative heights–both literal and figurative.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Trike embedded walkway.
Bottle Wall Magic
Riverside hasn’t always appreciated his singular, ever-evolving vision, but Sanchez and his shrine are slowly earning respect.
Part Watts Towers, part Gaudi fantasia, every turn throughout Sanchez’s vast property reveals some eccentric, eclectic assemblage.
Completely untrained as an artist, he tackles paint and plaster, wire and stone and found items with equal abandon, equal native and visionary skill.
Sanchez credits childhood poverty as the main inspiration for his art. He never had toys as a child; he would tie two small batteries together to make a gas station for the twigs he drove around the sand.
When he first came to America from the Michoacan village of Sahuayo in 1984, Sanchez couldn’t believe what people would throw away–beds, clothes, electronics.
He often doesn’t know why he’s collecting certain items, but then an idea will reveal itself and he’ll be off and running, filling a 20 foot-tall wire figure with two years-worth of cans.
As a new immigrant, Sanchez sold oranges on freeway ramps; later, he hawked peanuts and ice cream at the park before he bought a hot dog cart in 1989 and began to sell tacos outside of Tio’s.
He rented the place in 1990; in 1995, he bought the restaurant and the clapboard house next door, which became his family home.
In 2000, he purchased the adjacent parking lot and house, currently used for storage and a gift shop.
Now the Tio’s complex fills almost the entire city block, his creations filling nearly every foot of it, including the roofs and the tops of palm trees. All of Sanchez’s art materials are either found or recycled.
The bottles and oyster shells come directly from the restaurant.
The granite tile is made of countertop remnants; Sanchez collected scraps once a week for a year, building a mountain of gleaming stone that he breaks up for his mosaics.
Customers will sometimes bring their cast-off items, and he finds ways to work them into his vision.
His family helps with the bigger projects, and even though his girls occasionally come home from school to find their toys encased in concrete, they are happy to be part of their dad’s enterprise, and look forward to keeping Tio’s going for generations.
Tio’s pays homage to both Sanchez’s hometown and his current Riverside home; a mural depicts his Michoacan village in great detail, and large concrete figures–one with a huge Aztec headdress–nod to Sahuayo’s annual parade of saints.
There’s “Pueblo de Justicia”–Sanchez’s concrete-and-beer-bottle take on a “modern pyramid” inspired after a trip to Cancun. The name refers to the legal battles he faced from Building and Safety, who took him to court, saying his property was full of junk; he represented himself and won.
The crown jewel of Tio’s may be the chapel Sanchez built out of multi-colored bottles and other recycled materials as a gift to his wife, Concepcion. Consecrated by the Catholic Church, the chapel has water springing from its walls and a ceiling painted like a miniature Sistine. Light filters through the bottles, creating a stained glass effect; people have used the small chapel for weddings, quinceaneras, graduations, and private contemplation.
Security camera warning signs are found throughout the property including inside the chapel. Jesus.
The chapel is rather divine…
…even on the outside. While Sanchez finds his work divinely inspired, his art is often earthy, even bawdy.
One topiary woman has giant breasts (and what’s that between his legs?)…
…and two life-sized anatomically-correct figures made of recycled materials have been turned into fountains, water coursing out from between their legs (the man’s from a faucet with hot and cold knobs; the woman’s from a Barbie fastened to her pelvis; the woman also lactates into a basin.) No drinkie please!
The whole garden features an energizing mix of the sacred and the profane, the reverent and the hilarious.
There’s Bush pulling a cart being driven by animals…
…life size Mexican wrestlers facing off in the garden…
…and taxidermied buffalo heads made of pillows and sponges.
When he’s older and doesn’t have the energy to do the physical work his art requires…
…he wants to write a self-help book for young people who have dreams but don’t know how to make them real. Part of the secret, he says, is to do what makes you happy, and to be grateful, even for setbacks.
The Adorable Snowman
Tacos & Spinach
Caps & Lids
Mom & Dad
BioSign…It’s an international destination.
So if you’re ever in the Riverside area and are craving some average SoCal fast casual Mexican food with a side of Folk Art, you know where to go: Tio’s Tacos and Centro de Frutas Naturales @ 3948 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, CA.