Who is Mr B Baby? Meet the artist behind some of San Diego’s best murals
Chula Vista’s Michelle Guerrero connects cultures through art
There’s a slight sense of dread as we traverse the train tracks on the way to Michelle Guerrero’s mural, as if at any moment a train will come along and we will all have to run for our lives.
Sure, the tracks are no longer functional, disheveled and overgrown with native weeds and wildflowers, but passersby, many of them on bikes on the adjacent Chula Vista Bayshore Bikeway, give our group strange looks as if we’re breaking some kind of law but not sure which.
“We can go in through that hole in the fence,” says Guerrero, pointing out a barely large enough hole in the chainlink barrier between the bike path and the tracks. “I swear I didn’t make that. It was here before the mural.”
The mural on the other side of the fence is massive and vibrant. Titled “Primitive Art,” it consists of three dozen multicultural masks that Guerrero, a Chula Vista native who goes by the name Mr B Baby, says are meant to convey how all cultures are “connected through art.”
“It’s all different cultures and that’s why I put that here, because it’s inclusive of as many cultures as I could get down,” says Guerrero, who was originally inspired by her own mask collection in her apartment.
“What I like about it is that they’re all very different cultures, but they all have a mask,” Guerrero continues. “But they still look cohesive and beautiful together.”
‘Through brokenness comes growth’
Just a few hours before walking along the train tracks, we were near the border, looking at “Quetzalcoatl Falls in Love with the Moon,” a mural Guerrero painted on the side of the El Rincón restaurant in San Ysidro. In it, two of Guerrero’s recurring characters — a Mexican-style María rag doll and a cute beast known as “Chucho” — are both riding on the back of a flying dragon prominent in Mesoamerican mythology.
“The doll is kind of representative of my inner child and also a representation of my daughter,” says Guerrero, whose family is Mexican and Puerto Rican. “And Chucho, he’s a piñata. Piñatas originated in China and they were hauled over to the garden and broken so the seeds inside the piñata would grow. I like that idea. Through brokenness comes growth, because that’s kind of my story. I went through a lot of things to get where I’m at right now.”
Chucho, and Guerrero’s murals in general, are emblematic of her artistic spirit in more ways than one. From her humble beginnings as a hustling street artist to becoming one of the most hard-working and recognizable muralists in the San Diego scene, her drive and motivation seem endless despite the physical toll the job takes on her body.
Her hustle has paid dividends.
Guerrero’s first “wow” moment, or when she realized she could make a living as a full-time artist, was when she began to get unsolicited offers to paint murals. She says she often had to turn down many of these commissions because she was still working at a teaching job. She eventually decided to quit, but a few weeks later she was in a car accident. Rather than taking it as a sign that she should return to full-time work, she says she decided to lean into it and devote herself to her art.
“I just started to put myself out there as much as I could to not only get the work and get my bills paid,” says Guerrero. “But it wasn’t until recently that I realized I could make a cool living off of it.”
She’s also mastered the power of social media to bring attention to her work. She consistently updates her Instagram (@mrbbaby is now at nearly 25,000 followers) with stories and posts about her process, her travels and where a new mural has popped up. What’s more, she does this while somehow remaining authentic and not coming across as too self-promotional.
“It’s something you learn along the way,” Guerrero says. “When I started, I didn’t know anything about business or marketing, so I just got thrown into it and figured it out.”
All about Chucho
Her Chucho character has also taken on a life of his own. Guererro originally wanted to design Chucho as a “Latin wolf” for a children’s book that reinterpreted classic fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood” through the lens of Latin culture, but he has has since evolved into a mischievous character who can be seen doing everything from riding dragons to playing dice next to a lowrider car. He’s become so popular that Guererro now offers Chucho plush toys and has a full-body costume. She’s even designing a Candy Land-style board game based on the character.
“I sent for that costume to get made and it was totally a late-night decision,” says Guerrero. “I was like, ‘hey, that’s a good idea,’ and I just ordered it and forgot about it. It’s so hot in there.”
We end our tour at a giant, untitled mural on the side of a storage facility in Barrio Logan. In addition to its size and vibrancy, the mural has a hopeful quality to it. Guerrero opens up more, and talks candidly about her struggles with anxiety, not to mention being a single mother and her past struggles with addiction.
She also mentions how she originally took the Mr B Baby — a play on words meaning “Michelle Ruby Brown Baby” — as something of a lark, and that people often thought she was a male artist because of the “Mr” moniker. She says it initially worked for her, because she feared that she wouldn’t get the same respect or job opportunities if people knew she was a woman.
“I never started painting murals when I was young, because I was so fearful of being judged,” Guerrero says. “It wasn’t until I became an adult and I realize now it was a disservice to try to make people think I was a man. Now, I want them to know I’m a woman.”
She adds that she wants to be a model for young women who are thinking about doing art and might be dissuaded by a still very patriarchal scene. She feels she now has a responsibility to younger artists and to serve as an example that there are opportunities if they stick with it.
“I want to create opportunities for others, write grants and want to do more than my own brand,” Guerrero says. “Creating opportunities for the youth is a major one … wherever you’re from, there’s always opportunities. You just have to go find some.”
Aka: Mr B Baby
Birthplace: Chula Vista
Fun fact: While painting a Puerto Rico-inspired mural in New York City, a man approached Guerrero to tell her how excited he was about it. When she moved her ladder so he could get a picture in front of the mural, she knocked over a can of spray paint and it ended up exploding all over him. The man ended up being the son of the famous Puerto Rican bandleader Tito Puente. “He was such a good sport about it even though he was wearing these really expensive-looking shoes that I totally ruined,” says Guerrero.
Combs is a freelance writer.
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