Milton Rios is turning mundane scenarios into paintings full of colour and character.

A hectic main street filled with cars, buses and an easily distinguishable bright yellow tico (tiny cab) is disrupted by the unruly crossing of several pedestrians. They slide in between the vehicles and dodge whatever obstacle they encounter. Masks and determination are seen on their faces as they navigate the hectic maze created on the road. Beach umbrellas and old buildings are visible in the background. “The corner of Grau and Abancay Avenue,” comments a man on Milton Rios’ Instagram post consisting of his illustration of this scene. “That’s right,” Rios replies.

 

The 32-year-old Peruvian artist was born in Lima and is the son of two accountants, “the closest thing to an artist in my family was my grandfather Félix,” he says, “a great guitarist who played Limeñan (from Lima) waltzes.” In 2015 he graduated with a degree in graphic design from the Catholic University of Peru, a career he was initially drawn to due to his interest in designing album covers, posters and typography. “I also [liked] the order,” Rios mentions, “whether you are working on an advertising campaign or brand manual you need to follow certain steps to arrive at a result and there is a deadline. I needed that order.” Rios currently works as a full-time graphic designer and as a freelance magazine illustrator. Personal drawing and painting projects are limited to his free time. Rios refers to them as a form of “meditation” and hopes that one day they will be his main source of income. “I am interested in depicting anything that is a pretext to make chaotic and saturated compositions, like city signs and billboards,” Rios says. The world he creates in his free time is full of creatures, both real and fictitious, that live on his Instagram account, through which he introduces new universes one post at a time.

“I don’t talk a lot. I am more into observing and expressing myself through my drawings,” shares Rios. In school, he would draw his teachers and peers, which earned him their respect and esteem, “that stayed with me… through drawing I could be someone and be accepted.” During his childhood he was especially impacted by the Looney Tunes comics and Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, “the simple and geometric lines seduced me immediately. I spent several years drawing knights and dragons and being drawn to the Middle Ages because of that movie.” Years later, during his twenties, he became fascinated by Jack Kirby’s and Robert Crumb comics. Rios also avidly collects fashion and photography magazines. He loves buying older rare issues of these publications, which he finds at the renowned Jirón Quilca — a street located in the centre of Lima famous for selling archival magazines from all around the world. This is reflected in his current work, which features sharply contrasting colours and bold outlines. Naturally, Rios also enjoys creating comics. In December of 2020, he premiered his first comic titled ‘Jureth: Cockroach King’. The sixteen-page comic is described by Rios as a “slightly crazy but entertaining story that talks about preserving the planet’s resources,” on his Instagram account.

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Illustrations by Milton Rios, alongside his self-portrait.

Rios also regularly does live drawing of places he frequents. His paintings document the mundane — such as the inside of a crowded combi (public transport bus) or a sale taking place in a mercado (market) —richly capturing the essence of the individuals portrayed. This gives them the ability to transmit the ambience of the specific time, location and situation depicted. “Nowadays interpreting a landscape is not enough for me. I want to tell a story through the characters,” states Rios. His technique has evolved, it previously consisted solely of documenting, but now he enjoys mixing real scenarios he encounters with fictional elements. He often does this by manipulating his photographs through collaging and then — after several sketches and colour tests — portraying this hybrid of reality and fiction using watercolours. “Running into strangers [in the streets] makes me wonder what they are feeling or going through. That’s how I create the stories [I portray],” Rios tells me. “As long as I have a camera and paintbrushes on hand, I will continue to explore this theme [in my work].”

 

As an artist who pursued an education in Peru, and continues to work within the country, Rios states that the biggest challenge he encountered was staying faithful to his style in a “close-minded market” aimed at an audience that tends to only admire “beauty.” He looks at fellow Peruvian artist Víctor Humareda as a role model, “[he] created a universe of characters and themes that belonged to his day-to-day life [and] nourished himself using his surroundings.”

Currently, Rios is working on creating a comic about a dystopian future set in Lima. One which will bring zombies to the city and excitement to the contemporary Peruvian illustration scene.

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Illustrations by Milton Rios, alongside his comic "Lima Zombie."