Hollister is more often associated with agriculture and motorcycle rallies than a bustling art scene. However, if you look hard enough while driving throughout the city you might notice a splash of color breaking up the otherwise earth-toned streets.
Adorning the walls of local businesses, and several pieces of city infrastructure, are bold murals depicting visages of everything from local farming and agriculture to memorials honoring our military veterans.
Phillip Orabuena is the Hollister U.S. Postal Service station’s newest Rural Carrier Assistant, and with only three months on the job, he is already making big waves using his painting prowess to engage with his coworkers.
“Coming from the Marines, safety and teamwork are huge for me so I asked my postmaster if I could paint a sign to make sure our carriers come home safe,” Orabuena said with a smile on his face. “I don’t think he expected this.”
Orabuena’s love of painting started long before he ever threw a satchel over his shoulder.
“I’ve been drawing since before I can remember,” the Hollister native said. “When I was a kid, I would send letters to Thrasher magazine and draw all over the envelope hoping they would publish my artwork in the next issue.”
In March 2003, Orabuena started bootcamp with the U.S. Marine Corps, and quickly became known as the “artist recruit” who created small art pieces for his drill instructors. Throughout his military career, he would stencil T-shirts for his company, paint gyms and Officer’s Clubs, and even design tattoos. After spending an extra year in Iraq—beyond the end of his tour—Corporal Orabuena returned home and started planning his next move.
Reacclimating into civilian life after military service is something every veteran goes through. Orabuena, 38, has not only found a home with the U.S. Postal Service; he has used his talent as an artist to honor his time in the military.
“It was 2009, and I had asked the mayor of Hollister if I could paint a veteran’s mural on a city owned retaining wall,” says Orabuena. “Hollister is a small town so there was no public policy yet that dealt with this type of art. The mayor approved my sketches and I got to work. I think that was the beginning of a public art policy in Hollister.”
That retaining wall is located behind the San Benito County Superior Courthouse in downtown Hollister.
There is an unspoken rule amongst street artists and taggers that you don’t paint graffiti over a mural. For most, there is a certain respect for murals and their artists since they most often depict cross-sections of their own community.
“I’ve painted 10 public murals and a few private ones for businesses,” said Orabuena. “I would see a wall that was covered in graffiti and ask the business owner if they wanted me to paint a mural over it. So far, they have all been happy with the result.”
In 2017, Orabuena took on his largest project to date. With the help of the San Benito County Arts Council, Orabuena got permission to paint a second veteran’s mural across the side of the VFW Post 9242 in Hollister. The massive mural, measuring more than 40 feet long and more than 20 feet high, depicts soldiers, vehicles and symbols from every branch of the military.
Most recently, Orabuena has been extending his volunteer efforts to other cities. Having lived his whole life in Hollister, Orabuena recently moved to Los Banos with his wife and daughter. He continues to deliver mail in Hollister for the USPS.
“I am submitting sketches to the city of Los Banos as part of a larger beautification of downtown project,” says Orabuena. “So far everything is moving forward as planned.”
This story was originally published in the WestPac Bulletin, an internal USPS newsletter for the western United States.