Pilsen-based artist Sentrock has turned his love of street art into community building

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ELMHURST, Ill. (CBS) — During Hispanic Heritage Month, CBS 2 features a Pilsen artist whose career began with a spray paint can.

As a Mexican-American, he told us his life symbolizes the American dream, a dream he wants to help others achieve.

CBS 2’s Albert Ramon met him at his new exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

Joseph Perez, or Sentrock, talks a lot about “freedom”. He feels it when he creates and wants you to feel it when you see his art.

“It’s the idea of ​​someone who wants their freedom back,” he said.

Perez showed off what he called his “flagship character,” Bird City Saint, a little boy wearing a superhero mask. Its purpose is to do good.

“When this little boy, my character, puts on the bird mask, he finds his freedom, his voice, his true self,” he said.

Sentrock said he discovered his true self the first time he saw graffiti as a teenager.

“I had never been to an art museum,” he said. “So for me, the museum was the graffiti you saw outside in the alleys and old abandoned buildings, so when I saw that, I fell in love with it.”

When he tried it himself, he got in trouble, but his mom turned things around.

“I was suspended from school for exploring my artistic voice,” Perez said. “My mother was [like,] “If that’s the path you want to go, that’s something you really want to do, let’s try to develop it.” So she bought me boards and cans and brushes and let me do my thing in the garden. I think that’s what really helped me stay on the positive path.”

This path led to the “street art” that builds the community today. It started with murals that caught the attention of social media fans and then gallery owners and museums.

But Sentrock said it’s authenticity, not fame, that drives him forward.

“For me, street art is the idea of ​​giving back to people on the street, to ordinary people,” he said. “It’s just constant communication with the viewer and the artist.”

But above all, Perez is a family man. CBS 2 was with him as he walked his wife Summer and one-year-old son Santos around the exhibit.

“When he gets older, hopefully he can look back and realize that platforms and places like this are for him,” Perez said. “I felt like things like that weren’t for me growing up…I want him to know that your voice matters and who you are matters.”

Sentrock also mentors young artists, helping them find their voice. Those interested can view his exhibition “The Boy Who Wanted to Fly” at the Elmhurst Art Museum until January 15.

And CBS 2 asked Perez for his artist name. He said he took on the nickname “Sentrock” when he was a teenager, after getting in trouble for spray painting graffiti.

A friend told him that it was not a good idea to keep signing his work with his real name.

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