NJ artist says embracing his identity helped open his creativity

A New Jersey artist who once struggled to express himself has discovered the link between art and identity and found his voice in the process.
Artist Marlon Davila drew inspiration from the early years of the modern gay rights movement.
“This is Marsha P. Johnson and I use this as a reference,” Davila says.
Johnson was a gender nonconforming gay artist in the late 1960s who was from Elizabeth.
Davila wants people to know Johnson’s story. But the Edison resident has his own story to reveal through his surrealist paintings. He is now able to create them after years of holding back.
“By suppressing my identity, I was also suppressing my creativity,” Davila says.
When Davila embraced being gay in his early 30s, and shared more of his life with those around him, he says that it opened his world artistically.
He says that he would tell his younger self “to not give up. That it gets better if you start appreciating and loving yourself and taking care of yourself.”
Davila is a muralist. A mural of his in Princeton features a tree and butterflies, symbolizing growth and migration within the community. He was commissioned to create another one using a shipping container in Bordentown.
Davila’s studio is lined with much of his artwork, some of which is rooted in his Guatemalan heritage. But all are connected to having a free and open spirit.
“Art is unlimited. There’s no boundaries. So with are you cannot be in a box. There’s no limitations with art,” he says. “That’s what I love the most, because, with art, I can be anything and everything I want to create.”
Davila has also designed a Pride Month-themed mural that is now up in Newark's Ironbound neighborhood.