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A Rising Star

Illustrator John-Paul Arreaga’s OutSmart Zodiac series is inspired by the lives of queer performers.

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John-Paul Arreaga

Capricorns are supposed to be generally pragmatic, ambitious, and disciplined, although they can also be somewhat stoic and pessimistic. “I don’t follow horoscopes daily,” says artist John-Paul Arreaga, “but I think that description fits me.”

Born on January 18, 1999, this 21-year-old cis gay man is the illustrator for OutSmart’s 2021 horoscopes—an opportunity that came out of the blue last year. “It was a shock,” he says. “The magazine reached out to me; I’ve never done magazine work before.”

Born and raised in Houston, Arreaga lives with his mother, stepfather, and younger brother near Garden Oaks. He was the fifth child in a family of six kids, and when he came out at age 14, he says his oldest brother, who is also gay, was a big help to him. In fact, his entire family was very supportive.

“They were like, ‘We already knew!’” he says.

Attracted to art at an early age, Arreaga attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), where he studied drawing, painting, and costuming. After graduating in 2018, Arreaga applied to a couple of art schools but wasn’t selected. He found a day job in 2019 that lasted until 2020 happened.

Illustrations by John-Paul Arreaga

For the past year, Arreaga has been able to live off of commissions from illustrations, which he primarily displays on social media. The work reveals his love for pop culture and its celebrities through the use of bold colors and erratic and jarring details. His unique style stems from his fascination with childhood cartoons and the lives of queer artists and performers.

Arreaga’s illustrations of notable drag queens were featured on The Art of Being Queer blog in February 2020. In fact, after doing some drag himself at HSPVA, he looks forward to doing more when the pandemic is over and the drag clubs reopen. “I really miss the drag scene. The clubs are very exciting,” Arreaga says.

He also misses going out with his family for dinner, like they did last year for his 21st birthday at Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe in the Heights. (He calls that popular eatery “the pink place” because he says the actual name is too hard to pronounce.)

“We had a big party there, and I wore my stilettos!” he recalls. “I have a lot of good family memories from there, and I can’t wait until we can all go back again.”

Otherwise, Arreaga has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic well by working on his art at home. He’s particularly happy about the OutSmart commission, which he admits has pushed him to create more.

“My horoscope illustrations are hand-drawn with color pencils and Sharpies, with bold colors [to accent the] black-and-white images,” he explains.

As a young bachelor, Arreaga mainly hangs out with his dog, Dudley—who he says is kind of dumb. “But that’s okay, I love him anyway.” The budding artist is looking forward to receiving more commissions in 2021, in addition to diving back into Houston’s thriving drag scene.

Follow John-Paul Arreaga on Instagram @johnnyxpolly.

This article appears in the January 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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