Category Archives: comrade’s commentary

La Galleria: couchtime.

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Well, fancy meeting you here.

It occurred to me while I was laboring about in the shop earlier that my last actual blog update wasn’t only months ago, but that it also had that flat, resonant smack-thud that one expects to hear after a particularly painful belly-flop… the sort of sound that suggests pain on a number of levels, and which has a knack for hanging heavily on the air long after the cause has sunk out of sight.

In artistic circles , this sound often has a bit of a tinny, mortal resonance to it, as well. It’s like a death rattle: the push started by a setback takes hold, and real-life rot “sets in.” It’s a dirty little reality when it comes to the online life cycle of the creative spirit, and one that I’ve admittedly been felled by on too many occasions over the years to properly count.

But not this time.

Actually, I’m happy to report that the last two months have been anything but maudlin. Despite the crushing setbacks of the Valentine’s Day face-plant, I’ve actually found new footing and have been—shockingly enough—teaching myself how to dabble in real papier mache’, stumbling along clumsily in the footfalls of Mexico’s real bonesmiths and their traditional techniques. It hasn’t hardened into anything that I’d claim to be proud of as of yet, but making a mess and slathering bandages onto tinfoil molds while liberally applying layers and layers of thickening paper-caulk is shockingly… therapeutic.

I also managed to make it down to Mexico proper for the first time in 24 years, courtesy of Princess Cruises. The sum of that insanity can be seen here, and while it was hardly an opportunity to simmer in the rich stew of the national culture, it did steel my resolve to get back down to Cozumel for a real trip in the coming year.

And, to finally get down to something resembling brass tacks, I’ve actually been putting the pedal down with new work. The thinnest threads of Spring are starting to take hold up here in Seattle, which means that the sun’s out again: after the dulled and deadened half-days of winter, seeing this makes Jack one hell of a happy lad. So much so that I pulled duty on a celebratory project for mi novia, in recognition of her recently being hired as an EAP queenpin for one of the local Native tribal offices: one that I simply find myself referring to as “couchtime.”

AT3

Now, for an admission: prior to this piece, I had never sculpted Frida. I had never wanted to sculpt Frida. I had pretty much resigned myself to openly refusing to ever sculpt Frida, based on the simple precept that—for most Anglo artists looking to flounder around in the pool of muerte arts—Frida representations are like the shortest and laziest line between two distinct points. Typically, the transaction which commences from Frida art in these circles resembles the following formula:

(A)rtist recognizes the identifiability of Frida

(B)asic product is conceived, typically involving a t-shirt or postcard.

(C)ustomer sees Frida, draws vague connections from the Salma Hayek movie or something they might have read, and makes purchase accordingly.

A + B + C = 0. It’s like having a Che poster in your dormroom; save for a very choice slice of society which actually knows its shit and can tell you something legitimate about the subject matter, it’s just a corn-fried stab at marketing the exotic on its own merits… or, more accurately, the most base and shallow versions of them.

(Christ: I’m back for five minutes, and already ruthlessly pontificating. Anyways. Back to magnetic north, here…)

i know, i know. sorry.

i know, i know. sorry.

 

So, there’s all that. But when I asked my wife what she’d want to adorn her new office with, the answer was immediate:

“Me, counseling Frida Kahlo. (beat) No. No, no. Frida, counseling ME.”

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ms. comrade’s, mi gloria.

ports

comrade and comrade’s sister, ever-looming over any and all efforts to have a normal day.

shoes

and THESE. my god, these.
http://whatamistilldoingincancun.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Frida-Kahlo-shoes.jpg

Never one to question too fine a notion, that’s exactly what she got. It wasn’t until I’d finished putting the last decorative touches on it that I realized just how much the end result resembled this gem, but that’s also hardly the first time that I’ve found myself tango-ing along with Tamra’s own catalogue of master works: when you’re tuned into it, muerte art tends to manifest itself in an oddly uniform fashion.

Weather permitting, I should have another two or three new entries in the Loterias line finished by the end of the month: the Etsy store is looking particularly drab and cobwebby these days, which means it’s a damn good time to deck the shelves anew.

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Flores, Corazones y Angustia

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I’d had it in my head to put off this update until January 26th, which—as luck and love and all things related to the artistic divide—marked the beginning of The Folk Tree’s annual “Hearts and Flowers” exhibit. Following the well-documented demolition derby that had occurred with my showings back in October, I’d effectively spent the last six weeks working my way through a brand new bag of workbench tricks: the great polymer clay disaster of 2012, the gradual exchange of conventional modeling glues for the molecular bonding power of E6000 epoxy, and figuring out a way to fend off the damp miseries of the Seattle winter-spring stretch for the sake of sealing and priming pieces-in-progress.

Ultimately, it was time well spent. The constant start-stop was sometimes agonizing (with our townhome playing host to a toxic soup of plasticky stenches on an almost weekly basis), and I wound up paring down my list of potential submissions to H+F from three candidates to one single, focal diorama; I busted out my jigsaw and wood-forms for the first time in a good seven years. It was by far and away the slowest preparation of a show-quality calaca that I’ve ever engaged in, but—when the fumes cleared and the paint dried—I was really proud of the end result.

tunel1

tunel3

tunel4

tunel2

 

Or, I was. Or would have been. Riding a wingding high of accomplishment—and receiving news that our coffin-riding love-monkeys had arrived in California with a minimum of USPS-provoked damage—I took a week off, cracked that ’26 Krug and began to entertain notions of the next deluxe undertaking, back-patting like my name had been legally changed to Barry Horowitz and fencing off sugarplum visions of what I’d be banging out for an encore.

Or, again, was. Or, again, would have been. Up until the point wherein I got an e-mail from the lovely Gail Mishkin—show-runner and linchpin of The Folk Tree’s exhibition schedule—which regretted to inform me that the Tunel del Amor Eterno had apparently begun to spontaneously disintegrate while being kept in pre-exhibition storage.  Whether by some unforeseen cocktail of disagreeing chemicals or the presence of a goddamned pissed-off poltergeist, the piece’s paint had actually started to lift off of its polymer clay bones, and a bunch of cracks were now visible in the characters’ limbs and the coffin construction.

Why? How? I have absolutely no clue. Which is ultimately why the whole thing is so heartsickening. I can deal with the postman using a box for punting practice or a calaca losing its head due to poor packing techniques, but to go so far and to fall so fast for no apparent reason at all… man-oh-man.

Despite six weeks of meticulous attention and experimentation, despite apparently making it to Pasadena without having imploded in transit, and despite the bloody vow I made after witnessing the totally crap state of the submissions that I turned into the Dia de los Muertos exhibit three-some months ago, it wound up being totally junked. So much so that I just tossed in the rag and informed Gail that my sister would be coming by to pick up the piece; an essential mercy-killing of the ego, and an effort to spare her and her awesome compatriots from having to show off another high-concept, shit-execution mess of a show piece.

So, what’s following now is the usual six-chamber routine that we artists tend to go through, at times like these:

Boom! Anger. Because it’s not fair.

Pow! Humiliation. Because this sucks.

Zap! Self-Loathing. Because I suck.

Bort! Phony optimism. Because tomorrow is another day!!!!!!!!!!

Shablow! Blogging about it. Because my wife and sister are awesome at talking me down off of the ledge, but sometimes a man needs to run naked and furious around his own e-yard.

I wouldn’t qualify this as being a swandive into steely resolve just yet, but as the day winds down and the knots starts to untie themselves, I’m at least at a point where I can mask the frustration with a bit of bush-league philosophy: to boot, that being that one of the greatest trespasses that an artist can make against themselves is the notion that one’s ever really in control of their art.

Buying into that undermines the whole purpose, really. We do this because it’s irrational and chaotic: we thrive on taking two steps forward, then promptly face-planting the next time we’re given a chance to push at our own edges and boundaries. It’s that thrill of spitting mud and blood and then trumping what tripped us that makes us—kettle drum roll, please—artists.

So, there’s that. I’m reneging on my earlier pledges to never set my hands to sculpting (nobody was around to hear it—though with the profanity cleaned up, it really wasn’t much of a sentence or coherent vow), and will be back at the bench by tomorrow afternoon: not because I want to be—at least not at the moment—but because it’s where I gotta be.

Comrade’s Loterias Number Twenty-Two: El Dualismo

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As I’ve touched on through the course of my recent bloggeral, there are few things more ridiculously corrosive to the creative spirit than a Seattle winter. It’s a time of year for recoiling inward, spelled out by an occasional “death would be pretty favorable to this good shit”-class of migraine and the annual rusting of my joints, wherein every injury I’ve stacked up over years of athletics and working for UPS announce, quite proudly, that they’ll be staying over until mid-May.

The cold and the lack of light also put a cramp in your brain, as well as the logistics of all those artisan-related routines that you take for granted: something as simple as figuring out how to apply a generous slop-dollop of e6000 without giving yourself leukemia (Seriously: have you ever SEEN the label on this thing?! How is it even legal to sell in this country? I have a feeling that yellow cake uranium would register with less alarming rhetoric on the “hazmat warning” scale than this crud…) or finding a spot that can be used to dry out primer without asphyxiating everybody in our complex suddenly provides the basis for enough folly to fill an entire afternoon.

Case in point: the foolhardy foray into polymer clay that I outlined in my last blog entry. For those with weary thumbs and short attention spans, the fruits of said labor were a townhome that wound up reeking like a disaster at the local Dupont factory and the following:

 

clackclackclack i have no legs clackclackclack

clackclackclack i have no legs clackclackclack

Of course, my compulsive refusal to waste materials wouldn’t simply let things lay in state, though I had a hell of a time figuring out what I was going to do with a half-burned armature that could barely stand up on its own two feet.

Or not.

I mean, I am—above all things relating to love, life, and the pursuit of happiness—a proud and furious member of the nerd culture. And after the Sculpey fumes cleared and my eyesight returned, the answer really sort of wrapped itself up neatly in a two-toned bow, and there was only one damn thing to do with the result:

harvey4

“At last we meet… face. To face. To face.” 

 

I’ve been saving a long-germinating editorial on the problem with relying too heavily on pop-themed sculpts for a rainy day, but the basic crib-notes version is as follows: they’re something that people absolutely love, which gains web hits and DeviantArt adulation and Etsy “Circles,” but which hardly ever sell. I love making them for the fun of it, but do so while fighting with this notion about it being a cheap “gimme” in terms of actually furthering the state of the muerte arts: the appeal isn’t based on the quality of the work or its authenticity in regards to calavera culture, but rather on the “HEY, I COMBINED THIS STUFF WITH SOMETHING THAT YOU ALREADY LIKE!” snakeoil method.

 

harvey2

to the left to the left to the left

harvey3

to the right to the right to the right 

But I also can’t help myself. I know what I like, and—at times as dreary and lifeless as December in the Steel Sky City—I have to indulge myself accordingly, and with the balls-smacked-firmly-and-flatly-to-the-wall detail and adoration that the subject matter merits. I don’t know if this one’s going to wind up being sold or is destined to join Kazuo Kiriyama and Scott Pilgrim on the shelf I’ve reserved for my “much-loved and impossible to even freakin’ GIVE away” works, but… it’s nice to feel that warm grace of inspiration, even during the shortest and darkest days of the year.

The law? Here's the only law, the law of averages. The great equalizer.

The law? Here’s the only law, the law of averages. The great equalizer.

Even if that feeling is technically on layaway, at the moment.

Dia de los Perros: Back in the Lab

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With the cliff in full effect–and the readership for both this blog and the CCFBHQ effectively dropping somewhere in the collective neighborhood of 98.9% in the last four days–I’m getting my shoulder back into the ol’ grindstone, and fighting of the murky malaise of Seattle’s impending winter by going full-tilt boogie into a new set of sculpts. The short-term is to keep my hands busy and my brain in some state of forward movement, while the big picture motives stem from the fact that I’ve been invited to take part in The Folk Tree’s “Hearts and Flowers” show, coming up in February. I really couldn’t have asked for a better kick in the ol’ culo proper than being included in another of their exhibitions, though it once again puts the impetus on hitting the ol’ slab and going back to work on improving the tensile strengths of my materials.

Of and by themselves, the sculpts are built solid enough: my armatures have give, but aren’t too flexible. The figures generally stay put, even years after being run off the line. They’re showroom safe, but–as proven by the USPS’s absolute demolition of my submissions for the FT show in October–are prone to cracks, bending and other unpleasantries while in any kind of extended transit. To frame it with fuzzy math: the more detailed, the more likely they are to get busted up. And as I’m planning some double-wide deluxe stuff for the V-Day jamboree, this is definitely priority one for the foreseeable future.

So, today was all about trying my hand at using polymer clay. Traditionally, I’ve avoided the stuff: it smells, it’s unwieldy, and the prohibitive curing process busts up my sculpting rhythm and “keep both hands a-movin’!” working aesthetic. However, as the work of some of my contemporary bonesmiths can attest to, it’s also fifty times stronger than even the sturdiest air-dry fare, which brings us to… this.

One part Premo Sculpey. One part Sculpey Original. Wended and mashed together with a pasta presser, applied to a standard CC-custom armature and baked for the prerequisite 15 minutes at 275 degrees, proper:

um.

 

So, aside from this being my initial reaction…

… it appears that I’m going to have a busy weekend NOT burning the flippin’ house down. The one upside is that I intended for this body to be nothing but a glorified test case, but–after this little happenstance–I think I know exactly what I’m going to turn it into. Inspiration, even amidst the asphyxiating napalm-stink of fried plastic fibers!

 

How I Spent My Day of the Dead: ddlm ’12.

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If there’s one great tragedy to my life as an artist, then it would have to be the fact that I was born and raised in the quiet shadows that preceded today’s digital filmmaking revolution. I don’t languish too heavily on what never was, but coming from a family of hearty industry folks was a primo motivator to delve awkwardly into the world of film at an early age: an enthusiastic full-bore charge that was squashed neatly by the dueling realities of cost and the steep learning curve that came with fumbling over yards and yards of 8mm celluloid.

In the consequent years, I hopped in and out of the medium through film school, scriptwriting projects and the occasional embarrassing no-budget gambit, but always wound up getting ram-rodded into the same sticking points and hurdles. Cost. Time. Energy. A dyed-in-the-black-wool case of chronic misanthropy that made recruiting actors and ruthless self-promotion a constant uphill battle. In the end, the biggest problem with making a genuine go as a filmmaker was entirely personal in nature—I’m a viciously inhibited person, and that just doesn’t click with the required vernacular—but I still find myself lapsing into the soggy arena of the “what-wouldas,” from time to time.

Anyway, the whole point of this unspooling confessional does have something to do with calacas, though that connection requires six steps back before actually pushing forward. The short of it is that in my civilian life, I teach video production and visual narrative to high schoolers, among other academic dalliances; as such, I’m blessed with a constant whit of inspiration from seeing these kids taking flight with their own creative compulsions, while being frequently laid flat on my ass by how worthless and antiquated my years of “technical experience” are, in comparison to what sort of weapons these students have at their disposal.

For a sobering—if not entirely self-indicting—idea of how this dynamic has worked: I’ve been teaching this stuff for three years, and wound up making my first all-digital short six weeks ago. It took a Herculean effort on the part of my new class (and plenty of verbal noosing, courtesy of how often I’m prone to prattling on about how “good they’ve got it, what with their HD and their smartyphones and their whatnots…”) to get me to even give it a shot, but the end result was… educational, on quite a few levels.

So: when it came to summarizing the three days I spent circulating between muertos-related events in California, I decided to throw my back out with another swing at the same fences. The practicum for this month’s exercise was “motion,” which—as the film below demonstrates—I did what I could with.

 

 

The second half of the video was spent at the ofrenda and birthday celebration for my dearly departed and always-remembered compatriot, Nick Michael Papac. It’s been seven years since his untimely passing, and his parents have held this event dutifully ever since; my sister and I—who were closest to Nick in our pre-teen and teenage years, and who only kept in spotty contact afterward—have been intending to go for quite some time, and finally decided that it was “here and now or never,” in making the trip.

I can’t really convey how happy I am that we were able to attend. To see someone celebrated not only by the people they knew at the time of their unexpected passing—but to also have those in attendance from five, ten, twenty years prior—puts a lot into perspective. This was the first time that I’ve ever contributed to the ofrenda of someone that I knew personally, but it really meant more than simple words can do justice to.

It’s also tough to type about, at the moment. So I’ll leave it here, and spell out the rest on a sunnier day.

Comrade’s Commentary: The Who of It (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I actually wrote this piece about a month ago–while sifting through the mush of what was left of my brain and preparing to book my tickets to California for The Folk Tree’s exhibition–and then promptly forgot about it, in the midst of the hubbubbery of the weeks that followed.

As I don’t really have much profundity left in the tank for today–but would like to light my candles for the occasion, all the same–I’m going to go ahead and let loose with it, sans further revision. I think the point it makes is a sage one, and after having been heartwarmed by the wonderfully invested and encouraging reception in Pasadena (Including the sales of at least three of my featured pieces!), its basic premise ring-a-ding-dongs with a taste of truth. 

Mr. Lou and I have recently been kicking around the great question of artistic identity and credibility in relation to the “muerte arts” in the comments section of this fine blog, with one of the primary nuggets of discussion relating to my recent struggles to find a “resting place” for my work, especially in light of the upcoming holiday. I thought I’d take his kind offer to run with editorial talking-stick and expand on that experience a bit, as well as a few other related scattershot thoughts that I’ve scraped together on the topic.

As I’ve mentioned in my own blog, I’ve been graced with the chance to exhibit my work at The Folk Tree in Pasadena this year, which—for me—is equal parts homecoming, as well as the fulfillment of an artistic mission. For my dollar, there exists no other folk art entity so devoted to the betterment not only of international practitioners of the “dia de los muertos” art form and its numerous peer genres (Oaxacan sculpture, tinsmithing and native Mexican woodworking, for example), and my own interest in the craft can be traced back to the many afternoons that I spent there, wandering the aisles and staring, slack-jawed, at the curios on display*.

So with that duly noted, it may be a bit shocking that The Folk Tree was NOT my first choice, in terms of display queries… though not for the reasons that might immediately come stampeding forth. The blunt fact is that I didn’t think my work was good enough to sit alongside shelves reserved for the ofrendas of actual native artisans, jockeying for attention alongside the works of the contemporary Linares clan; this wasn’t due to some lapse in artistic confidence—not this week, anyhow—but rather the ongoing, craw-boning issue that I find myself facing as a self-identified Russian-American white guy who happens to be deeply and personally invested in what is, objectively speaking, an wholly “repurposed” form of international art.

It’s tough to talk turkey on this issue without feeling like I’m somehow struggling towards qualifiers**, honestly. It isn’t something that sits heavily on my conscience or which I try to infuse into my works; I love calacas because of what they represent in their most essential form (and because they’re one of the few forms of raw artistic expression that I’ve ever been truly good at), not because I’m deeply invested in the related trappings of sociopolitical stances and commentary. For me, the act of creation is a self-contained one: I sculpt for the sake of sculpting, and—more often than not—leave the conclusions to be drawn by the people who stop to take a look at the resulting work, be in in realtime or in the virtual arena.

This sense of autonomy is a luxury, though I’m prone to forgetting that… until reminded otherwise. This was the proverbial “tale of the tape” through late August and early September, as I went through the motions of contacting five or six local, Seattle-area folk art shops, and inquiring as to whether or not they would have any interest in including my calaveras with their dia de los muertos displays***.  In every case (Save for two whose business licenses require that they only sell legitimate import work), the initial contacts resulted in an expression of interest, all of which quickly dried up the moment that it was revealed that I was not only local, but not Hispanic. This wasn’t overtly or explicitly stated at any point (Hell, most of them just stopped responding to e-mails the moment that the cat was out of the bag), but the general feeling had a familiar kind of weight to it. In a sense of summary:

“Good for you, but that’s not really our thing…”

Now, let me take a moment to get the nines straight, in terms of this thinking. I don’t actually have any sort of issue with it, in bare principle; if the modus operandi of an individual who runs such a business is to exclusively show the work—whether based on appreciation of certain aesthetics, or a sense of investment in the international artistic community—of Hispanic artists, then that’s exactly what they should be doing. The highest possible function of an art gallery or folk arts importer is to expand their customers’ exposure to—and understanding of—outsider forms of expression, whether indigenous in nature or simply alternative in their creative aesthetic. And given the unparalleled amount of investment that this region provides for its Native artists, it’d be a qualified oversight to imply that the gallery culture, as a whole, was somehow lacking…

… but that doesn’t really do much to address the fact that the majority of the calaca-related pieces that are offered by these dealers have the care and craft of a deep-fried cerote****. I’d have absolutely nothing to get wound up about if the shelf space reserved for ofrendas and calaveras were being put to proper use, showcasing the creative fruits of legitimate bonesmiths: instead, they’re clogged up with dime-quality sweatshop garbage, overpriced and sloppy “worry-men” style skeletons, and the prerequisite liquid clay-injected catrinas, all obscenely “marked up” due to the fact that they’re “imported,” ostensibly from somewhere that’s, you know, not within driving distance. That’s worth at least a 35% gouge, right?

So, I don’t know. What this is all wending towards is the big question of what really constitutes a “legitimate” practitioner of dia de los muertes-related crafts. To look around Seattle, one can’t help but to come away with the overbearing sense that the city’s “profile” for a legitimate muerte artist—at least in terms of gallery and show cred—requires an appropriately exotic pedigree (or at least an address near Sonora), in order to make the cut… while in Southern California—the cradle of Chicano creativity, the greatest diaspora of Latino culture in this entire country and the epicenter of the Mexican-American rights movement—it’s the quality of the work that wins out, rather than the color of the artisan’s skin.

The brushstrokes being applied here are naturally broad, but it makes me thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been provided with. I love my city of endless rain and glorious gloom, but I won’t weep for the fact that there’s no support for what I do here: I’ll simply kick on like a tumbleweed, and send my little bonemen and bonewomen off to a sunny place where who I am is of less importance than the love I put into my work*****.

 

 

*This year’s show did not disappoint, in that regard: if you were to artfully smash up the eccentric fun of the Honeyduke’s candy shoppe from the Harry Potter flicks with some of the finest alebrijes and ofrendas imaginable, you’d get a good sense of just how cool this exhibition was. A huge nod of gratitude and mild awe to Gail Mishkin for what must have been an absolutely exhausting organization process.
**Much like some whiskey-tanned Arizonian who sports plenty of tarnished silver and turquoise and talks about the Latinos and Res folks that he’s “friends with” while casually voting Republican. It’s an absurd #whitepersonproblem, but is–nevertheless–something I find myself tussling with, routinely.
***The majority of which are basically the same displays that are up for the duration of the calendar year, with the addition of some slap-assed, poster-paint “DIA DE LOS MUERTOS!” sign tacked up over them. Having spent the recent holiday weekend cruising the Olympic Peninsula–and being staggered by the beauty of the tribal art galleries that are peppered along the main inroads between Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks–this bit becomes even more mortifying.
****There were only two exceptions to this apparent rule, both of which are nestled within the confines of the Pike’s Market sprawl (and both of which deal in quality goods, regardless of the season). At the very least, I can nose up all this highfallutin disgust by noting that Seattle’s most high-profile purveyors of Oaxacan goods saw fit to rise to the occasion in an appropriately festive fashion.
*****Which, in another note of ironic hindsight, may include at least one high-profile outlet on Olvera Street. In keeping with the unspoken trend of this trip, a casual conversation about las calaveras with the shop’s owner turned into a potential consignment opportunity. If there was an issue with my lumbering around the joint looking like an un-sunned sasquatch who happened to have Mexican folk arts on his resume’, then it certainly didn’t rear its head as an issue du jour.

Loteria Number Two: La Mascara (The Mask)

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As the dia de los destinos continues to get closer and closer—and I get my bags packed for my impending California foray—my thoughts have naturally been cranking into a winter-wise direction, particularly in terms of contemplating what the heck I’m going to do after November 1st in terms of calaca-related creations. The September-October window is really the bone harvest for anybody in this line of work, as the macabre trappings and pagany celebrations of the Halloween season give way to the warmth of Christmas in a truly rapid-fire fashion. One day, an ofrenda seems like a profound reminder of those we’ve lost, and a beautiful expression of chthonic artistic traditions: the following morning, that same altar suddenly looks jarringly creepy, back-dropped against cornucopia cut-outs and daisy-chains of colored lights.

Winter just isn’t kind to skeletons, be they crafted from clay or otherwise. It’s likely that mortality—even festive, joyous recognition of the fact that we’re all giving up the minutes until we become dust—is just too heavy to labor on when the entire natural world is becoming threadbare and covered in snow, which means that I usually wind up hanging up my tools until the thaw. To date, I have yet to sell a SINGLE calaca between the months of December and April: it’s a soft market for the online casual buyer to begin with, but things get real thin around this time of year.

Fortunately, there’s at least some silver scrim on the off-season, this time around: I recently had the opportunity to touch base with an old buddy from my four-year foray into independent game design—Mr. Dave Wish—and amidst the topics we wound up hashing on was the possibility of creating branded lucha calacas for the impending release of his long-gestating PC pro wrestling opus, Pro Wrestling X. The offer was a timely one, since I’d just wrapped up the finishing touches on this fine fellow:

 

UNA CHIASO!

Next to dia de los muertos and spaghetti western serapes, lucha libre is probably the most single, immediately-identifiable iconic symbol in Mexican culture. Even a person who doesn’t know Santo from Hurican Ramirez can immediately tell you what a luchadore mask looks like, and the fact that you’re bound to find at least a ripoff of a Rey Mysterio Jr. cowl at anywhere from your local temp-class Halloween costume shop to the booths at the Puyallup State Fair (Pravda!) says a lot about the degree to which that symbol has stretched itself across the American cultural landscape. The fact that your average wrestling fan only has a passing appreciation for what “la mascara” actually means to its native culture is an interesting proxy when it comes to calaveras: on a skin-deep level, there isn’t much difference between the workaday appreciation of, say, Psicosis’ old 90’s-era WCW mask and what most people think of a sugar skull. It’s exotic, it’s interesting, and it looks badass on a t-shirt… but to stop there doesn’t really give just how truly profound that aesthetic and cultural “coolness” really is.

Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of virtual ink spilled on the tradition of the lucha mask, so I’ll spare the sharing of my own watered-down Cliff’s Notes version of that summary: instead, I’ll just use this opportunity to comment on how the pursuit of authenticity is problematic when it comes to actually selling a piece like this, since—to the lay person, anyway—it comes off as being really damn confusing.

 

Uno… dos… tres… PALMADAS!

For a lucha aficionado, the  basic premise is fairly self-evident: with the mask of a conquered foe firmly in fist, El Payaso Gigante, here, enjoys a moment of violent victory. For some reason, I remember seeing tons of images in this vein when I was a kid, taken from such venerable Mexican wrestling venues as Arena Naucalpan (on postcards, even!): a pair of bloodied, barely-conscious man-hulks trying to rip the eyeholes out of each other’s sacred mascaras, with both fans and officials staring on in bloodthirsty amusement. In the traditional trenches of lucha libre, few things are more serious than a wrestler putting his mask up against another wrestler’s (The variations of this stipulation—hair versus hair, belt versus mask, and so forth—have similar gravitas, but nothing’s quite as potentially ruinous for a combatant’s career than the loss of their cowl, and the identity that it provides), and so—bingo, bango, bongo—we have the basis of the second in the loteria series.

 

Sustantivos, sustantivos, sustantivos.

La Mascara. Not a mask. The mask.

But, as noted above, something gets lost in translation, in terms of the depiction. People wonder why the guy’s got two masks; they don’t get why he’s missing a piece of his own. The iterative of “mascara” leads to assumptions that there’s eye makeup involved, which really shoots the works. Compared to the relative simplicity of this piece…

 

El Capitan.

… the efforts to really capture an essential aspect of something that I’ve loved the stuffing out of since I was a wee geek really works against it’s commercial appeal. The piece above, which was entitled Capitan Chiapas is—in hindsight, anyway—a less detailed and sophisticated piece of work (I had a hell of a time figuring out how to model a set of relatively anatomically-correct ribs, and getting them to stay put), with as generic a base as I’ve ever committed to a piece, but it sold—literally—within an hour of being put up on Etsy.

Ol’ EPG, on the other hand, has been sitting patiently at The Folk Tree for two weeks now, and was collecting dust on that same Etsy tip for at least a month and a half prior. It’s a classic case of how even the most seemingly infinitesimal differences in a basic premise can have a blunt-ended impact on a piece’s commercial prospects… but it also reminds me just how important it is to do what you want in this artistic arena, rather than trying to figure out what the heck people are actually going to be falling all over themselves to buy.

As the great Joel Hodgson once put it: “(We) never ask ourselves who’s going to get it… we always tell ourselves that the right people will get it.”

Words to live by; words to craft by.