Category Archives: la galleria

Fandango de la Folk Tree: Retrato Familiar

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While I wasn’t able to make the annual pilgrimage down to Pasadena for the Folk Tree show’s final reception, I did hear from quite a few of my local folk-les that it was one of the best turnouts in years. It’s a testament to just how important the store has been during it’s glorious lifetime, and how much the efforts of Rocky, Gail, Victor and the whole “FT familia” affect the holiday’s culture, and people’s understanding of it.

It also reminds me as to why I’ve worked exclusively with them, in regards to crafting show pieces for the holidays. I’ve documented my issues with the local “import store” culture in previous postings, but that doesn’t account for the fact that even the best vendors up here in Seattle do little to actually honor the holiday and traditions that have proven to be so profitable for them, over the years. My sister and I made a sojourn to Milagros in Pike Place Market last week, while she was making her annual Halloween visit: the shop’s one of the more prominent purveyors of Oaxacan art and dia de los muertos-related collectibles, and its location gives it an unprecedented degree of tourist flow-through. As such, I naturally expected that they’d do their part to float the true roots of the holiday, or at least offer something in the way of an exhibition-quality ofrenda, or…

something...

… but no.

It was a day just like any other day, with the same stock, the same window dressings, the same general attitude. It’s not really that big an issue–Seattle’s appreciation of the Hispanic heritage that exists at the roots of calacas and Posada prints pretty much begins and ends with people who realize that it’s really easy to whip up some half-assed sugar skull makeup when they haven’t bothered to actually put together a real Halloween costume–but I wandered out of the shop again reminded just how fortunate I am to be able to ply my trade at the Folk Tree, and how fortunate the world is to have the store in the first place.

But all that aside: I had one last consignment at this year’s show, and I think it’s probably one of the best top-to-bottom constructs that I’ve made, this year.

... mi familia, su familia, la familia.

… mi familia, su familia, la familia.

The piece owes its genesis to the very cool “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (Photographs by Lourdes Grobet),” which I’ve been a proud owner of for about ten years. The book’s a fascinating study of “street-level” lucha culture, but–for me–the main attraction is the colorful portrait-style sittings that Grobet specialized in back in the 1970’s. In it, wrestlers like Solar are photographed with their families: the luchadores are, of course, sporting their masks and some ridiculously swag suits, but their wives and kids are simply dressed in their Sunday best, positioned politely alongside their paterfamilias and his superhero physique.

As I’ve blathered on about endlessly, I’m a fan of wrestling in every one of its 31 flavors: as such, it occurred to me that doing a portrait with all of the family members sporting their masks was a fun wrinkle on this, and it gave me the opportunity to dust off my old “Nippon Sports Mooks” from the early 2000’s as a basis for coming up with custom mascara designs. The pictures in the background are custom versions of Grobet’s actual portraits, which I figured would be a cool homage to a truly unique artist.

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As of 11/1, the piece has sold: I couldn’t be happier, both in terms of the work that I put in for this year’s exhibition, as well as the fact that it brought in some well-deserved consignments for the hosts. Definitely a nice note on which to welcome the next seven months of winter malaise, up here the good ol’ PNW…

Fandango de la Folk Tree: Destino Final

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In terms of show-friendly pieces, I’ve been making a concerted effort to begin balancing out my free-standing efforts with a diorama-style aesthetic. I’ve always had a fascination with building miniatures, ranging way back to my afternoons spent fuddling around with beeswax sculpture as a kid: the challenge of building a couch, pistol or chessboard in 1/25th scale is just one of those things that runs contrary to the simplistic tenets of bonesmithing (Discounting the work of the Linares family, traditional paper-mache’ artisans usually don’t incorporate such teensy-weensy touches), but that I can’t do without.

Likewise, there’s the consideration that a wall-hanging piece lends itself to display in a much more intuitive fashion than your typical free-standing sculpt. There’s a great deal of ironic evidence for this fact all over Casa del Comrade, as I can’t even fit most of my personal pieces on our numerous shelves or desktops: no such issues plague the various three-dimensional dioramas on our walls, where they enjoy a harmonious little give-and-get with the wife’s paintings. As such, I figured that I’d put this practice into play for my second submission to the Folk Tree’s exhibition, which is as follows:

... take only what you can carry.

… take only what you can carry.

I wish I could take sole credit for the concept, but it’s actually something that I basically bunkered from the great Sophie Crumb, daughter of comic-maestro emeritus Robert Crumb. Sophie did the illustrations for Enid Coleslaw’s sketchbook in the awesome 2001 filmic adaptation of Dan Clowes’ “Ghost World,” and a similar picture can be seen for about .034 seconds during one the scenes set in Enid’s art class. The illustration depicts a woman lugging her coffin across a desert wasteland (Complete with adorned vulture), which–even seen for the briefest of glimpses–is one of those pretty flippin’ cool (™) concepts that get into an artist’s head. I took that kernel and ran with it, resulting in the first “draft” of the piece.

And then later decided that our wayward traveler needed further evidence of where her mortal coil had taken her, during her years above ground. That was easy enough to supply, courtesy of some nifty clipart “trunk stickers,” that I scaled and applied with a coat of Mod Podge.

... oh, the places you'll go.

… oh, the places you’ll go.

the "road" is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

the “road” is also a textured spraypaint, with bassword filling in for the trees.

The resulting sculpt–entitled “Destino Final’–has, as of 10/31/13, been sold. It’s always particularly awesome to see a piece that you really loved putting together not only be appreciated by so many of the show-goers at Folk Tree, but also taken home.

More to come, but–for now–a very sincere and enthusiastic “Happy All Saint’s Day” to you folks out there, in e-Land!

Fandango de la Folk Tree: El Diabolico

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So, with all due objectivity: this has to be just about the worst case of procrastination to hit this workspace since 2011. It’s one thing to let your bloggery go untended due to real-life issues or a lack of overall productivity, but–unfortunately–I’ve got absolutely nothing in the way of such excuses. I’ve been churning out commissions on a steady basis since August, I enjoyed an absolutely amazing trip to Phoenix, (where I had the pleasure of talking too-brief shop about Hispanic heritage arts with the one and only Aztec Smurf), and–perhaps most importantly, considering the state of the calendar–I was again invited to take part in the Folk Tree’s annual observations of dia de los muertos.

Before I get into that, I’ll take a moment and tip back a cup full of grain-alcohol gratitude to Gail Mishkin for her never-ending encouragement, especially in regards to my well-documented issues with structural stability and shipping woes from last year. I’ve worked hard over the course of the last six months to improve my technique and to get a proper grip on the nuances of paper clay: it’s been a game of tipsy hopscotch (“Two hops forward, one flop back!”) at times, but the end results are some of the best work that I’ve turned out. Period.

Without the support of the fine Folk Tree folks–who are still my only real “must-do” outlet for show pieces–I probably would have let the familiar old weeds of self-doubt set me back on the shelf, stemming from frustration over the previous construction issues: so there’s that.

And there’s this.

Piece number one is something I’ve actually had planned for quite some time, with the most recent go-around being charted for the FT’s “Angels and Demons” show from earlier this year. As I was still slowly killing myself and anybody within a square-mile radius with the judicious use of polymer clay at the time–and making little progress, in terms of getting it to set properly–I missed a chance to get onboard with that exhibition, and instead slated Ol’ Scratch for a future opportunity:

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

1/6th the size, 6 times the swag.

Latin culture has some of the finest depictions of El Satanico outside of the Middle Ages, and this piece draws its inspiration from a number of them: a sugar skull-style facial motif, cross-cultured with a touch of “El Pachuco” from Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit.

lil' evil 2

the split wallet chains aren’t entirely era-accurate, but hell (HA) if they don’t look cool.

I briefly toyed with giving this fella a loteria number of “666,” but–as we’re still working our way through the first 25 “cards”–I figured I’d do the right thing and stick with some loose chronology. As of 10/30, this piece has sold, which is great: nothing stokes the coals of latent creativity like having one of your calaveras find a good home.
More to come!

diabolico2

 

PWX: Confessions of a Lucha Mooch-ah

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Much like Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas,” I always held at least one distant dream dear when I was a wee lad: amidst these furtive, week-long obsessions with becoming a great three-point shooter, a mortician’s assistant, a children’s book illustrator and an actor were a few constants… following in my mother’s footsteps and becoming an opera singer, or parlaying my love of all things that went “va-va-vroom” into a career as a race car driver.

Likewise, I also—as long as I can remember—wanted to be a video game designer. One of my earliest recollections of discussing the more “serious” side of our bi-weekly trips to the video arcade with my old man was when I asked him outright how they got all of that stuff into a television screen. I’m sure his answer—which would have been shelved somewhere around 1984—was an educated guess about cathodes and computer coding, but it proves out a hindsight point about that lifetime obsession. Wherever I’ve gone and go, the grand-scape of gaming and my fascination with it continue to swagger along with the passing years in lockstep.

Of course, there’s also a minor point to add to this unedited daisy-chain of late-night thought (And one which I hope is moderately more interesting than another explanation as to why it’s been months since I’ve updated this sucker… that story lacks drama and nutritional value, if it’s any consolation), and it’s as follows: of all those haywire daydreams of mine, the only one that I really achieved did actually turn out to be the game design thing. In around 2002, a slippery slope of happenstance put me in touch with a guy named Dave Wishnowski, who had this insane notion of a homebrew pro wrestling game which would be released on the same basic tenets as an independent movie. In a pre-Steam, pre-wireless, pre-damn-near-everything-that-defines-contemporary-game-distribution-world, this cockamamie concept was as far-flung as it was far-sighted, and my involvement with the development gave me a chance to actually create an entire “diegetic” universe of pro wrestling characters from every corner of the globe. The satchel-full of memories that resulted—hazy afternoons in a stripped-down office space in Vancouver’s industrial quarter, piling around the show floor at e3 and holding meetings with publishers, doing “research” at low-fi independent wrestling card headlined by a then-unknown Bryan “The American Dragon” Danielsen—are some of my fondest recollections of what turned out to be a pretty otherwise-lost decade of twenty-something years… so when Dave asked me if I’d be interested in coming up with a few calacas as a “tier sweetener” for a Kickstarter initiative that he recently rolled out, I was only too happy to do a cannonball back into that particular swimming pool.

TD23

(See? There was a point to all that nostalgic daisy-cutting!)

Now, if I recall correctly, El Tirador was the first character that I came up with for the game. I think I sketched him out during a math class at Citrus College, on nothing more than a random whim about a wrestler with a Crusader-cross motif (Something that Rey Mysterio Jr. would ironically wind up featuring heavily on his ring gear about three or four years later). I didn’t intend for the guy to become anything more than a filler spot on the roster, but the design really took off with our slavishly devoted fan base, and he wound up also being the first character to feature in the Pro Wrestling X demo that we took to e3 in 2004. It seemed only natural that he’d also be the go-to for the Kickstarter tier, with two stalwart dona-teers ponying up the extra cash for their very own desktop “Shooter.”

 TD21

After some contemplation, I decided that I didn’t want to mold the same figure twice. I spend so much time rankling artistic repetition on this very blog that it’d read like a son of a bitch to admit that I’d done exactly that thing for the sake of ease: instead, I decided to put together two separate “looks” for Tirador. The first, as seen in the pictures above, is his “classic” design: brighter red and yellow, “Crusader Mask” t-shirt, EMLL national lightweight title on his shoulder.

puro macho.

puro macho.

The second is pretty much how I think a modern “reimagining” of the same character would look: darker red, different accents on the mask, and the EMLL’s “Triples Tag” title brandished in a similar pose.

nu-wavo.

nu-wavo.

The t-shirt he’s got on features the character originally intended to be his tag team partner—“Aztlan”—and the old “LPI/Los Perros Infiernos” logo on the front. I do realize that the amount of weird, insider-style detail that I wound up pouring into each design is a bit odd (I mean, seriously: nobody other than the readers of this blog or those who have been following the game since Day 1.7 would understand what the hell that’s referring to), but… as mentioned above, it was just a great chance to step out of the day-to-day shoes of the working stiff and slide into the slippers of what was.

TD11

TD13

And hey: we’re on the short road to October, again. Expect some life to be breathed into this spot, as the sun finally starts to shine over Seattle, and the annual show pieces start to come together. The shop’s tided up, I’ve got time to burn, and my fingers are itching to get crusty-coated with paperclay. Stay tuned.

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.”

AT4

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.

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.

Loteria Number Twenty-Eight: El Bolidor

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Now, that was a hell of a thing.

This time of year is seldom merciful to me and mine, as the combination of Halloween (practically a religious undertaking in this household) and dia de los muertos makes for flaming pu-pu platter of creative breakdowns, headcolds, and a metric crap-ton of other grandiose, art-related suffering. This year didn’t disappoint, and was exacerbated in particularly masochistic fashion by my decision to—in the middle of the mess—pry up my roots and head on down to Los Angeles for observations, ofrendas, and some too-short quality time with friends and loved ones.

I’m planning some sort of “maybe this will work and not come off like a thumbheaded moron trying to make magic happen with his smartphone’s video function”-type recap that I’m hoping to have put together by the weekend, but—barring that—it seems almost mildly blasphemous to let this occasion pass without at least ONE bit of calaca-related bloggadoccio.

So, the subject of today’s overwrought ranting is: 28.

28 happens to be  the age that I decided to go back to college. It’s sometimes the number of days in February. It’s a multiple of seven, which I think everybody can agree is a pretty damn cool number. It also happens to be the number of years that I’ve known the recipient of today’s featured sculpture, which I’ve opted to overreachingly entitle “El Bolidor.”

 

BA BOOM BOOM VA-ROOM

The piece represents Capital D, who I’ve known since I was about six years old. CD’s somebody who I’ve been blessed to grow up and around with, who’s always been a bonafide, true-blooded bud in every sense of the word. We came up on a steady diet of weird movies, video games, bleary-eyed sleepovers and were hardcore car-culture mutts well before we even got anywhere near our learner’s permits, which was where the genesis of this particular piece came from.

 

A little of that, a little of this, a little from here…

Occasional visitors of this bloghole might recall “Sibling Revelry,” from a few months ago: it’s an essential homage to a consistent theme of weird, go-kart related fascination that probably started with Mario Kart and has carried itself steadily through the decades that followed. Initially, I thought it would be awesome to somehow incorporate Bolidor into that diorama, somehow—a concept that likely stemmed from those old die-cast Kenner Star Wars deals that locked together to form awesome little playscapes  of Bespin and Hoth—but the realization that this would require us somehow all converging on a predetermined meeting spot with our calacas in hand was…. somehow offensively sobering.  It also resulted in Bolidor’s kart getting bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER. And somewhere in the mix, turning from a simple road-beast into some bizarre smash-up of Big Daddy Roth and the 1955 Chevy that D and I used to burn rubber around Pasadena in, during our misspent youth.

 

bolidor, con (badaduhduhduhduhdubbaduhduh) base.

Sharp and nerdy eyes will probably note the fact that the fender detailing resembles a Bullet Bill, and—rather randomly—the engine (and the artist’s complete lack of insight into what the hell one actually looks like, aside from when he’s filling up his wiper fluid) has somehow wound up incorporating pieces of the Ghostbuster’s proto-packs.

 

fwoosh.

You KNOW something’s on point when your geekish tendencies are on autopilot. Fortunately, Bolidor survived the trip to California and was presented lovingly during an ofrenda celebration for a mutual and dearly departed pal of ours, which somehow split the clouds of a frantic weekend and put a dovetail on the stresses surrounding the holiday. There was also a lot to love at The Folk Tree’s magnificent celebracion’ (Adios, El Organillero and La Revolucionaria: you’ve sold, and I couldn’t wish you better in your new home!), as well as during our daytrip to Olvera Street, which I hope to spill some virtual ink on in a future post.

In the interim—and while I’m shrugging off this migraine—here’s some assorted ephemera from the building process for this piece. A couple of folks have asked (both at the show and via FB) how I put these things together, to which I reply: “CAREFULLY AND OFTEN INCORRECTLY.”

 

to the side, to the side.

 

the goggles: a good excuse to try and use the rest of my Testor’s window-building epoxy.

 

also, a fine case in point: the first sculpt of this guy’s head somehow made him look like a tiki mask, once the goggles and hat were in place. I have NO idea how the hell I messed this up so poorly, but I’m also embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even notice until the arms and primer were on.
“Wait a second…”

 

q: what do colonel sanders and comrade have in common?
a: we’re both working on an eighteen-piece bucket.
(ohhhhwuh)

 

 

 

 

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.

Loteria Number Nineteen: La Pirata (The Pirate)

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(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following post starts out with one of those weird-ass tangents about something that may or may not speak to the whole bonesmithing process, specifically the importance of numbers. As someone who hates math with a kerosene-burning passion, I won’t be all creaky or weepy if you just bump down to where the rest of the pictures are. Seriously, now.)

One of the biggest design-related pratfalls that I’ve had to contend with during my shift into making “commercial-caliber calacas” was coming up with some sort of uniform concept for the bases. I use the same standard three-by-five, off-the-shelf craft plaques that artists like Jerry Vigil and Clay Lindo do, but I’ve also bumped up against fundamental design issues when figuring out what the heck to do with them: is it enough to have a character standing on a street? Does it screw up the basic aesthetic (or hedge on offensiveness) if I use a flag motif? Should I try to incorporate some basic impression of a setting (i.e. floorboards, a carpet, a hopscotch game) or just try to separate it from the design of the figure, itself?

As I touched on during my meandering write-up about the La Revolucionaria piece, a lot of this was alleviated the moment that I came up with the loteria concept. This didn’t just give me a solid, brand-style “go-to” in terms of differentiating my work from that of my talented contemporaries (Much like Jerry’s preference for using a striking cobalt blue on his calaveras, there’s no mistaking a “Tamra Kohl skull” or a Nee “micro-sculpt.” In a medium where you’re basically all playing with the same half-dozen bones, having something that separates you from being just another person messing around with another culture’s tradition is pretty damn important, all said), but provided for another unexpected benefit: raw, unalloyed inspiration.

I can’t claim to know much about numerology, but I do know that numbers are sewn right into the fabric of who we are. The whirligig of life only stops occasionally for birthdays, anniversaries, death-dates and other points of interest, the majority of which are stapled firmly into our consciousness through the indelible presence of a number: I may not remember what color my shirt was on the night of my first kiss with the woman who would eventually become my wife, but I can tell you that it happened thirteen years ago, on November the 16th. Memories slip, feelings fade, but numbers—once committed—do not slide.

That being the case, the use of a number—simple as it seems—has become something to strike sparks off of. For example, this piece: originally intended to just be a “lady pirate” (Inspired from the Anne Bonney frescos that were once in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride queue at Disneyland) it instead turned itself into a gift for a longtime friend, based on little more than the question of what its designated numero would be.

“A dolly? The surprise is a dolly?”

Sequentially, it would have been number five, in the series. But in terms of impressing a specific point—that being the fact that I had known the person in question for nearly twenty years—it suddenly seemed more appropriate to brand it as number nineteen. At this point, I’m still clinging to the silly vanity that I’ll be able to make it to the century mark with these suckers, someday: as such, each number should only wind up being used, once.

19.

Nineteen won’t get a better or more-deserving shake, which sealed it: as a result, I completely changed the character’s design and shifted gears from it being a generic conversation piece to a tailor-made token of my appreciation for a nearly life-long friendship. As a new mom, “Captain TEC” wound up cameo-ing her lovely baby daughter, along with another earmark of our mutual, geeky interest: a copy of the same Guybrush Threepwood voodoo doll that Ghost Pirate LeChuck is brandishing on the cover of the original Monkey Island 2 game box. The simple inclination of changing a number breathed an entirely new degree of life into what would have been just another skeleton in search of someone to love it, which—as I’ve rambled on about before—is one of those things that keeps you going, as an artist. Ebb or flow, you can at least count on the gratitude of the people you care about to keep your levels of inspiration on the up-and-up.

Another bonus: making these for friends means that they probably won’t send them back. On some days, that’s a cause worth fighting for.