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To learn more about Latino artists in San Antonio, I turned to David Rubin, independent art curator and writer and former contemporary art curator for the San Antonio Museum of Art to ask which Latino artists to follow.
“San Antonio has established artists like Vincent Valdez, but there are many promising artists poised to become as well-known as Valdez,” Rubin said.
Check out Rubin’s list of artists to watch in this new year below, in no particular order.
Alejandro Augustine Padilla
Alejandro Augustine Padilla established Studio Fantomas at the art complex at 1906 S. Flores St. where he shares studio space with James Supa Medrano. Working in oil paint, ink drawing and acrylics, Padilla explores how trauma impacts a person’s mental health. A self-taught artist, Padilla was part of a larger exhibition at Bihl Haus in early 2015 that showcased how the artists reacted artistically to environmental traumas such as deforestation, pollution, AIDS and water scarcity.
“I look inward at anxiety, at the fragility of life, at how de-personalized, how isolated we can feel. The birds I’m drawing now are organic, in the process becoming a vessel for that anxiety,” Padilla said about his fine line, highly textured bird series of drawings he is working on.
Padilla’s next show will be at the Freight Gallery starting Feb. 13 through March 12, 2015, featuring his ink drawing, oil painting and sculpture work using found objects. Padilla has applied for an Artist Foundation grant for funding that would allow him to explore etching techniques—an etching press costs from $3,000 to $15,000.
Albert Alvarez’s surreal style permeates his incredibly condensed acrylics and drawings about his life experiences. We talked about his 2007 self-portrait in the San Antonio Museum of Art’s collection, “I am Albert’s Hard Times,” where the artist depicted traumatic events from his early life.
When asked about this specific work, Alvarez explained he has evolved his style since completing that piece. “I wish I could swap it out and lend SAMA one of my newer pieces that I think represents the level of my art now,” Alvarez admitted.
The quiet artist has recent work on display at Studio Fantomas, but uses his Facebook page as his primary means to display his latest works. Alvarez continues to work prolifically, often working nocturnally. His goal eventually is to produce larger scale work and build his audience beyond Texas.
James Supa Medrano
James Supa Medrano is “stuck between two worlds of contemporary art and 80s nostalgia,” according to his Instagram feed and shares the Studio Fantomas space with Padilla. Medrano fell in love with the fashion, art, film and music of the 1980s.
“Everyone was their own character then, out of control, unique, singular. There wasn’t that pressing need to fit in—I like the realness of that era, its innocence. Even in films, it was built stages and special effects props, not CGI,” Medrano explained his attraction to the 1980s.
His exhibition at Studio Fantomas, “Double Feature,” opened Dec. 12 and runs until Jan. 31. Medrano bases his drawings and screen prints on 1980s films and icons such as Freddie Kruger from “Nightmare on Elm Street” (autographed at ComicCon by the actor Robert Englund) and Alex from “Clockwork Orange” (signed by actor Malcolm McDowell at ComicCon as well). The detailed drawings have an almost hallucinogenic quality because of the superimposed double images in these portraits.
“I’m sticking with the double images as my signature style, as well as the fine crosshatched details in my work,” Medrano said. “I’m also thinking of going larger with my images and building my following outside of Texas.”
All three artists have work on display at Studio Fantomas which is open Second Saturdays from 7 p.m.-10 p.m.
Daniela Riojas is a multi-media artist using performance, photography, videography and music to portray ritual as it relates to self-identity. As an artist in residence at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Artist Lab program, Riojas’ current exhibition “Rio Abajo Rio (River Beneath the River)” opened Dec. 18 and runs through Feb. 20.
Riojas was on a guided tour of the Tesuque Pueblo outside of Taos, New Mexico, looking for a spot to perform a ritual for her “Rio Abajo Rio” work. She convinced her guide, a Tesuque Indian, to take her onto private pueblo land. She learned her guide was a member of the Water Clan in the Tesuque Pueblo and was able to film herself offering ground maize to the river, as well as use her large-format camera to photograph the surrounding landscape.
“I look for ways to keep our culture alive, the culture surrounding the river in San Antonio,” Riojas said during the private opening of her show. One video shows Riojas dressed in a simple traditional dress, scrubbing white paint from her arms, “to find my own skin,” she pointed out. During her exhibition opening, Riojas ground corn on her family’s metate and encouraged visitors to make their own symbolic corn offering to the river.
The inspiration Riojas experienced in witnessing Native American ancient rites made her realize this was “the beginning of a journey, an artistic process to continue to expand upon this work, to extend it outside this gallery to a public space where everyone can access it,” Riojas said.
Riojas continues to look for ways to show her work in a large public space to enable people to interact with her art, as well as continue her work with large-format photography in the field.
Jenelle Esparza, originally from Corpus Christi, came to UTSA in 2008 and stayed in San Antonio after graduating because she “loved the arts scene and sense of community here,” she explained while showing her work at the Plaza de Armas, “Chili Queens,” which opened late November and runs until Jan. 29.
Chosen to help highlight the history of the Plaza de Armas, Esparza made a series of aprons, each one displaying a different image of a San Antonio “chili queen” from archival photos taken in the late 1870s.
“I wanted to focus on a female aspect of this historical site. These Mexican women would come to the Plaza at dusk to sell meat-only chili made with Spanish spices. I wanted to highlight their contribution to San Antonio through their food and how it made a huge impact on the genesis of Tex-Mex food—the city is now recognized for that,” Esparza said. “I represent it (San Antonio) because I’ve learned so much about South Texas themes here. I’m drawn to the stories of South Texas that need to be told.”
In late November Esparza also participated in a pop-up art show, “Conversations,” at the French and Michigan gallery in support of Planned Parenthood. The artist used mirrors and phrases on each mirror to reflect the words back onto the viewer.
Esparza has applied for an arts grant to finish her latest work about the cotton culture of the Latino community. “My grandmother picked cotton, that’s why it’s important to me to show this to a broader audience,” Esparza said. “I’m looking for a place for this large-scale work, “El Color de La Obra (The Color of the Work)” that will include large scale photography, mixed media, cast bronze and fiber art.”
If you’ve driven by the mural “Insomne de Amor” at 2404 S. Zarzamora, you’ve seen Rigoberto Luna’s art, with images of his family members. A San Antonio native, he attended the Pratt Institute in New York City, returning in 2006 to continue his involvement in the local art scene.
“It’s an exciting art scene we’re facing now in 2016. With the growth of the city, the opportunities for Latino artists have grown right along with it,” Luna said.
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Luna works with digital illustration and photography in his current series “Objects of Our Affection.” He plans to complete his second installment of the series, which includes portraits of the late founder of San Anto Cultural Arts, Manuel Castillo, as well as Vincent Valdez. Luna is also part of a group show, “Blow it Out Your Year,” that opened at Flight Gallery on Dec. 31.
In 2016 Luna hopes to secure grant funding to complete the follow-up to his popular “Go Spurs Show” portraits, to be named “Go Spurs Show: The Away Game.”
Working as a freelance graphic designer for Texas A&M’s Centro de Arte and the exhibitions curator for R Gallery, Luna stressed “It’s extremely important to highlight local Latino artists, both young and old.”
Many organizations offer students opportunities to develop as artists, such as Artpace, Blue Star, and Say Sí. Supporting local Latino artists as they become established not only provides them opportunities to evolve their art, it helps local artists tell the stories only they can tell, stories about the Latino experience that need to be heard beyond the boundaries of San Antonio.
*Top image: Albert Alvarez, James Medrano, and Alejandro Augustine Padilla sit in a studio in the 1906 Art Complex. Photo by Scott Ball.