José Gabriel Lopez: paintings, paper mache and jewelry. Austin, Texas, USA.
José Gabriel Lopez is a talented artist who lives in Austin, Texas. He seems to be too shy (or too lazy?) to write up a story for his profile, so I will do it. We have been friends for over 30 years and I consider him to be my Mexican brother. I’ve also had the opportunity to watch him develop as an artist and it’s been awe inspiring!
José was born in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, and made his way to Chicago when he was in his 20’s. There, he found himself immersed in the creative atmosphere of Wicker Park which pulsated with artists, musicians, and actors in the 1980’s. José has always had a big passion for the folk art of Mexico and for the lifestyle of the small towns that produce so many different types of art. He opened a shop in Chicago for a few years and traveled on buying trips where he got to meet many of the big names of family studios in Mexico City and Oaxaca. These artists had a definite impact on him and as he experimented with silver work and painting, he used the traditional works as inspiration and gave them his own twist. And, what a twisted brain he has!!
Gentle in spirit and sweet tempered, he also has a deep disgust for how corruption, violence, and selfishness have created so much poverty and alienation both in Mexico and in the United States. These feelings come out in full force in his paintings. I am no art critic and lack the language to talk about this in a smart way, but I believe he has certain totems that appear over and over again. There are naked languid women lying around as the world collapses, jaguars and lions who travel in little boats, big sharp teeth with blood on them, darkness and chaos. This is the stuff of nightmares…. But, it is also deeply connected with the magical realism we see in Latin America in literature, film and other genres. This also fits in well with surrealism in painting:
Surrealism aims to revolutionise human experience. It balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams. The movement’s artists find magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the disregarded and the unconventional. At the core of their work is the willingness to challenge imposed values and norms, and a search for freedom. Tate.org
José’s paintings also remind me of the old religious retablos or ex-votos that are made in thanksgiving of something that has been overcome. (illness, temptation, disaster, etc.) Oaxaca Culture has some great examples like this one:
One of José’s battles with monsters:
The monsters that control politics (I think he told me that these are ex Presidents of Mexico):
Even when he is being playful, his subjects seem bored or startled by the reality they are in. Mermaids show up often in his work. Here is one who is facing a skeleton while all of the marine life swirls around them….
A paper mache version is languid and bored. She has seen it all….
Being a father has also influenced José’s development as an artist. His son is autistic and the first years were extremely difficult in giving basic care to the child. José is the primary caretaker and the two have a deep bond and affection for each other. Donna, the mother, is a nurse and between the two of them, they have had the skills to guide Gabriel (the son) into a safe childhood. But, the confusion this child experiences in dealing with the world triggers José’s imagination as he wonders what it is like to perceive everyday activities through the lens of autism. This is one of the paintings he made in thinking about that:
Obviously, the paintings are not an easy sale. But the right people will know how to appreciate them! If any of you out there can give José gallery representation, I believe you will have found a gem. Currently, he is selling his paper mache and silver work on Etsy: Visit the shop
You can connect with him there or, if you are on Facebook, you can see many more paintings and other work on his page, Calaveras Art.
I look forward to seeing where else my Mexican brother will go with his art! I am sure that it will be an interesting ride.
These are examples of what I have made in the past. Visit my shop on Etsy to see what is current.