From the studio in Tonala, Jalisco
It is my pleasure to have been selected to participate in the Mayan Parade 2012-2013 as a representative of the international aspect of its underlying mission – to change the way the world looks at Mexico through art. In partnership with the Mexican government and through sponsorship by industry leading companies, artists from several regions have been brought together to paint sculptures of the head of the most famous Mayan ruler, Pakal. The sculptures were designed by Mexican artist and co-creator of the event (as well as an impeccable hostess and ambassador for Mexico) Karla de Lara. She infused the ancient image with a modern, if not futuristic, new twist that emphasizes the indigenous features and the traditional plumes into “medium” and “large”sculptures for public display, and with the large ones being about 6.5 feet tall (before they are put on their pedestals), they are quite impressive in person.
Ancient Mayan Calendar
The project was designed to coincide with the much publicized “end of the Mayan calendar” (which gave rise to the 2012 phenomenon) – to mark the change not as an end, but as a time of rebirth and renewed hope for Mexico and the world. It encompasses the history, traditions, art and magic of the past while embracing the future through technology and and creating enjoyment and advantages to people in the present. The medium sized sculptures will be displayed in financial offices around the globe to spread the message for at least six months before being auctioned to benefit the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico. The large Pakals will be displayed at high traffic areas such as international airports and public squares in some of the largest cities in the world, and will be integrated into a system that allows viewers to scan the piece with the camera on their phone or mobile device to bring up a three dimensional viewing of the artist explaining the inspiration behind their creation alongside the work.
I traveled to Guadalajara, the cultural epicenter and home of everything that comes to mind when one thinks of Mexico (tequila, Mariachi, etc.) with illustrious fellow NYC artist and friend Jeremy Penn. We flew out of Laguardia on the first flight we could get on the morning it opened after being closed due to the runways being submerged by flooding caused by super-storm Sandy. From his building across the east river (which he was told to evacuate before the storm) Jeremy viewed the infamous Manhattan transformer explosion just a couple of nights before, and as we flew out of the City that we love knowing that many of the people we were leaving behind were without food, water, electricity and transportation, I was sure that our experiences and those thoughts would be reflected in the passion with which our pieces would be created.
High above the clouds, leaving NYC after Sandy
We arrived on Dia de Los Muertos, and though we were in a great area for viewing authentic festivities, we arrived after dark and had to make our way to a party at the studio of Karla de Lara in Tonala, where we would be painting our Pakals. On the way out of the airport we passed by Jeremy’s prominently displayed rose sculpture from Rosa Fest and admired it’s gleam under the night sky.
Jeremy Penn with his sculpture from Rosa Fest
at Guadalajara International Airport
We reached the studio to find the party in full swing, with artists and other participants from across the continent getting to know each other over drinks and food while the dj spun classics and some people painted on small ceramic versions of the Pakal sculpture. It was a great “bienvenidos“, and as we headed back to the swanky Riu Plaza my head swam with visions of possibilities of what I could do with my pieces the following morning.
Pakals in the studio, waiting for paint
As opposed to seeing the surface of the sculpture as a canvas to be painted on, I took the approach of collaborating with Karla by taking her raw design and transforming it into a finished piece that was a hybrid of our visions. In contrast to her futuristic hard angles I decided to hand paint a texture that would give the look of ancient stone or metal, which I would later accent with gold leaf in organic shapes in order to give the feeling that it may have been created in a distant era and that it has withstood the elements and the test of time, while retaining is powerfully regal presence.
Texture painted in the early stages
After I explained my vision to him, Jeremy introduced me to “chapopote “, a wash composed essentially of tar and some sort of kerosene-like fuel (I was handed a container and didn’t ask many questions because it worked). I spread it across the painted surface and as it burned through my latex gloves I admired the new dimension of beauty the stain gave to the piece. I knew the deep, earthy browns and blacks would make a striking background for the gold leaf, and I began applying the adhesive size in greater quantities than I had ever before on an individual work.
From fiberglass to ancient stone or metal, transformation complete
The adhesive has a limited window during which it will work once it has been applied, so I had to plan ahead and do it in sections, and soon it was dark. I worked outside in a beautifully charming outdoor area of the studio, so at that point it was time time to call it a day.
Outside the studio in Tonala
Day two brought much more gold leafing, but with a little diversion including an afternoon “gringo test”. Producing a black bottle of Alacran Tequila with it’s scorpion logo, Karla asked if I would like a shot…
Artist Jeremy Penn looking perplexed holding a bottle of Alacran
Not one to be rude, I readily accepted the hospitality, but when she handed me the standard shot glass I noticed something foreign in the clear, alcoholic liquid – a scorpion the length of my index finger. Down the hatch it went.
Tequila shot with Scorpion - worms are for lightweights
After the scorpion Karla decided to take the test to another level by plucking a mature habanero pepper from a nearby plant, slicing the top off and filling the pepper with more Alacran. I gave it a swirl for full effect and put that down too, followed by another. The finest liquid fire I have ever tasted scorched my mouth and lips, and I was well prepared for a for a few more hours of working in the cool Mexican air.
Habanero Shots are like Liquid Fire
With the knowledge that I had only one more day to complete my sculptures, I decided to take my medium Pakal back to the hotel and at least start it that night. Continuing a tradition I began in Las Vegas to combat time restraints while painting on location, I turned my 5 Star Hotel bathroom into a makeshift studio (tile is much easier to clean than carpet) and worked until a little after 3 am.
Medium Sized Sculpture with paint, gold & silver leaf
The final day is always crunch-time. Every detail must be in place before you leave, and the clock is ticking. I dug in upon arrival and began adding circles of gold leaf that I used as a reference to my Natural Beauty series that I started early in my artistic career that uses organic forms and mixed media materials to draw the correlation between the art created by man and the art created by nature. The circle shape also has the traditional symbolic meaning of the cycle of death and rebirth and more that fits well into the idea behind the project as a whole. As the sun went down I lit a few candles left over from the party a few nights before in order to put on the finishing touches and snap some photos.
Large Pakal sculpture with paint, chapopte & gold leaf
A sumptuous dinner of Mexican-style sushi at Karla’s lovely home with her beautiful family was a perfect end to my first trip to this wonderful part of the world.
See the creation of these pieces over three days in under two minutes.
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