RECAP: El Día de Muertos for Schools and Community

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On November 1st and 2nd, the Brooks invited local schools and the community to celebrate the Mexican holiday of El Día de Muertos with Mariachi, Catrinas, Aztec dancers, face painting, and a lot of art.

As a theme of this year’s celebration, visitors made art and participated in activities inspired by the traditional folk art form of Calaveritas de azúcar, or Sugar Skulls. Traditional sugar skulls are quite labor intensive. They are made in small batches by expert candy makers using boiled sugar and clay break-away molds. Skull makers typically work 4-6 months to create enough sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead celebrations! After skulls are cast and cooled, they are colorfully decorated with icing, pieces of bright foil, colored sugars, and other adornments. Mounds of colorful skulls are sold in outdoor village markets. Continue reading

Ancestry and Identity: Prints by Maritza Davila

Brooks blogger Erin Williams talks to the artist.

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Maritza Davila, Gallo Mañanero, 2008

Though we live our lives as individuals, the choices we make and the paths we choose are all shaped by the influences of those we let in our world. Our parents, future children and spouses, long lost friends, even politicians can shed light on the ways and means we decide to follow. For artist Maritza Davila, her life has been built like a sturdy home: Her parents laid the foundation, who raised her and her four sisters in her native Puerto Rico; was rounded out by other strong females like her daughter and aunt, and cemented through the examples and ideals of other friends, family, and students she met along the way.

Davila is a professor at the Memphis College of Art who specializes in printmaking, and has exhibited her work worldwide. Her latest exhibition, Ancestry and Identity: Prints by Maritza Davila, is framed as an altar that celebrates those she has looked up to the most. “Even though this work has been developed from a very personal point of view, they’re issues that we all deal with. They are family issues, love issues, honoring issues…they are not alien, and at least I hope they are not alien to the viewer,” she says. On the eve of its opening, we spoke with Davila about the values instilled in her by her father and mother, how she identifies as a Memphian, and what it means to have faith.
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Ryan Rowlett: Flew the Coop

Ryan Rowlett, who interned for Brooks’ Exhibitions Department this semester, sat down with me to discuss interactive media, LA flight, communal functions and his upcoming project at Odessa this Friday. Below is the flyer Rowlett designed for the installation.

LM: In our previous conversations you mentioned leaving home and heading to LA to work for Element Skateboarding Company in 1999, right after high school graduation. You also mentioned this was the time when your interactive media career began. How did you get into that medium?

RR: I worked for Giant Skateboard Distribution which was a conglomerate of 12 or 13 different companies including Element and Black Label skateboards. Geoff Crowe, who was the art director at that time, took an interest in me as an artist and designer, and showed me how to use programs like Photoshop and Flash. Looking back now it’s pretty incredible that they were willing to give me that responsibility given my lack of experience. At that time I was painting a lot. I was heavily influenced by outsider, skateboarder artists like Ed Templeton, Margaret Kilgallen and all of the artists associated with Beautiful Losers. It wasn’t until I came to Memphis College of Art and saw postmodern artists using text and image and new media that I started using design conventions and programs in my personal work.

LM: After Billabong bought out Elements, leaving you out of a job…you headed to Wilmington, NC to attend school and complete a few general credits on your transcript. Did you know at that time you wanted to attend the Memphis College of Art? If not, when did you decide on Memphis and why?

RR: My family was in North Carolina and I just wanted to be far away from L.A. I went to a portfolio review in Charlotte and a representative from MCA offered me a scholarship. I had thought about going to art school for a long time but just couldn’t afford it, so when MCA offered me the scholarship I really had no excuse not to go.

LM: You are graduating in May from MCA and currently working on your thesis for the BFA exhibition this Friday, which is also the same night as the Odessa project. You are a busy guy. Does your thesis involve interactive media?

RR: My thesis show is called “Edens”. It’s interactive insofar as I am encouraging people to take photocopies I made (it’s not very interactive).

LM: How did you come up with the idea for Friday night’s installation –“Flew the Coop”– at Odessa?

RR: I had been making Flash animations for the web and I started getting bored with mouse and key board functions being the extent of interactivity. At the same time, I don’t really care for the internet, or the computer in general, as a space for viewing art. I think people are typically pretty impatient and dismissive while using computers, especially in comparison to the amount of time and attention one might pay something in a gallery setting. On the other hand, the computer is such a powerful tool. So I decided to create something that would use the computer to enact changes in physical space. I started thinking about how performance and interactive computer software could overlap. What I ended up making is a piece of software that animates a group of illustrations, which the user can manipulate via computer to produce a projected composition. Once a desired composition is attained, the operator can utilize the projected image as a matrix to draw from directly on the wall.

LM: You have chosen to appropriate images by John James Audubon. Once these images are projected onto Odessa’s walls, who will make up your crew of volunteer tracers and painters? Will you be painting too?

RR: One thing that is exciting for me about this kind of art is that the user essentially becomes the author of the finished piece. It has more of a communal function than just showing some paintings. Art making is usually such a loaner activity; you end up shutting yourself inside a musty studio most of the time. This way we get to hang out and listen to music and have a beer; it’s way better. A group of local artists including Jake Hendrix, Richard Gamble and Jay Crum will actually make the paintings. I might make one too.

LM: Will this project be like a “barrel of monkeys” or more like “shooting fish in a barrel”?

RR: This project is like shooting fish in a barrel of monkeys. May I thank a few people?

LM: Of course.

RR: I would like to thank Odessa, Jill Wissmiller and Bowman Kelley at MCA, Richard Gamble and the Brooks, Jake Hendrix, Jay Crum , and anyone else who helps.

“Flew the Coop” will be on view Friday, April 25 at Odessa. Doors open at 7 pm. Music by Cloudland Canyon begins at 10 pm. For more information on Ryan visit his site at ryanrowlett.com. Check out all of Odessa’s happenings at myspace.com/odessamemphis.