Artist Diego Garcia works on a “Día de los Muertos” mask for an upcoming gallery opening.(Valeria Hernandez/Borderzine.com)

Mural painter finds an educational mission in graffiti

EL PASO – As Diego Garcia, driven by inspiration and the waves crashing on the shore, was on the very last stroke of his painting on the seawall at Venice Beach, next to mural-master Sano’s famous masterpiece, the beach patrol arrived and ordered him to stop painting and leave. “I found a wall and I started to paint. I took one section that was all messed up,” says Garcia, 21, recalling one of his most memorable pieces from two summers ago when he visited Venice Beach, California. “I remembered Sano’s piece from a movie I had seen on Netflix filmed in 1992. I thought it was insane that I could be painting next to his piece.”

From drawing Ninja Turtles and Dragonball Z characters when he was a first grader to working on his art education at The University of Texas at El Paso, Garcia’s talent shines.

Marfa, TX, a town of about 2,000 people is a hub for contemporary art in the Southwest. (Amber Watts/Borderzine.com)

Marfa – Tiny Texas town is a vibrant hub for contemporary art in the Southwest

MARFA, TX – An hour’s drive north of Ojinaga, Mexico, sits an isolated “little island of actors, writers, and artists of all kinds” as gallery owner, Ree Willaford, affectionately calls this west Texas town of 2,000 souls. Willaford is the owner, director and curator of Galleri Urbane, with locations here and in Dallas, specializing in contemporary art. In Marfa, the satellite exhibit lounge is located at the Thunderbird Hotel. Willaford and her family started in 1992 with “Contradiction,” an organic juice and coffee shop that also carried non-organic treats like tiramisu in historic Ybor City, the old Hispanic cigar-making district of Tampa, Florida. The Willaford family then moved to Silver City, New Mexico where Ree’s husband Jason, an artist, started open house showings with photographer Michael Burman.

Instructor Yasmine Ramirez (left) leads participants of the ForWord project at Glassbox, Crystal Acuna, Jasmine Flores and Perla Ramirez. (Yuritzy Ramos/Borderzine.com)

ForWord: A free creative writing workshop for El Paso teens

EL PASO – At noon on a recent Saturday, 16-year-old Jasmin Flores sits at a round table in a downtown storefront gallery and stares at a picture of a man wearing a tee shirt raising his two fists into the air. After thinking for a few minutes, she uses her imagination to write in longhand on a piece of paper a story about two boys playing together with a ball. These and many other activities are practiced each Saturday during a “ForWord” workshop that helps teenage students develop their creativity when writing from short stories to essays. Flores is been attending the workshops, sponsored by a local non profit organization, since the January sessions started. She said each workshop has been different.

U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine, at a recent visit to the University of Texas at El Paso. (David A. Reyes/Borderzine.com)

U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine – A lifetime of giving a thundering voice to the voiceless

EL PASO – Poet Laureate Philip Levine, still as fit and funny at age 85 as he was as a young man working the night shift at a car factory, shared his special brand of earthy, poignant and insightful poetry – and a sizable measure of good humored repartee ­– with over 1000 fans at UTEP recently. The poet of the working class, who was born in Detroit to poor Russian Jewish immigrant parents, began writing professionally in the early 1950’s and has been giving “a voice to the voiceless” ever since. His message and poetry resonated with his El Paso audience in a city that is predominately Hispanic and working class. Asked by Sociologist Gina Nuñez what he thinks of the billions spent by the U.S. government erecting walls along the 2000-mile border, Levine responded: “The worst walls are the ones we can’t see because we are erecting interior walls. You say they’re dividing families.

Actresses (from left), Andrea De Anda, Lluvia Almanza and Paloma Pelayo are las vecinas, three characters that represent Chicano culture familiar to El Pasoans. (Kimberly Garcia/Borderzine.com)

Electra is a vieja from ancient Greece, suffering like a Chicana in East LA

EL PASO – Las vecinas walk in, brooms in hand, gossiping about neighborhood happenings like a scene straight out of a novela, only this time the situation comes not from television but from ancient Greek drama. This rendition of the Greek classic tragedy Electra, opened at the Theatre and Dance Department at the University of Texas at El Paso March 13 for a four-day run with a twist. According to director Rebecca Rivas, playwright Luis Alfaro used the Greek tragedy as a skeleton for Electricidad, his Chicano rendition of the classic, by placing it in an East L.A. barrio and infusing Chicano culture into his work. “He allows our culture to bleed in,” said Rivas, “and it forms it’s own really funny and heartbreaking play.”

The plot of Electricidad is the same as its ancient counterpart. The themes of revenge and family are there, but there are a few differences.

“This whole area I thought was just kind of mysterious for me. I liked the culture. I liked the desert. I found it fascinating,” said Welsh. (David A. Reyes/Borderzine.com)

Lawrence Welsh – Digging for verse in the deserts of the Southwest

EL PASO – The watercolor on the wall in Lawrence Welsh’s office gleams with warm sun spilling across the panorama, as if light lived inside every leaf, every strand of grass, every inch of wood and tin. The Associate Professor of English at El Paso Community College said it reminds him of his own deep “digging” for art, poetry and history in the desert lands of the Southwest. In his new collection of poems written from 1994 to 2009, Begging for Vultures, Welsh sweeps readers through voices and landscapes of the Southwest. His personal excavation began in Los Angeles where he was raised, and where he began uncovering his love for words and music, co-founding the punk rock band, The Alcoholics in the late 1970’s, then writing and editing on newspapers, and writing fiction and poetry. Now, he teaches at the community college.

Magnificent Warning Monument by Máximo González. (Jaqueline Armijo/Borderzine.com)

Ordinary objects challenge perception in Maximo Gonzalez’ art exhibit

EL PASO – Spectators are entangled in an intertwined mess of black cords connected to a red piggy bank, red back scratchers and other red knick-knacks that transforms the entrance of a conventional public building into a world of obsessive red. Maximo Gonzalez’s exhibit “Magnificent Warning” is one of the three current art exhibits featured at the Stanlee & Gerald Rubin Center at the University of Texas at El Paso. The exhibit will be showcased until March 15.  Gonzalez is a recognized Argentine artist who has left a profound mark in the art world. “The mission of the Rubin Center is to bring world class contemporary art to the El Paso region, and Maximo is certainly at the top end kind of the artists we bring. He’s got a really fantastic trajectory.

The Urban Art-Fitters League of El Paso working on "Winter wonderland" at Fourth St. (Iris Lopez/Borderzine.com)

Local artists intend to beautify downtown El Paso one alley at a time

El PASO – Sun City artists are showcasing their art in the sun. The main goal of the Urban Art-Fitters League of El Paso is to beautify the streets of downtown El Paso, one alley at a time.  Their theme is to “make love not war.”

After a tragic car accident took the lives of Jeannette Lazaro and Evalynn Rose, both close friends of Silver IsReal, he found a way to deal with the grief and keep the spirit of both girls alive. With this concept in mind, he and Carlo Mendo cofounded the Urban Art-Fitters Street Gallery project. “Make love not war was the last thing that Jeanette wrote on her mirror before she passed away, and it is something that I keep really close to my heart. I wanted to keep her and Evalynn’s spirit alive so I started the ‘Make love not war’ project” IsReal said.

El Paso Art Association organized the first annual "International Eye of the Camera". (Ernie Chacon/Borderzine.com)

The International Eye of the Camera focuses on El Paso photography

EL PASO – Photographs ranging from the beautiful scenery of the El Paso Mountains to the simplicity of a self-portrait dazzled spectators at the first annual “International Eye of the Camera” event at the Crossland Gallery. “We were most pleased for a first exhibit like this, with the number of entries and the quality of entries,” said Joyce Ewald, office administrator of the El Paso Art Association. The Art Association hosted the event November 30, which featured photographers from El Paso, Las Cruces, and Juarez.  The idea for the “International Eye of the Camera” came after the recent “Arts International” event, which excluded photographs because of limited space at the Crossland gallery. Ewald and a committee of four other members, decided to create an event solely for photographers.  “I felt that there were a lot of members who were photographers and I felt that they deserved a show too,” said Ewald. A total of 97 photographs were sent in, but the Art Association is hoping to see that number continue to grow at next year’s event.  “We need more photographers to get involved with the association.  If you want these events to happen you have to raise money” said Ernest L. Salazar, owner of ELS Photography, who also handed out one of the awards for the event.

Venerable Losang Samten. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

UTEP’s sand mandala elicits eternity through impermanence

EL PASO – Dressed in brown robes and a white dust mask covering his mouth, a Buddhist monk hunches over and inspects the mandala – a circle decorated with multi-colored sand he is in the process of constructing on a wooden scaffold. The monk then straightens up, takes a deep breath and hunches back down. He meditates about peace in the borderland while scraping a few grains of colored sand off a metal tube and depositing them on the forming artwork. The monk creating the mandala, the Venerable Losang Samten, is a retired professor and spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia and has been visiting El Paso for over 20 years, almost since he first came to the United States. “I was born in Tibet, but when it was attacked I moved to India with my family, I was 11 years old,” Samten said.