Orale! Alan Altamirano esta en Kutztown.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
Alan Altamirano preparing his prints for display at Kutztown University. photo: K . McCloskey
Alan Altamirano preparing prints for display at Kutztown U. photos: K. McCloskey

Alan Altamirano makes art about women, beautiful women. The 27-year old artist is from Oaxaca, Mexico, a city famed for its food and visual arts. Like many of the best Oaxacan artists of his generation he studied with Maestro Shinzaburo Takeda at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Benito Juarez, Oaxaca.

Evan Summer admire a portfolio etchings.
Prof. Evan Summer admires a portfolio of etchings.

Today I spent the day with Alan hanging his large-scale wood block prints in the Student Gallery in Sharadin. When printmaking Prof. Evan Summer visited, Alan shared a portfolio of etchings based on indigenous Zapotec cosmology. Even these etchings portrayed the cardinal elements: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire as women.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
One of Alan Altamirano’s grand-scale relief prints.

Some of his models he has known for years. Others Alan met for as little as an hour. In many portraits he includes decorative geometry and elements from nature. The image above is of a Puerto Rican woman he met who told Alan about her memory of her beloved uncle. Her uncle, a fisherman, was swept away at sea and drowned. The drowned man appears to her left. Another male figure, the barefoot campesino, walking across the foreground represents her father. This artwork is a stunning example of relief printing, or xilographia, as it is called in Spanish. Here, Alan carved the image not into wood, but MDF, or multi-density fiberboard.

Alan working on print above. Photo from oaxacaculturalnavigator.com
Alan Altamirano working on print above. Photo from http://www.oaxacaculture.com

RECEPTION Oct 8 4pm Sharadin Student Gallery:

Alan Altamirano’s extraordinary prints will be on display in Sharadin October 6-12, with an artist’s reception at 4pm on Thursday, Oct. 8. This is remarkable work. He will be on campus the following week meeting with interested students. The exhibition and his 2-week residency at Kutztown is funded by the Fine Art and Communication Design Depts. and a generous grant from the Kutztown University Sesquicentennial Committee.

11921987_10207631550164792_1547332123_nKutztown students have a unique opportunity to study with Alan in Oaxaca as part of Kevin McCloskey’s Winterterm course. Alan invites visiting artists to work in his studio. He also offers frequent workshops for printmakers at any level at his Taller Chicharra. See Norma Shafer’s Oaxaca Cultural Navigator for more images from his studio.

Printmaking at Taller La Chicharra, Oaxaca, 2015

Edith Chavez, center front, and Alan Altamarino, center back with KU students at Taller Chicharra.
Edith Chavez, center front, Alan Altamarino, at back & KU students at Taller Chicharra.

While ice storms hit the U.S. a group of Kutztown students spent 17 days of winter break in sunny Oaxaca, Mexico. We worked with a group of talented young printmakers in Taller La Chicharra (translates as the Cicada Studio).

Alan Altamarino  on press pulling a large scale print with Kevin McCloskey
Alan Altamarino on press pulling a large scale print with Kevin McCloskey.

Alan Altamarino, who also goes by MK Kabrito, runs the studio. He is a recent graduate of the School of Fine Arts at UABJO, Oaxaca. He specializes in large format relief prints. In the image above he carved MDF, multi-density fiberboard, to print a mega-print for his upcoming exhibition in Guadalajara.

Nueva Vida, 2-color woodblock print by KU student Elaine Knox.

Printmaking studio classes were scheduled from 11-4, but at times the KU crew was still working happily as late as 10pm. Of course, they took a long dinner break around 3pm. Some brave souls sampled fried grasshoppers, a typical Oaxacan snack.

Pajaro Rojo, print, by KU Prof. Miles DeCoster
Pajaro Rojo, print, by KU Prof. Miles DeCoster

Each student created an edition of 15 black and white prints for a portfolio to exchange with their classmates. They also created a limited edition with a second color printed from a block of carved plywood.

Figura Prehispanica, detail, by Ashley Ridgway.
Figura Prehispanica, detail, by Ashley Ridgway.

We came as a group with a reservation, but Taller La Chicharra offers short classes for visitors throughout the year. Besides woodblock, they offer classes in serigraphy and engraving metal via electrolysis. Typically, courses are for half-days and last a week. The cost ranges from 500-1000 Mexican pesos, $40 to $80 U.S.

KU student Blake Myers sketching in the mountains of Mexico.
KU student Blake Myers sketching in the mountains of Mexico.

“Impressions From Oaxaca” prints from the KU workshop will be on exhibit at the Student Gallery, Sharadin Building, Feb 10-15.

KU students carving blocks at Chicharra.
KU students carving blocks at Chicharra. Photo: Miles DeCoster

We had time for trips to the Prehispanic ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla. A highlight was a journey to the petrified waterfall known as Heirve el Aqua.

Wolfgang and Brigid inking plates. Photo M.DeCoster
Wolfgang and Brigid inking plates. Photo: M.DeCoster

Muchas Gracias to Alan Altamarino, Edith Chavez, Marcus Lucero, Mariana Rivera, and all the wonderful Oaxacan artists who made our time in Mexico so memorable! Nos Vemos! See you again!

Oaxaca Sketchbook 2015

Blake Myer's sketch of Oaxaca Valley as seen from Monte Alban
Blake Myer’s sketch of Oaxaca Valley as seen from Monte Alban
The observatory at Monte Alban by Malia Balas
The observatory at Monte Alban by Malia Balas
Welcome reception at Hostal Don Nino.
Welcome reception at Hostal Don Nino.

The Hostel Don Nino gave us a welcoming reception of flautas, which are like fried enchiladas, guacamole, Oaxacan cheese and aqua de Jamaica. It is not easy to post from my ipad here, but I will share student drawings and post more when we return from our 17-day Oaxaca tour.

Mariana Rivera giving us a tour of the Opera House.
Mariana Rivera giving us a tour of the Opera House.
Rebekah, Ashley, and Jen sketching at San Pablo
Rebekah, Ashley, and Jen sketching at San Pablo

13 KU students and Prof. Miles Decoster are with me sketching in Oaxaca. In less than 36 hours we have seen the San Pablo Center, site of the first Spanish Settlement in the early 1500’s. Then we visited the ancient Zapotec site at Monte Alban, founded circa 500 B.C, it may have been the very first city in North America. It had 30,000 people at its height. We also visited the Macedonia Alcala Theater, a wonderful old opera house, where we were allowed on stage and on the roof. We met the ASARO printmaking collective, and the students are doing wonderful sketches.

We will be having an exhibition of our prints at the Student Gallery in Sharadin Feb 10-15.


My Mexican Sketchbooks

America, mural detail, Chapel Atotonilco, Mex.
America, mural detail, Chapel Atotonilco, Mex.

In a few days I find out if I have enough students to run a sketchbook class in Oaxaca, Mexico. Info on the class can be found here. I’ve been looking through my Mexico sketchbooks. These pages remind me of the wonderful days I have spent in Mexico over the years.

Flower vendor, Guanajuato.
Flower vendor, Guanajuato.

Sometimes my drawings are quick pen sketches. Sometimes I take time to add watercolor washes. Often they are drawn to remind myself about a particular place, like the restaurant Itanoni in Oaxaca. My notes remind me of Itanoni’s fresh organic corn tortillas. Itanoni also serves a wonderful hot chocolate drink, called champurrado, a type of atole made of maize flavored with cane sugar and cinnamon.


tule copySometimes I draw tourist attractions, like the giant Tule tree outside of central Oaxaca. I’ve seen people jump out of a taxi, snap a photo of the Tule tree and be gone in 60 seconds. Sketching forces me to catch my breath, to savor those few minutes I spent under the shadow of this ancient life form. Some call it the world’s largest tree. The Zapotecs believe it was planted by Ehecatl, the wind god,1400 years ago. With a circumference of 137 feet, it is wider than the giant sequoia of California.

The Weaving Teacher, Oaxaca.
The Weaving Teacher, Oaxaca.

zocaloOnce when I was drawing in the zocalo, Oaxaca’s central square, an old campesino asked me if I could draw his picture. I told him I would be glad to do so. He folded his arms across his chest and stared hard at me.

campesinoA crowd gathered. Some thought I was drawing him all wrong, some thought I was doing it right. In the end, I showed it to the man and he just laughed and walked away happy. The crowd turned their attention to the marimba players and the balloon vendors. I kept drawing and I felt connected to the throng, like I was a part of the wonderful human opera of Oaxaca. I have a new sketchbook and I look forward to visiting Mexico again.

SCOM: Man & Monsters in Mexico

SCOM stood in a doorway in Oaxaca and told us some hairy stories of his life as a graffiti artist. He grew up in L.A. His mother came from a remote village in Oaxaca.

As a kid, he was George. Sometimes his Mom would bring him to visit family in Oaxaca. One day, his L.A. high school art teacher showed his notebooks to a California art college. “That’s so weird,” says SCOM, “cause she was always flunkin’ me, but I guess she saw potential.” He met the art school admission committee and they offered him a full scholarship. But, he had to come back for a formal interview.

Tiny monster paintings (2 inch squares) by SCOM, collection of Sean Sweeney
Tiny monster paintings (2 inch squares) by SCOM, collection of Sean Sweeney

Unfortunately, right before his big interview he got busted for painting graffiti. He called the art school from jail to reschedule the meeting. They must have had caller I.D. They gave the scholarship to someone else.

Mural by Scom (detail) barrio Xochimilco, Oaxaca.

“So I just went down to Venice Beach and started painting. I did it for a couple years. It was probably just as well I never went to art school, ’cause I did way more painting. I developed my style, ya’ know? And people bought my stuff. My friends said, ‘Hey, how come you got money, when you don’t got no job?’ I said, hey, this is my job.”

SCOM’s van parked by Espacio Zapata, Oaxaca, mural by Sanez.

Shots Fired in West Oakland!

Graffiti can be tough. “Once in West Oakland we got shot at. One night me and my partner were painting the back of a billboard on a warehouse. I like the backs better. They stay up longer. We had lookouts down below. So, this homeless guy sees us. He gets out of his little plastic tent, and he says he has asthma and the spray is bothering him. So we are thinking this over. But then I hear this scrape of metal on concrete and the homeless guy drags this big wrench out of his tent and swings it at my buddy, the lookout. Just misses his head. And we are like O.F !”

“I say, ‘should we go down and help him?’ and my partner says, ‘Nah, it’s too far down, just wait.’ The lookouts run off. But then the homeless guy starts bangin’ on a metal door. The door flies open. Out comes a big white guy looks like Elmer Fudd, with the stupid hat and the shotgun!”

Artist's recreation, Kevin McCloskey
Artist’s recreation, Kevin McCloskey

“Just like Elmer Fudd, but he has beard. Comes out with his shotgun and first thing he says is, ‘Where’s the problem?’  Our buds are long gone, but the homeless dude says I think I see two more on the roof.  So F! We move behind the posts. We don’t even breathe. We wait like an hour and we thought it was safe to come down. But, NO! Elmer Fudd was there waiting for us. I heard the shotgun blast and the buck shot was bouncing of the walls all around us. We just ran and didn’t look back. That was West Oakland. East Oakland is supposed to be the tough place, where are the murders are, but in East Oakland the people were nicer to us. They were clapping for us. So you never know.”

Can I Buy a Vowel?

Question: How did you get the name SCOM?  “Well, I was writing a lot, I came up with this phrase, Society Creates Monsters, then I shortened it to SCM. Painted it everywhere. SCM. SCM. Then some dudes said, ‘You know, man, SCM is the tag of a gang you don’t want to mess with,’ so I added the O. SC-O-M. Now, I am SCOM.”

SCOM, Painting on canvas, Taller Siqueiros, Oaxaca.
SCOM, Painting on canvas, Taller Siqueiros, Oaxaca.

SCOM’s paintings on canvas can be seen at Taller Siqueiros and Projecto Chicatana on Porfirio Diaz in Oaxaca. His littlest paintings sell for 150 pesos, about $12. His biggest works can be seen in tunnels and on the backs of billboards all over California and Mexico.

Lapiztola Stencil Collective, Spray for Us.

Yankel and Roberto of Lapiztola at work in Oaxaca. photo: K McCloskey

Lapiz = pencil.  Pistola = pistol. Lapiztola is a stencil collective in Oaxaca. The pun suggests the pencil is as mighty as the pistol. Their artwork has been described a visual poetry. In October, one of Lapiztola’s crew,  Yankel, was on a conference panel in Oaxaca about the city’s street art collectives. Yankel had spent much of the day on a ladder wearing a respirator mask spray-painting a luminous sparrow on a wall at Matria Art Garden a few blocks away. Another artist in the audience proclaimed his love for Lapiztola, but added compared to more radical street collectives he found their stencil murals “decorative and appropriate for restaurants.” –Decorative?  OUCH!

Rosario, Yankel and Roberto of Lapiztola.
Rosario, Yankel and Roberto of Lapiztola.

Walls are where you find them. Yankel responded, sure, Lapiztola might accept invitations, but they would never let a restaurant owner dictate subject matter. They might even get reimbursed for their paint, but they don’t profit from their work.

Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.
Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.

Yankel talked about a piece that had appeared in MACO, the Museo Arte Contemporanea de Oaxaca. Reflejos de Huida featured a little boy and birds escaping from a cage. Their inspiration was a real boy they met on the streets who lived a life of extreme stress. Even more than most children he dreamed of escaping the confines of his domestic life.

El Mundo Feliz /Happy World shows a fire-eating child at an intersection. © Lapiztola

Lapiztola’s art includes the iconic imagery of M-16’s, molotov cocktails, and skulls found in Oaxacan street art since 2006. Lapiztola, however, adds their own visual vocabulary: birds; street musicians; indigenous children. Their work often deals with street-level domestic issues like child welfare and displays a special empathy for Mexico’s children.

Mural image from Lapiztola's tumblr.
Mural image from Lapiztola’s tumblr.

Rosario and Roberto are trained in graphic design, while Yankel studied architecture. Due to their mix of backgrounds the collective’s projects are both graphically crisp and site-specific, taking full advantage of a particular wall’s potential.

A shop gate in Tiajuana © Lapiztola from their
Shop gate project in Tijuana. Mexico © Lapiztola from their blog.

One of the wonderful things about stencils is how the elements can be repurposed. Below Lapiztola reused their accordion playing boy (spraying through the reverse side of the stencil) to collaborate with French artist Seth Globepainter.

Seth (left) with Lapiztola
Seth (left) with Lapiztola

Lapiztola’s artwork looks clever online. Clever is good, but in person, their large-scale visions are more than clever. They are fantastic. They have clarity, visual impact and soul.

Commentary on Genetically Modified Corn, Lapiztola, Oaxaca.
Commentary on Genetically Modified Corn, Lapiztola, Oaxaca.

Check out Lapiztola on Facebook and via their blog. For more info, see Jeffrey Pena’s fine interview with Lapiztola at Curbs and Stoops.

Irving Herrera, the Artist and his Models

Irving Herrera creates wonderful images of beautiful woman. What is so remarkable about his artwork is that he appreciates the beauty of the indigenous and mixed-race woman of Oaxaca.

Throughout Mexico the leggy newscasters you see on T.V. and the models on billboards, calendars, and magazines often look like pure-blooded Europeans. I took a walk looking for examples and found this mind-boggling image in the lobby of a liposuction clinic.

And here is a more typical image from a dress shop window…

Such images of so-called ‘female perfection’ bombard the men and women of Oaxaca daily. Dark, broadbodied Indigenous women might play the sympathetic maids, but not the love interest in telanovelas (soap operas.) Irving was born to an indigenous Mixteco family in the high mountain village of Huajuapan de Leon in 1984. He came to Oaxaca and studied with the master printmaker Shinzaburo Takeda.

20131022-182332.jpg Today, Irving Herrera is an artist on a roll. He illustrated the current issue (Oct. 2013) of the magazine, El Jolgorio. It is a special Oaxaca Poetry issue and can be downloaded here. Irving recently had a roomful of his prints exhibited at MACO, The Museo del Arte Comtemporaneo de Oaxaca. He has twice won ‘Young Creative Artist’ grants from the State of Oaxaca to complete the series of oversized portraits he calls, ‘Senora Matanzas.’ I don’t know how to translate this, maybe,’ Killer Women?’

He told me he carves these portraits from models directly into the wood in a matter of hours. Then he crowns the portrait with the bones of a slaugthered animal, often a goat. The senoras’ seductive expressions are jarringly juxtapozed with the formal posture and dress of the Porfiato (Mexico’s version of Victorian era.) Irving says he’s mixing memories from the slaughterhouses of his boyhood town and the prints of Jose Guadalupe Posada. This past weekend Irving travelled into the mountains accompanied by his beloved teacher Maestro Takeda. The two artists were honored guests at a regional festival in Irving’s pueblo, Huajuapan de Leon, were the woman are so very beautiful.

20131022-230329.jpgIn Oaxaca, Irving Herrera and his talented companeros of Gabinete Grafico studio can be found at 307 Xincotencatl.