After threats over the years that he would be sued for selling his depictions of Zozobra, Robb Rael is rebelling.
The Santa Fe artist plans a group show Sept. 6-15 that will feature satirical depictions of Old Man Gloom, whose image is copyrighted by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.
“They think anything ‘Zozobra’ is theirs,” said Rael. “If that’s the case, they need to go into every elementary school in town and sue every kid” who draws a picture of the giant puppet.
But Ray Sandoval, Zozobra event chairman for the club, said that Rael is reacting to many past problems that have since been addressed.
“I do know there was grumbling from the way artists were treated in the past,” he said. “I think we did have a bad reputation (among artists) and some of that was well-deserved … .
“(But) we’ve definitely done a lot of fixing of some of the things people were grumbling about.”
Sandoval took over as head of Zozobra events after last year’s burning of Old Man Gloom, when many people complained about the $20 entry fee, a ban on children’s strollers on the grounds and other issues that they said made the event less community-oriented.
One of those complaints was the percentage of sales that the Kiwanis were taking from artworks on display in the art show associated with Fiesta and the burning of Zozobra, according to Rael. “Each year during the art show, the percentage they take has been going up,” he said.
Sandoval agreed that the Kiwanis were taking too much.
“We cut it in half this year,” he said, explaining that the cut meant the club would take 25 percent of any sales.
Rael, who has participated in that art show in the past and whose design was chosen for the 2009 official Zozobra poster, said he has had people who said they were with the Kiwanis Club approach him at the summer Contemporary Hispanic Market or call him the night before, threatening lawsuits if he sold paintings with Zozobra images.
One time, a person threatened to sue him for selling the official poster he designed for the event – posters that he was given as the only payment artists get for providing the winning design, he said.
Sandoval said Kiwanis members to go to Spanish Market (the Contemporary Hispanic Market is held in conjunction with it), looking for depictions of Zozobra.
“We have not done a good job communicating to club members how to approach this,” he added.
But, he continued, the Kiwanis do have a copyright and want to protect the image; they don’t want to see it used in a political or religious context. “We will make sure the reputation and spirit of Zozobra is preserved,” Sandoval said, ” … so it’s not anti-Christian or racist.”
He added that the Kiwanis usually do that by talking with an artist to reach a resolution.
If an image is acceptable and traditional, they ask only that a tagline with the Kiwanis copyright be added, he said.
He added that members did not like an image they saw in the past of Zozobra on a cross in a pose similar to Jesus on the crucifix.
Rael had created an image along those lines. He said he doesn’t see it as religiously offensive, but simply a way to depict the fact that after you “kill” Zozobra, he always comes back the next year.
He did admit, however, “I created that piece to shock them” and to make the point that the club couldn’t – or shouldn’t be able to – control what has become a cultural character.
The burning of Zozobra, scheduled on Sept. 5 this year, was begun in 1924 by artist Will Shuster as a means to send up in flames the worries and travails of the past year.
“I’ve been drawing and creating papier-mâché Zozobras since first grade,” Rael said. “It’s always been part of my creative process … .”
As of this week, Rael said 10 artists have agreed to participate in the show, with about 25 to 30 pieces of art. Called “GLÜM – Madder Than the Old Man,” the show will be held at his business, Get Framed, in the Design Center, 418 Cerrillos Road, Suite 3.
“I spoke to a lawyer who said if it’s satire, it should be fine,” Rael said.
The Kiwanis Club art show will be held Aug. 30-31 during Zozofest at El Museo de Cultural, 555 Camino de la Familia in the Railyard.
Sandoval said he couldn’t say what, if anything, the Kiwanis would do about Rael’s show, since he only heard about it when a Journal reporter contacted him.
Rael added that he supports the Kiwanis Club’s programs and work in raising money to help children in the community. His cousin got $8,000 from the club to support studies at Johns Hopkins University, he said.
“My family is very grateful for that. They do great things,” he said of the Kiwanis.
As a matter of fact, Rael said he plans to donate 15 percent of any sales from his show to the Kiwanis Club.