Angels among us
A 16-year (“maybe a few more”) volunteer at the Contemporary Hispanic Market, Tony Fernandez had been helping other artists for years before the thought finally hit him that, well, maybe he could create some art himself.
Actually, he confesses, “as a child, I really hated art. I thought if I met another artist, I would puke.”
He doesn’t have a good explanation why, except to think that, like many children, he was under-appreciating and rebelling against what was all around him as he grew up in Santa Fe and Taos.
But when he was in his 30s, living in Germany, he said, he saw a painting by Peter Paul Rubens and was in awe of what could be created by such a master. “My whole mind-set changed,” Fernandez said. “Now I truly love art, all forms, and love being around the creative process.”
Now, besides serving as coordinator for the Market, he has had a booth there for four years with his oil paintings.
And Fernandez hastened to note that his paintings are dropped off by someone else, all names are masked during the jurying process and the jurors are people outside of the Market structure.
“I just love it,” he said, adding that his friends feel as if he finally has found himself. “They said they always had seen me as an artist.”
He added, “One friend tells me I really paint where I come from, my history, that I’m really telling my story.”
That may be the case. After a friend killed himself, Fernandez said he painted a funeral procession, complete with mourners and an altar boy carrying a cross. Then he started putting haloes over some of the people’s heads, a practice he plans to continue with future paintings.
“I really do believe there are angels who walk among us,” Fernandez said.
That’s despite the fact that he describes himself more as a Buddhist these days. One of his paintings, he said, grew from his Spanish and German grandmothers each telling him he should go to church more often.
So he had a picture taken of himself sitting in a pew at El Santuario de Chimayó, contemplating the altar screen and made it into Christmas cards to send his grandmas.
His first painting was copied from that image, Fernandez said.
Another shows San Geronimo Days at Taos Pueblo, with bright pink adobes and a green with white sky – “what I call a Good Friday sky,” Fernandez said, because anything from snow to hail to sunshine can happen that time of year.
He has also done a series he calls “109 E. Palace” with different versions of the blue porch, windows and adobe walls: one with Indians looking in the window, another with Tibetan prayer flags hanging from a window and a toy rocket, one with a peace flag (white with a dove) and a Tibetan Buddha, and another with himself as a young man walking by.
He also has done a street scene of a little curve on Alto Street that he “liked since I was a kid,” but with the buildings painted an oxblood color that he remembered from earlier days.
Another shows a scene looking down from a balcony into Cathedral Park.
Noting that he often can take “forever” with a painting, adding many little details, Fernandez said he’s trying to “get outside my box” and develop a more modern look.
Alberto Elias Zalma says he has been selling his art at the Contemporary Hispanic Market for years – but this is the first year he’ll be doing it officially.
In past years, he confessed, he would display his pieces alongside the road nearby and sell as many as he could before someone kicked him out.
That guerrilla aspect seems in harmony with the mood of the work.
“I use traditional images, but tweak them out with a sort of urban graffiti flair to it,” he said. “I use a lot of collage … Usually I use recycled materials, stuff I find in the trash or pick up at ReStore.”
The only thing he can’t figure out how to get used or recycled, he said, is his paint.
Zalma designs his images to reflect the current times – Our Lady of Guadalupe might be holding a cell phone or a gun.
“I’m not so traditional, and not so religious, either,” Zalma said. “I really like icons for what they are … what they look like.” Buddha, the Pope or Ganesh are equally likely to turn up in his work, he said.
He was drawing and creating things ever since he was a kid – often while he was supposed to be paying attention in class, he said. “It’s always been a driving force in my life.”
Born and raised in Santa Fe, he also spent some time with his father in New York, where he was exposed to “amazing” street art. He said he got his start as a graffiti artist.
Zalma was talking with the Journal by phone from Colorado, where he had been performing with Boomroots Collective, a band that plays hip hop and reggae. His niche is vocals and keyboard.
“Most of our stuff is about unity, peace and consciousness – I try to put that in my art as well,” Zalma said. “It can be very political… I definitely like stirring the pot and speaking the truth. If that kind of ruffles people’s feathers, that’s all the better.”
His work has appeared in some group shows locally, he said, but he isn’t represented by any gallery at the moment.
For a while, he lived in Maui and had his work in a gallery there, but he did not seek another outlet after it folded.
While that gallery was open, he made a living from his art, he said. “All I had to do was work in the studio, then hang out on the beach,” Zalma said. “I was living the dream.”
Back in Santa Fe, he’s aiming to get more serious about marketing his art and is putting together an interior design business. “I want to take it to the next level,” Zalma said, while noting that Santa Fe is a tough town for an artist who isn’t already a “name.”
But he said he gets a kick out of the idea of his art going around the world, not so much as an ego trip but for the thrill of sharing something of himself and his vision. Buyers in the past had told him of taking their purchases to their homes in Canada or the United Kingdom, he said.
“A lady who works for Yahoo bought one of my huge paintings and said, ‘This will be hanging over Central Park,’ ” Zalma said. “I enjoy when people take my art out somewhere different.”