Day Two: Hartford in Dallas: Jose Cruz

Jose Cruz was, for me, the big surprise of the day. We were warned about possible antics, possibly stuff "going down" and we didn't get it. Last time he visited the SU group, it was with a gold luchado mask (what is not to love?)--so he, in a sassy repartee with Carol T was asked "What else can we get you, sir?" "hookers." "Without the mask, I cannot perform". But he did...opening with "I am going to bore you with some really bad slides>" They weren't bad. And they were of the images that speak to him--which, as we got further and further into where he is going now, I went from polite to paying attention. His inspirations range from George Hardy (need to dig on that one), Robert Williams (see below), George Powell's puppetoons, and the collection of wonders he discovers in antique/ flea markets which he cleverly opens his presentation by showing the object of inspiration and the image (s) derivative of it. Lots of crazy deco toys from Felix the cat to roboty-little guys to animals. Interestingly, a lot of the same type of inspirations, the divine Chris Spollen uses in his earlier pix with the hotrods etc. but colored and textured in the mid-late eighties memphis palette (def memphis--not as sweet as Michael Graves took the aesthetic).

This earlier work was very simple in pastel colors with a single layout (a square floating in a rectangle with a border that reflected the proportions of a polaroid picture). He used light, medium, dark> no shadows> because as he said," shadows make work and you can't work quickly. " The old time is money thing. He is friends with Danny Pelavin--and has learned a great deal from him--from Danny's style, composition and integration of type. He did this work for quite a while until he took a trip to Mexico. " The water looks so soft, you want to jump in." He said that he was told by a person that swimming was not a good idea despite the beauty of the water because of the sharks." Jose turned around and was confronted by this sign:

He was struck with the simplicity but the corroded//eroded aspect of this image that it was aesthetic changing. To Jose Cruz, it was monumental. And from that, he started seeing more signage and stencils and street art "someone was doing graffiti with the Jesus thing" (see below) Its interesting that it hit him--because the Date Farmers were struck by the same imagery which has bounced into their work--driving a crude, hand made quality that I think Jose Cruz is seeking. Different results--but very similar starting points. I don't think he knows about them--it would be cool if he did. Cruz sites Keith Harring's work which he has pulled inspiration relative to the use of patterns and texture as well as the creation of a personal symbol program (such as Harring's Radiant Baby) which Cruz has established--a sperm symbol signifying himself/ masculinity/testosterone and a one eyed creature. I couldnt really fathom the other symbols, but I am sure if you got into it with Jose, he would be able to talk to it. He also started cutting his canvas up (not literally, yet) in black and white--again symbolic of polarity, positive and negative. He started to really pare his work down and was inspired by old advertising art of the 40s(?). Keeping it simple. He would look for cuts "Small ads are small art. Blow it up really big." Keeps the detail to the minimum. He works in squares again, only 2'x2', 4'x4' or half 2'x4' on beautifully screwed together plywood panels with wood spacers. The slides dont show it, but he works his backgrounds with type, collage, drawings he sands away to expose what is there. He applies all sorts of stuff from Melagros to Barbie torsos (which all, to me, seems very predictable)--but the black and white stuff is sensational. Finally, he is letting his emotions surface on these canvases with funny, dirty captions that somehow seem a bit sweet given the boy we are allowed to see through his toys, his pain and the way his art is helping (I believe it helps him) him, giving him a visual diary, a mirror to his feelings. These black and white, "Insult Paintings" are a nice ending for our talk about Jose Cruz because through these images, I feel that he is letting go a bit--seeing the art, and perhaps channeling this energy and bottled anger to create finally, in a way that reflects his vision,up bringing and his place as an artist. He seems very happy in this world of art--answering his own visual problems--talking to us about his worries, sadness and negative energy. I appreciate his ability to get it all out, and use his art to see himself more clearly--and be able to talk about his world, his life, his lost loves, his daughter and the women who have scorned him. It would be nice if he liked himself a bit more...and know that we do...and he doesn't have to try so hard. His work, intelligence and humor is something to admire. He is on a journey that I hope leads him to a happier space. He sure is working to get there.