Erin Azouz and the Roaring 2000’s

The images below are taken from the blog of Calarts photographer Erin Azouz.

My mom always said “The best artists always know how to have fun!” Seeing these silly photos that Erin posted on her blog brought a smile to my face and made a great day even better. I guess some people just know how to have fun better than others.

When I graduated from Calarts almost all of the other Chicano/Chicana students in the art department seemed to have left with me. I was struck wondering who would fill the gap at Calarts and hold things down. I was heartened to stumble across the work of student Erin Azouz. Her Identity Series has long been a favorite of mine. Her combination of cultural confusion, suicide, and the semiotics of Mexican-American folk culture articulate so much better what I struggled to present with my own work in my early years at Calarts.

Homegirl is also a fascinating animator. I’m not sure if she’s ever labeled her work as animation but one look at her videos and I can’t think of a better way to describe her brilliant sequencing of still images.   Depending on the Light is my favorite of her video projects. Erin describes it as “one of several visual responses to a paper i am writing about psychosomatism, with an open exploration of the mind (my mind); eastern philosophy provides the antidote.” Check it out below.

For the record, I intend to shamelessly steal the techniques she uses in her Summer 2008 video.

Some of her recent work includes a series of c-prints meticulously covered in drops and patterns of hot glue. I was intrigued by them and wrote to her asking about them and she gave me the interesting response of “the hot glue bubbles I think about as an extension of the photographic print, as well as an emulation of the nature of film grain. I think the hot glue is a lot about the process of photography itself, and for me it contributes to the produced or ‘plastic’ quality of the photographic image. The idea that the photographic image is an objective viewpoint (i.e. that the camera just ‘sees’ what it sees and the photographer is merely a passive observer) has plagued photographers throughout the cultural history of the still image. I have been dealing a lot lately with issues of authenticity. In an age of digital photography when any shot can be ‘the’ shot, and we can take literally hundreds of thousands of pictures of the same thing from every angle, we must begin to question whether our cameras are oppressors or liberators of the photographic image. The hot glue is a decorative and illustrative element to signify the end of the ‘age of analog’ and aim to bring new questions to the discourse of authenticity in photography. Does authentic even exist in this digital age?”. I can totally dig it. Hopefully Erin will post more from this project soon.

I’ve never actually met Erin but we keep talking about having a print exchange one of these days. Hopefully it’ll happen soon; Erin graduates this year from Calarts and your boy Rio wants to wish her the best in her next adventure, whatever it may be.

Erin Azouz’ thesis exhibit will run from April 6th to the 10th in Calarts’ L-Shape Gallery. Coincidentally this was also the location of my thesis show. Fancy that! I’m going to try and make it out for her reception. I truly believe Erin is going to be doing big things with her art, get in on the ground floor while you can.

Halted Construction (In the Roaring 2000’s)
new photographs by Erin Azouz
April 6-10, 2009
Opening Reception: April 9 @ 9PM
L-Shape Gallery
California Institute of the Arts
24700 McBean Parkway
Valencia, CA




Oakland’s Gettin’ Hot

I spent this past Sunday hanging out with my good friends Manny Martinez and Sandra Garcia Rivera. Both Manny and Sandra are singers, writers, and poets whom I met last year while taking photos and doing graphics for their band Benito Cereno. I woke up Sunday morning and while I drank my morning coffee checked my facebook page. I came across a posting by Manny titled Oakland’s Gettin’ Hot, a written piece in reaction to the murder of four Oakland police officers the day before. I left a comment on the note, talking about the profundity of his words, and Sandra responded inviting me to a reading/performance they were both having that day at Rebecca’s Books in Oakland.

I knew I wanted to get Manny’s performance of the piece on video so I grabbed my flip minoHD camera and got on the BART to Oakland. There was a nervous energy in the air when I got out at the Ashby station in Oakland. Walking down the three blocks to the bookstore I felt the nervousness in the air, it was intense.

After the bookstore event I proposed to Manny and Sandra that we travel somewhere so that I could shoot some footage of them performing their recent works. They agreed and Manny picked Lake Merritt in Oakland as the backdrop for the shoot. I spent about an hour filming Manny and Sandra and interviewing them about their relationship and how they relate to the Bay Area as two Puerto Ricans. Below is the pair doing their thing with Oakland’s Gettin’ Hot and Manny’s original text.

Oakland’s getting hot-March 22, 2009
the day after four Oakland police officers were gunned down

Oakland’s getting hot
Four cops shot
bystanders applaud
Oh-lordy lord
Media machine is hummin’
Schwarzenegger’s comin’
To talk to Mayor Dellums
Wonder what he’ll tell ‘em

Four cops shot
Oakland’s gettin’ hot
Crowd starts to chant
“this is for Oscar Grant”
Last cop to die
Was back in ‘99
But how many brothers
Have died within that time

Four cops shot
Oakland’s gettin’ hot
When bodies start to stack
Most of them are black
The man who pulled the trigger
Just another Black man
It’s kind of strange
There was Love in his name

Now Oakland’s gettin’ hot
Four cops shot
To some it means nothin’
To some it means a lot
If you live in Oakland
Please watch your back
Things are getting’ wack
Be careful if your Black.

At the end of the shoot Manny brought things to a close with a freestyle.

My original work with Manny is the portrait below that I completed almost a year ago. It’s one of my personal favorites from my portrait series.



Ps. I’ve made no secret of my mad love for the Chica’s Project on Mun2 and as it turns out Sandra was featured in an episode of the show. Check out Sandra schoolin’ Crash and Yasmin in Nuyorican Poetry and performing an original piece.

[Note: For more videos of Manny and Sandra, please check out my facebook page. I can’t seem to embed facebook videos in wordpress and flickr limits videos to only 90 seconds each.]

Stink Finger

I recently went to see Richard Montoya’s Water and Power at Teatro Vision in San Jose. I thought Richard’s writing was brilliant and can’t wait to see what further forms this story takes. After the performance we went to Iguana’s for dinner and I ended up sitting next to Richard. He started a spiel about his one man band, Stink Finger, where he plays the drumsticks.

I told Richard I’d design a Stink Finger logo for him. The dangerous thing about two artists joking around is that they are often capable of following through with their ideas and ridiculous promises. Below is the logo I came up with that very night.

After our meal Richard treated the crowd to an impromptu Stink Finger performance in the parking lot. Richard let his hair down, flanked by staff members of Teatro Vision, and rocked out. My video evidence is below.



Post-Latino images in Kid Cudi’s Day n’ Nite

This video for Kid Cudi’s song Day n’ Nite was pointed out to me by a recent blog post from my favorite cousin Cat in San Diego. I know we’re family because we both have mad love for Kid Cudi. I had no idea a video had actually been produced for Day n’ Nite (I was under the impression that Heaven at Night was going to be his first video).

As Latinos and Chicanos we have enough drama defining ourselves under those names without further complicating things with terms like “Post” added to the mix. It’s yet to be seen if the idea of Post-Race Art will make it out of its infancy or simply come and go as a fashion trend but the dialogue over its validity has kept me transfixed for the last couple of years.

What makes the images of Raza in Day n’ Nite Post-Latino is that they present images of Latinos that aren’t dependent on any performance of race. This is an almost impossible dynamic to pull off in the mainstream media, Latinos that are semiotically apparent (their appearance, signs in Spanish, the aesthetics of the murals and store interiors) but without the usual tropes, stereotypes, and actions. Compare the images of Brown people in the Day n’ Nite video to recent videos by Beck and Gwen Stefani. Nobody is beating you over the head saying “These are Latinos!” There’s nary a mariachi band, Quinceañera, or cholo in Day n’ Nite. It’s the difference between “Being” and “Portraying”; the difference between an interesting setting and cultural tourism.

Kid Cudi is from Cleveland and the Director, So Me, is based in France so I’m more than a little curious as to where the inspiration for the video’s setting came from. Were the depictions of race by design or unintentional? Is Day n’ Nite a sign of things to come or the result of a unique vision? We shall see in the future.

I think this is the third blog in the last couple of months where I’ve mentioned Kid Cudi. I truly believe he is the next big thing and a creative visionary in mainstream music. As I’ve said before Kid Cudi’s free mixtape Plain Pat + Emile presents: “a KID named CUDI” was my favorite album of 2008 and you can download it at

Behind the scenes images from
Behind the scenes images from
Cudi and Pan Dulce!
Cudi and Pan Dulce!

What does everyone think? I’m calling out all my usual conversation partners on post-race art and identity: Rocky, Mariela, Cindylu, and Richard. Is this the real deal or am I just overly excited to see images of Latinos that simply aren’t embarrassing minstrel shows?



Reclaiming the Animated Gif Part 1

Much has been written about the differences between myspace and facebook and the implications of class, race, and education that fill the divide. Nothing has signified this paradigm better than facebook not displaying animated gifs on their site. People fleeing bling graphics and the gaudy pimped-out layouts of myspace have found peace and tranquility within the rigid boundaries of facebook.

I can understand the issues that people have with animated gifs. Aside from their mostly vulgar aesthetics that can make your eyes bleed they can also present technical problems as well. Back in the day when I only had a dial-up connection at home (about 3 months ago) I had to avoid the myspace profiles of certain friends because, quite frankly, they filled their pages up with so many gaudy ghetto graphics that the shit would cause  my computer to crash. Even now with a solid wi-fi connection too many “100% Sexy Mami”, “Just dropping by to say hi”, and “(insert name of Latin American country) pride” animated gifs will still fuck up my mac.

As a Chicano, I do have strong interest in these graphics that I so frequently condescend to. Animated gifs are the Paño art for the current generation of young people. They are art created with the available tools and resources at their disposal. In this transition they have lost their technical hand made quality in exchange for color, motion, and easy deliverance. Art in magazines like Lowrider, Teen Angel, and Mi Vida Loca have also become outmoded in the rise of the animated gif.

The cultural and social dynamics and ghetto notoriety of the gif has made me interested in artists who work in the medium with this stigma in mind. My favorite is Colombian graphic artist Mariana Rojas (also known as La Furia). Her artwork embraces the gaudy aesthetics of animated gifs and turns them into something bombastic. My favorites are below.

Friday Im in Love by La Furia
Friday I'm in Love by La Furia
Feliz viernes 13 para ti! by La Furia
Feliz viernes 13 para ti! by La Furia
Amor Electrico by La Furia
Amor Electrico by La Furia

More on this subject to come,


A Mii Portrait by Cindylu

While I was in Los Angeles last week I spent two days digging in the scene with my good friend (and one of my favorite art subjects) Cindylu. I had such a great time with her trying to define the difference between being an aesthetically dedicated Chicano and self-parody. While we waited to see a midnight show of Watchmen, Cindylu brought out her Wii for us to go head-to-head in a couple of games of Mario Kart and Wii Sports.

Before we began playing she showed me her rogues gallery of Miis that she had created or downloaded. Her Miis were of family and close friends and when she offered do create a portrait of me in Mii form I was honored and couldn’t resist. Our roles were suddenly reveresed and I was the subject and she the artist. I was highly amused with the results, especially after seeing the Miis in action while we played against each other. The artistic process is documented below.

This may seem like fun and games but video game portraits are no joke. There was a recent exhibit at SOMArts of avatar based art. Included in the exhibit were four self-portraits by artist Marque Cornblatt that he created from X-Box 360 games with create-a-character features. He presented them on monitors embedded in gold-trimmed frames and hung them on the gallery walls like paintings. The effect was impressive, an animated self-portrait in the guise of traditional flat visual art.

For the record, Cindylu schooled me in every Wii game we played. She knocked me out twice in wii boxing and among other humiliations. I’d say more but my nerd status would be revoked. I need to get a Wii quick to work on my mad skills.



Top of the Pops

"It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! Magazine..."
"It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! Magazine..."

Life is good and I am happy. Yesterday I sold a print of Don Barba to an amazing new art collector and spoke to a Humanities class at San Francisco State University about my artwork. It was my first time publicly speaking about my work outside of a gallery setting.

When I came home I discovered that my homegirl and BFF Ava Alamshah had uploaded polaroids that we had taken of each other while I was in Los Angeles last week. She presents them in a diptych below.

Ava and I have never collaborated formally on any artworks but we’re always up in each other’s mixes. Below is a video I shot and edited of Ava while I was in LA. One of the reasons that Ava is my BFF is that we have the exact same sense of humor when it comes to looking at ourselves and others as artists. We’re serious with a tongue planted firmly in our cheeks.

It’s all good in the hood,