Growing up as an artistic kid in a Jehovah’s Witness family, San Antonio native Connie Chapa would often draw pictures on issues of The Watchtower
during meetings at the Kingdom Hall — to her mother’s chagrin.
Although she didn’t study art in high school, she doodled regularly and drew manga-inspired characters in journals that got passed between friends.
“I guess that’s where I really got [my first] critiques,” Chapa mused. “From friends in school.”
In contrast — and perhaps reaction — to the strict conservatism of her family’s religion, Chapa became captivated by provocative representations of women in glossy magazines and fantastical anime alike.
“Especially with my early work, I was very much fascinated and inspired by the female figure and pinups,” Chapa said. Amusingly, she didn’t have to look far for artistic inspiration. “My dad had cardboard cutouts and stuff, and I would think, ‘Oh wow, here’s a woman in a bikini!’ [I was] being told that that stuff was grotesque [or] wrong. But I thought it was beautiful [and] amazing. And so, my love for drawing, especially the female figure, came from all of that.”
She may have even gotten Pops in hot water on occasion.
“It’s funny, my mom would ask us to help out around the house and if I came across some of my dad’s dirty magazines, I would be like, ‘Whoa!’ I’m sure I ratted out my dad a couple times [with questions] like, ‘Hey mom, how big do you think my boobs are gonna get?’ [I wasn’t] trying to rat out my dad, but there definitely have been times where I accidentally [did]. Oops, I’m sorry, Dad!”
After high school, Chapa enrolled at Northwest Vista College to pursue a degree that eventually shifted from optometry to fine arts. While studying painting, sculpture and art history, Chapa also used her anatomy books as references for drawings.
“I was just learning the basics,” she recalled. “I had an idea, but I wanted to learn ways to create my own methods and techniques.”
In time, Chapa’s pinup-inspired sketches gave way to fully realized works, including ink drawings, watercolors and acrylic paintings of kitschy stuffed animals, nymphlike nudes and vintage-style babes brandishing whips, sprouting devil horns or tied up in shibari ropes.
In 2016, Chapa participated in her first exhibition, a group show hosted by Black Moon Gallery in the Blue Star Arts Complex. Titled “The Sci-Fi Show,” it turned out to be a pivotal experience for Chapa since it marked the beginning of her exhibition history as well as her relationship with Black Moon proprietor Zane Thomas, who remains her partner.
“I was really lucky when I first met Zane,” Chapa said. “He was very helpful and he’s very encouraging. I’ve been able to step outside of my box a lot more and own up to who I am and not be afraid of what I want to do. He’s really helped me become the artist that I want to be.”
Beyond anime, sci-fi and classic pinups, Chapa is specifically inspired by the work of Eric Stanton (1926-1999), an iconic fetish artist whose erotic illustrations depicted latex-loving glamazons dominating weak and abusive men — and each other. Chronicled in the book Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground
, Stanton played a key role in bringing fetishism out of the shadows alongside contemporaries such as sexploitation kingpin Irving Klaw, pinup queen Bettie Page and Bizarre magazine publisher John Willie.
With its mélange of aesthetics drawn from underground comix, tattoo culture and street art, the “lowbrow” movement is also a thematic touchstone for Chapa, who counts artists Mitch O’Connell, Robert Williams and Rockin Jelly
Bean among her influences.
These two distinct aesthetics coalesce seamlessly in Chapa’s recent work, which includes poppy paintings of sexed-up animal-human hybrids and floating heads of women wearing ball gags modeled after vintage doll faces.
These works also take cues from Chapa’s ever-growing collection of kitsch and tchotchkes.
“I collect a lot of ceramics, like Napco [figurines] and different ceramic critters along with rubber-faced dolls and kitschy things,” Chapa said. “I wanted to start using my collection — which is a big inspiration for me. I’ve been doing that a lot more, and I hope to continue to do that.”
Intriguingly, Chapa manages to tame some of her wild subject matter by placing it in an undeniably playful context.
Earlier this year, Chapa found herself searching for new ways to create work and interact with her social media followers during the COVID-19 pandemic. After “spit-balling ideas” on a walk with Thomas one day, Chapa settled on an unusual plan: She would fill their gum ball dispenser — aptly dubbed the Mystery Machine — with 63 capsules containing Halloween-related prompts, crank it three times and create original paintings incorporating the three random subjects that tumbled out. Pushing the envelope even further, she decided to paint these “monster mashups” on vintage receipt paper salvaged from the Albert Clemenez General Store in Sunman, Indiana.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to be interested to begin with,” Chapa said. “It seems confusing at first, which I totally understand. [I figured] if I got 10 people to participate, that would be cool. Because really what I wanted was to flex my creative muscles.”
To her surprise and delight, 51 people sprang for her monster mashups — which sold for $45 each, sight unseen.
As if banking on one pagan holiday wasn’t enough — sorry, Jehovah! — Chapa recently rebooted the project to the tune of 24 yuletide mashups she painted on 1970s-era Christmas carol sheet music. Unsurprisingly, the anthropomorphic Christmas demon Krampus factored into the equation.
Beyond the income and experience, Chapa says the mashups have trained her to paint quicker.
“It was all in all a good process,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people were having fun with it and I was having fun with it too.”
Although she capped her holiday sales on December 11, Chapa plans to continue with the project next year, bringing it back in October and keeping it going through the holidays.
She also plans to collect all the 2020 mashups in a zine and is entertaining the idea of branching out into other holidays.
“I do like the idea of some Valentine’s Day or Easter mashups,” she said.
For more about Connie Chapa, visit artedecoco.square.site
and follow on Instagram @arte_de_coco
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