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Freeze Tag: Style Wars, Gallery Bound, and Vincent Valdez

I found this story in our current issue and the reader comments it inspired both interesting and important. Also, since the story mentions the Gallery Bound art program for at-risk kids, it gives me an opportunity to post a couple of photos here from the Gallery Bound opening:

which I attended, and found inspiring and fun. There was some really promising work, and the artists and their families were having a great time. A lot of grinning artists and proud parents. I got the opportunity to speak to several of the young artists about their work, and what the Gallery Bound program had meant to them.

Here's a photo the kids in question (it amazed me how young some of them wereâ??I think a couple of them are eleven):

The Gallery Bound artists and the names of their paintings are as follows:

1. John Rico "Grin"

2. Quentan Bell "Harley"

3. Sergio Juarez "The Grim Shredder"

4. Michael Vogel "Street Racer"

5. Gabriel Valdez "A Trip"

6. Jose Gonzalez "Bird, Snake, Rat"

7. Patricia Arias "La Nina Bonita"

8. Katherine Arias "La Muneca"

9. Quentin Moreno "Headphones"

10. Jeremy Hernandez "Kick 'n' Push"

11. Zoe Kimura "Lucky Cat"

12. Daniel Escoto "Lost"

13. Ramond Rosales "Space"

14. Ruben Hernandez "Question"

Unfortunately, I don't have images of all the artists or their paintings, but I thought posting the photo of the kids, and the list of their names and artworks might make them seem less anonymous, less of an abstraction.

Here's Jon Rico and “Grin”:

And here's Quentan Bell, with “Harley”:

I talked with Quentan for quite a while. He told me about how working with the Gallery Bound mentors had changed his approach to artwork, and expanded his techniques. Far from just tagging on canvas, the Gallery Bound program's empowered Quentan to experiment with and adapt to completely new ways of handling paintâ??stippling using a brush, for example, or doing a pencil underdrawing, even embracing an entirely new perspective on the picture plane and planning out how much space to accord to each compositional element. Quentan used aspects of landscape and portraiture here that he'd never tried before, he said, beaming all the while. That's his dog, Harley, a pit bull who's “totally hyper” but who Quentan loves. And that's the skyline of Quentan's hometown, San Antonio, in the background.

I also spoke to Sergio Juarez about his painting “The Grim Shredder” (Sergio's the boy standing to the right of Quentan in the group photo), and he said, also, that the Gallery Bound program nudged him past tagging and towards using new techniques and painting in new ways.

The kids in Blue Star's MOSAIC program, who studied under Kim Bishop and Alex Rubio, and who I wrote about here, also benefited tremendously from avoluntary, pioneering arts program.

This all seems pretty significant to me. It reminds me that art education and creative opportunities can and have changes lives and advanced the careers of some very accomplished local artists, many of whom have to chosen to become mentors.

Shek mentions in the “Style Wars” story having done an East Side mural with Cruz Ortiz, and how transformational that was for him. I've spoken to Shek before about the graffiti art conundrum and written about it, as in this blog post from January (scroll down to second half), and he's passionate very thoughtful on the matter of creative alternatives for young people. Though he used to tag ilegally he in no way condones it, and actively seeks ways to channel talented, restless kids into making art that doesn't deface property and doesn't incur such potentially dire legal or health consequences. Let me re-state that: Shek, along with many, many other artists who emerged from the graffiti subculture, do not endorse defacing or destroying property.

Shek gets gallery shows and commissions now. It's worth mentioning, too, that Vincent Valdez received invaluable art instruction as a Southside kid by studying in mural programs with David Rubio (whom he's subsequently immortalized in several of his works). I got to see Vincent in his SAMA talk with David Rubin, here's a bad phone photo, as is customary with me:

Vincent spoke about how, as a youngster, his high school (Burbank High, by the way, which is in danger of closure) reached agreement with him wherein if he more or less behaved himself, he was given wall space to create murals. And create he did--a whole series of murals documenting the history of Rock and Roll.

His school's creative approach to this gifted kid, as well as his study with Alex Rubio, launched the career of a significant artist. His work ”El Chavez Ravine” is up at SAMA right now, by the wayâ??go see it.

Incidentally, Alex Rubio took all the students in his MOSAIC class to hear Vincent speak, and to meet him and see his work, and when I spoke to those kids, they talked about how important both Alex and Vincent are to them as instructors, inspirations, and examples.

OK, so, to sum up: I am not endorsing tagging or defacing public or private property. I empathize with the very understandable frustration of San Antonians like commenter Manny from the comments forum on the “Style Wars” story, who've had to spend sometimes thousands of dollars of their own resources in covering over tags. Tagging isn't harmlessâ??as Manny rightfully points out, the paint fumes are dangerous to the kids as well.

And, for the record, I think the City policy of requiring business- and home-owners to incur the costs of covering tags themselves to be CRAZYPANTS; not only does it punish the victims of crime, the policy exacerbates tensions between business-and homeowners, and the kids who tagâ?¦and kids who are even suspected of tagging. It leads to the kind of three-tags-you're-out policy that can lead to an otherwise nonviolent kid becoming dangerously institutionalized in prison.

But look what a little community involvement, a little creative outlet, a little re-direction of energy can do! I applaud artists like Alex Rubio, Vincent Valdez, Cruz Ortiz, Aaron Moreno, Marcus Ramos, Shek, and Wendi Kimura for encouraging and mentoring younger artists, and I appreciate District 6 City Councilwoman Delicia Herrera and Sean FitzGibbons for spearheading the Gallery Bound program. And I hope (and believe!) that out of programs like Gallery Bound and Blue Star's MOSAIC, more Vincent Valdezes and Wendi Kimuras and Alex Rubios might come.

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