The artists sit in the studio and talk about war. Not just the two we’ve got going, but the war on drugs, Vietnam, World War II, the military presence in San Antonio, the low-grade martial law we all live under, and the warrior imagery so important in framing little-boy culture. “War games” is Oscar Mike’s thesis.
Vincent Valdez, Rigoberto Luna, Albert Alvarez , and show masterminds Ruben Luna and Jimmy James Canales gather in Valdez’s newly finished studio, in the backyard of a house he bought a couple of years ago but has let to tenants until now. He’s still traveling back and forth; one week he’s here in his hometown, the next he’s in LA, performing with his band OLLIN, maybe staying with Ry Cooder, who commissioned Valdez’s Chavez Ravine (2008), the ice-cream-truck social-justice epic painting that occupied SAMA’s main rotating exhibition space last year.
The mood in the room is surprisingly upbeat, given the subject matter. Friend Adam Rocha snaps photos, Valdez’s newly adopted puppy Dulce frolicks and begs for attention. The artists joke that Albert Alvarez is the art platoon’s “Man Down”; his hard drive up and died, taking with it the work of animation which was to be his contribution to Oscar Mike. Alvarez is half-inclined to just leave it at that, but the artists — especially Ruben Luna, acting as curatorial captain — encourage him to include frames and other images from the work, and to present it as an in-progress operation.
“How much would it cost to retrieve the data?” Luna asks.
“I’ve been talking to a guy … it’ll be about $800,” says Alvarez.
Ruben suggests that they solicit donations at the show to help the soft-spoken artist resuscitate the precious data and complete the work. So maybe not so much Man Down as Triage, or SOS.
Alex Rubio is hosting the one-night show as part of his Friday exhibition series at Nightrocker Live, a regular-guy rock and punk club and therefore, the artists maintain, the ideal venue. Perfect for a surprise attack. But in broad terms, here’s what’s what. Rigoberto Luna ponders identity, constructing a found-object sculpture depicting what he’d pack for an overnight stay at a friend’s, as a little boy. “I’d make sure to have my guns and video games with me, way more so than clothes,” he laughs.
Ruben Luna has crafted elaborate, darkly funny altars to the mythology of war propoganda. Canales is using those same colorful Techjano/a serapes, only this time as ritualized camouflage. Alvarez’s images pertain to the constant state of war — including the notion of subterranean informational wars — in modern culture. Valdez combines portraiture, drawings he made as a child, and a sound element to evoke a multimedia elegy.
Rigoberto and Ruben Luna’s dad is an Army veteran; same with Vincent Valdez, who showed me his father’s platoon group photo. His grandfather fought in World War II. A good friend of Valdez who served in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide in San Antonio last Fall. In the past year, Valdez tells me, in San Antonio alone 13 soldiers have committed suicide. Most were facing redeployment. One guy he met had gone through nine tours of duty.
Valdez’s studio is filled with toys: G.I. Joes and other plastic army men; plastic knives and .22 rifles; endless comic books and Army manuals and paper propoganda — mostly Vietnam-era, but some WWII and Korea-based comics and images. Several Rambo images. Tragicomic. And Canales has photos on his laptop of the artists, including Miguel Nelson, who wasn’t at this meeting, but will provide soundcape during the one-night exhibition — working on the show and fooling around. A line-up photo of several of them in various vaguely military costumes against an institutional-looking wall calls to mind the videos of jihadist beheadings.
“Except Ruben,” who’s holding a pole and wearing a cloth hat, “looks like he’s going fishing,” his brother observes. Everybody laughs.
Canales and Alvarez also participated in the forward-looking Techjano/a show this spring, with Ruben Luna, the operations manager at the Alameda, facilitating the space `see “Oh, y’know: serapes, murales, the usual,” April 28`. Like Techjano/a, Oscar Mike puts the emphasis on experimentation, collaboration, and a familiar central theme rendered into something unexpected. In Techjano/a, for example, Canales used those traditional serapes to wrap himself up, monster-style, and shamble around the gallery, while Alvarez painted a Fiesta crowd scene as violent nightmare.
Canales says that he wants to participate in lots of collaborations; “I wanna keep it going, I want people to join in, I wanna work wth everyone!” Oscar Mike, by the way, is combat-ese for “on the move.” Canales enthuses, “We want it to grow and change and be at different venues, here, Houston, Austin, anywhere. We want it literally to be on the move.” •