Cruzando la frontera sin cruzar: Hugo Crosthwaite, los Zapatistas y Tierra Brillante; Self Help Graphics gets a new mural; Books: Libros Schmibros y Rebekah Miles; Urban Legends; Cafe Vida

“Tijuanerias No. 1”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is always exciting and adventurous, as I never can predict what is going to happen en el otro ladoLuis De Jesus in Culver City just made the drive to TJ a lot shorter for us Angelinos.  Upon entering Tijuana-born artist Hugo Crosthwaite’s exhibition Tijuanerias, the viewer crosses this symbolic frontera into the border town.  His 102 small ink drawings are aligned one after another, which reflect the lives of the people that inhabit this transitional, diverse place.  Images of street dwellers, young couples, prostitutes, outcasts, children, workers, drug dealers, narcos and everyday people mingle with (and perhaps become) bizarre animals (let’s not forget those striped donkeys, otherwise known as the Tijuana Zebra or zonkey), mermaids, calacas y calaveras, spirits and angels. The images depict the grotesque, referencing Goya’s “Caprichos”. Some are waiting, some are crossing; they are all inhabiting this in-between place that looks like purgatorio for that same moment in time.  They live amongst the buildings and cables with the ubiquitous border wall as the backdrop, sometimes covered in graffiti, sometimes touched by a rotulista.  And for those of us who know (and love) this city, we recognize, romanticize and eventually grow nostalgic for it.

“Tijuanerias No. 31”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

“Tijuanerias No. 54”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

“Tijuanerias No. 74”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

Each drawing is a page in the lives of these characters.  Crosthwaite introduces the narrative but doesn’t finish it for us. Como en una telenovela, we must face the drama but are always left hanging.

“Tijuanerias No. 4”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

“Tijuanerias No. 71”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of the artist

“Tijuanerias No. 58”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of the artist

Once you’ve passed la frontera of the first gallery space, you then enter the dreamy enlarged world of these same characters.  The viewer is invited to share the space and delve deeper into la vida de Tijuana.

“Tijuanerias”, Hugo Crosthwaite; Courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

Todavía hay tiempo, pero apúrate pues before this show ends, on May 26th.

Another show which concerns Mexico, Rigo 23: Autonomous Intergalactic Space Program, is currently on view at the RedcatRigo 23 is a San Francisco-based Portuguese artist who became interested in the Zapatista community in Chiapas.  He collaborated with local painters, carpenters, seamstresses, weavers and activist and created an “intercommunal and intergalactic dialogue” with them.  The exhibition consists of sculptures, paintings, murals and tapestries that give voice to the Zapatista’s struggle for autonomy.  The center piece of this exhibition is Rigo 23’s Zapatista intergalactic, vegetal spaceship that plays with the notion of intergalactic travel, the Mayan conceptions of the cosmos, planetary constellations and covered in iconography, radical politics and imagery of the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional).

Rigo 23 installation at Redcat; Photo by Daniel Lara

“Para todos todo para nosotros nada” is a saying from the Zapatistas.  This is a little how I felt after seeing the exhibition.  Just starting with the title, Rigo 23: Intergalactic Space Program I felt that the hundred Mexican collaborators didn’t receive the recognition they deserved.  Where were their names?  Why were their names not incorporated into the title of the show or painted on the main entrance, like Rigo 23?  I kept thinking, “Para todos todo (here in Walt Disney Concert Hall) para nostoros nada”… I was confused.   I walked around the space,  some parts recreated to look like the alleys of Chiapas… I felt like I was at Disneyland.  But that was unfair to the amazing art works presented in the show.  The pieces that these artists created are so beautiful and meaningful, especially within the context that they were made in.  But here we all were in the “art world”, in the United States, far away from the Zapatista movement, sipping our wine and looking at this very political and complex work.  I felt guilty for participating.  But I must say I felt a bit better after finally finding the names of the artists in a pamphlet made for the show.  Another quote by the Zapatistas is “We covered our faces so that we could stop being invisible”.  I wanted to know more about each and every one of these artists.   I wanted to watch a video documenting all of these unknown people.  Even though their works were present, the artists remained invisible.

Mural by Jose Luis and Samuel; Photo by Daniel Lara

 Photo by Daniel Lara

Back on the Eastside, I visited the new location of Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights to watch several artists create a temporary large mural titled Una Trenza (a braid).

“Una Trenza” mural at Self Help Graphics

The mural, curated by SHG resident artist Vyal Reyes, incorporates 15 artists whose involvement at SHG has influenced their artistic careers and personal lives in some way.  For some of the artists their specific part of la trenza represents the historical significance of this important organization.  For others their part represents the future of artists and the community of Boyle Heights.  Ofelia Esparza told me that it was important to incorporate the old iconic building (on Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Gage Avenue) and the Dia de los muertos festival, as SHG was the first place in Los Angeles to celebrate this Mexican tradition with the public.  Fabian Debora painted his son, looking out over a Los Angeles of the past. Raul Gonzalez made sure to present the value of education in his neighborhood.  And Wayne Perry‘s piece is a comment on the impending gentrification of the area; the artists move in, the neighborhood changes and gentrification happens.  As Perry concluded, ” …then no more buffalo.”

Vyal Reyes working on “Una Trenza” at Self Help Graphics

Ofelia Esparza working on “Una Trenza” at Self Help Graphics

Fabian Debora working on “Una Trenza” at Self Help Graphics

Raul Gonzalez working on “Una Trenza” at Self Help Graphics

Wayne Perry’s buffalo

The artists who participated include (in order of each section of La Trenza from left to right): Vyal Reyes, Leo Limon, Wayne Perry, the Esparza Family (Ofelia Esparza, Rosanna Esparza-Ahrens, Jacqueline “Jaxiejax” Sanders-Esparza, Elena Esparza), Los de Abajo (Poli Marichal, Don Newton, Kay Brown, Nguyen Li, Victor Rosas Marianne Sadowski), Yolanda Gonzalez, John Carlos de Luna, William Acedo, Asylm, Margaret Alarcon, Fabian Debora, Ricardo Estrada, Raul Gonzalez, Raul Baltazar, and Sand.

“Una Trenza”; Photo courtesy of Self Help Graphics

Just down the street from Self Help Graphics is Libros Schmibros Lending Library and Bookshop, another great organization that is creating a vibrant and educated Boyle Heights.  If you are someone who only stays on the Westside, you may remember Libros Schmibros during its residency at the Hammer Museum.  You might also remember David Kipen, the enthusiastic and inspiring creator of this organization, climbing up and down a ladder to get you the perfect book.  But if you are from the Eastside, you may already have known about this amazing nonprofit for the last two years, as it lends both Spanish and English books or sells them for cheap.  And if you are a Boyle Heights resident, you can purchase books for $1.  The original site was on the corner of 1st Street and Cummings St.  If you go their now (perhaps on your way to Corazon del Pueblo, which is just across the street), you will still find the powerful mural Even Concrete Walls Cannot Stop the Beauty of Life by Carlos Callejo and Raul Gonzalez (Yes, the same Raul Gonzalez who painted a part of Una Trenza.)  A man is pounding the concrete wall with a sledgehammer and a large flower blossoms from the crevice.

“Even Concrete Walls Cannot Stop the Beauty of Life”, Carlos Callejo and Raul Gonzalez

In March, Libros Schmibros moved to their new location in the Mariachi Plaza, right at the mouth of the metro Gold Line Station.  It’s a great, lively spot and also has a mural (Carlos Callejo painted the sign for this one).  When I walked in there to browse through the collection (There is a special section on Los Angeles!), I looked around and noticed that there were mariachis also browsing through the books.  Rather then standing on the corner and waiting for their band to get picked up for an evening serenata, these young men were inside reading books to pass the time.  It was an amazing moment, where cultures mingled and intermixed.

Libros Schmibros in the Mariachi Plaza, Boyle Heights

Well if it’s books you are into, then you might be interested in the artwork by Rebekah Miles, an artist based in Santa Barbara.  Miles paints one-of-a-kind book jackets on a range of subjects, artists and authors.  The books she selects are a reference to art history and the art of literature and libraries.  She tries to find used books and then gives them a new life by painting on a hand-cut heavy weight paper jacket. Sometimes she paints her own version of the original illustration and sometimes if the book is not illustrated, she finds another image that is complementary to its content.  The result is always the same…gorgeous.  They are so stunning that when Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte came across her books, they not only bought some but commissioned her to make 20 more.  For the past four years, Miles has made books for various shows in collaboration with Rodarte, for her personal collection, and for other individual commissions.  But you can get some too!  Miles’ books are being sold at the MOCA store in downtown LA.

Rebekah Miles; Photo courtesy of the artist

Rebekah Miles; Photo courtesy of the artist

Rebekah Miles; Photo courtesy of the artist

Rebekah Miles; Photo courtesy of the artist

The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles in partnership with the Estria Foundation, the Do Art Foundation, the LA Art Machine and SPARC presented Urban Legends, an exhibition and auction of public art by 50 known and emerging urban/street/graffiti artists from around the world. If you missed the Urban Legends opening at the LA Mart, don’t worry because the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA) is giving a free tour of this show this Wednesday, May 23rd at 7pm (RSVP [email protected]). This is your last chance to see an amazing collection of artworks before the show ends on May 24th (8-10pm).

The show includes distinguished artists from the 60 and 70s LA mural revival, such as Judy Baca and Kent Twitchell as well as the master graffiti writer Chaz Bojorquez.

“Absolutely Chicana”, Judy Baca

Kent Twitchell; Photo by Daniel Lara

The exhibition also includes a younger, internationally known group of artists, such as Vyal, Estria and Retna.  The Estria Foundation is known for The Estria Battle, a nationwide graffiti competition.  This year’s winner was Woier, whose piece was also included in the show.

“Muertos Graffiteros”, Vyal Reyes; Photo by Daniel Lara

“Tako E”, Estria; Photo by Daniel Lara

“Rise”, Woier; from Los Angeles Estria Battle 2011; Photo by Daniel Lara

There was also a rewards reception in which several individuals were recognized for their contributions to LA’s public art movement. Tempt One, who you might remember from a previous post I wrote, received an award.  Tempt aka Tony Quan or “The Eyewriter” is paralyzed due to ALS but continues to make art from his hospital bed.  If you can remember, Tempt’s graffiti art was shown last summer at the Pasadena Museum of California Art’s exhibition Street Cred.  He is a real inspiration to his community and it was wonderful to see him get the recognition he deserves.

From left to right: Estria, Kat Sambor, Isabel Rojas-Williams (MCLA), Alex “Defer” Kizu, & Vyal Reyes; Defer and Vyal receiving an award on behalf of Tempt One; Photo by Daniel Lara

While we were all inside at the auction, this was happening outside in the parking lot!

Before I end this post, I want to recommend a play and a film que tienen que ver.   I have already written about Brilliant Soil, an incredible documentary that spotlights the ongoing crisis of lead poisoning suffered by those making traditional ceramics in Mexico.  I was lucky to see this documentary again about a month ago at Atwater Crossing.  If you missed it, you have another opportunity to see the film at UCLA on May 24th at 1pm at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library & Archive.  Filmmakers Omar Foglio and José Luis Figueroa (who are also the founders of Bulbo, a Tijuana- and Los Angeles-based media collective) will be there to discuss their work.   And if you go, make sure to purchase some lead-free Mexican ceramics that will be available at the event.

Lead-free Mexican ceramics; Photo courtesy of Omar Foglio

And the other recommendation is Cafe Vida, a play by Lisa Loomer about Homegirl Cafe, being performed at the Los Angeles Theater Center on Spring Street in Downtown.  I’ve eaten their food, written about the art work displayed there, and Geoff’s even written about Homeboy Industries.  Now I could see it on the stage and I thought it was great!  This Cornerstone Theater Company production is running until May 20th.  ¡No te lo pierdas!



  1. I enjoyed reading the article and looking at all the fabulous pictures. Thank you Carlyn. You do an awesome job!

  2. This is one of my favorite edition. I was just at the Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights
    and I saw the Libros Schmibros. I love Homegirl Cafe!!!


  1. Mexico in LA: Tijuana, Chiapas, Michoacán… | AguiLara - [...] out Carlyn’s latest post on Notes on Looking. By AguiLara Posted in Notes on Looking You can…

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