Image courtesy of Karen Jacobi.
What “El Corazón” means to him
It’s the heart, and it’s the human heart. All of the pieces have to have a heart in them, and I don’t want them to be sweet. People associate it with Valentine’s Day because it happens to be in February, and that’s OK, but it’s not a Valentine’s Day show. I want the real human heart, not candy and flowers that get thrown away and forgotten. I want a big, bloody heart that’s in your face. The idea for the show came from lotería, the Mexican game that’s like bingo. Card No. 27, el corazón, is a big, bloody heart with an arrow in it, and it’s floating in the air. It’s very surreal. When I saw that, I said, “Now, this is art.” This is art I can relate to. Everybody’s had a wounded heart sooner or later. Give me a broken heart, a heart that’s been set on fire or stomped on, because that’s really emotional. I don’t mind flowers and things that are considered pleasant as long as it’s not too sweet.
We have about 50 artists every year, which means I have to reject hundreds of entries. People get really upset with me, and they stop talking to me, and this can go on for eight, 10, 12 years. Enrique Cervantes has been in charge of the gallery at the Bath House for 18 years or so. I consider him the “nice guy.” When the work comes in, and you’re dealing with 50 or 60 artists, and people start asking a lot of questions, you get a little frazzled. I have a strange sense of humor. I say, “Enrique is the nice one.” I’m the other one.
I’ve always been lucky that I’ve met people. In 1975, I went to college at El Centro and took photography classes. Right across the street from El Centro was this place called Tolbert’s Texas Chili Parlor. The owner was [journalist Frank X. Tolbert], and he started the first chili cookoff in Terlingua, Texas. I started hanging out there with my friend from photography class, and [Tolbert’s son, Frank Tolbert II] said, “Hey man, we really need help with bussing tables. If you clean up these tables, I’ll give you free beer and food” and however much money. I can’t remember how much it was. So that ended up being two years that I worked there.
When I was working at Tolbert’s, one of the managers was from Austin, and he said, “Why don’t I bring these musicians up from Austin, and we won’t have to pay them, we can just give them the door.” So he brought these guys up, and I ran the door. We charged $2.50 per person, and the first show was Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, before they were famous. We had Stevie Ray Vaughan. The first time I saw him, I just stood there, like, “This kid is really good.”
Why he went to college
I ran into a nephew of mine, because we have a big family and I have a lot of nieces and nephews around, and he told me he was in college. I said, “Really? You, in college?” He said, “Yeah, it’s full of good-looking women. I’ve never met so many women in my life.” So, I said, “Hmm.”
Why he dropped out of Adamson
They were drafting people for the Vietnam War. My art teacher at Adamson was Hattie Wilbur, and she became a really big supporter. I’ve always been a little bit of a rule-breaker, and whenever she gave us an assignment, I would always do the opposite, and she always liked it. I was supposed to graduate in 1968, but I dropped out because of the draft. But I was drafted anyway in July of 1969, and I became a cook in the Army for two years.
Life as a muse
Something bad happened to me, and I quit painting for 30 years. I used to paint with oils, and I had a wooden box with art supplies. I don’t want to go into it, but some of my best artwork was stolen from me. So I put everything in the closet and closed the door, and I knew it wasn’t going to be opened anymore. I felt traumatized. It was sort of a fight-or-flight kind of mode of protecting yourself. And the way I decided to protect myself was to stop painting. I started getting heavily into photography, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about it, and that’s one reason I started organizing shows, because I want them to keep painting. Sometimes I ask people to be in a show, and they say they don’t know what to paint. I’ll go to their studio or home and start looking around, and I’ll say, “What about this painting over here. You could do this and this with it,” and I can see their wheels start turning.