What: Artist Review
Who: Alynn Guerra & Carlos Aceves
When: April 1, 2009
Where: Tanglefoot studios, Grand Rapids, MI
On April Fools Day, I went to the Tanglefoot building, in the half-abandoned industrial complex along Straight St. Why? Because I wanted to visit two local artsits whose work caught my eye last summer. Alynn Guerra, was my guide through the brick maze that is the main level of the 100-year-old flypaper factory. Then, up the freight elevator to it's dark and narrow hallways. She opened a gray door marked "This is not an Exit" and we entered an open space that seems to be made of light and color. I was in New York or maybe Paris. There was a soundtrack of French ska, Les Ogres de Barback, later polyglot sensation Manu Chao (a personal favorite of mine). But the real excitement started when I saw their art up close, and it grew as I got to know the Mexico City-born, now Grand Rapids-based Alynn Guerra and Carlos Aceves.
I first met them, at the East Town Arts Festival. I was there to hear a band and most of the booths were wrapping up, when I saw Alynn's vibrant prints of animated skeletons, reminiscent of Posada. The distinct Mexican influence was like a magnet and I wanted to see the Gabacho hippie who dared make these prints. Wrong on both counts. Alynn is niether American nor a hippie--rather she's a Mexican pragmatist. We talked for as long as I could keep my wife and friends looking through Alynn's prints and T-shirts. Despite a long-standing invitation from Alynn and Carlos, it's taken me all this time to visit their studio. But, I made it, pen in pocket and carrying all of my camera gear.
To my surprise, I wasn't the only one with this idea. The Grand Rapids Press, did a whole profile piece on Alynn for the Sunday paper. They had a writer and three or four photographers follow her around for a week.
My attempt is a bit more modest.
Below is a picture gallery and then a review, with pix of both Alynn and Carlos.
Medium: block printing/painting
Price Range: $5-$300
Range of time spent: 1 day-months
Cautious yet politely fierce, Alynn is orginally from Mexico City. She studied art at the ENAP (National School of Plastic Arts), which is nestled in the green mountain ridges around the city of Taxco, Guerrero. There, in a town more famous for its silversmiths and bakers, she met her partner Carlos and the two moved to the US in 1999. Their plan was to support their art through a bookbinding business that never took off. Happily, their art began to sell instead.
For four years Alynn printed out of her cold, humid basement.
"The ink got hard, that's just not a way to work," Alynn said.
She then got connected with West Michigan Artworks. Realizing that their attic was unused, she inquired about it. It was available, but she had no money. So, she proposed an exchange: work around the building and help with art projects for free studio space. The owner agreed, and Alynn set up shop in the attic. A few months later however, the UICA and Artworks merged and she lost her studio. Then director, Cindy Koning promised to find her a space and delivered a space at the Tanglefoot building.
"We had to scrub like three inches of grease and grime off the floor," Alynn said. "You couldn't come here in anything but work clothes. So, we worked from June until November of 2007.
On Dia de los muertos, (day of the dead) they opened the studio with two live bands and free food. The opening lasted two days and brought in a steady stream of people that is better left uncounted.
Alynn's work is mostly block printing, painting and the occasional woodcarving. At both a social level and an artistic level Alynn said that her biggest influences are the Taller de Grafica Popular, a movement of Latin American artists interested in making art available to the working class, and the
pamphlets and posters of social and political struggle that speckle Mexico City with pop art.
"The reason I do block printing is for its capacity to be reproduced," Alynn said. "Art is for the masses, not for galleries or for people who pay lots for it."
That same sentiment is what leads her to sell most of her work either online, through her website, her Etsy shop, or at different festivals in Michigan and Chicago.
Alynn's told me that for her injustice, the war industry, discrimination of any type and government corruption, are all forms of violence against humanity. Her reaction to violence is to be found in the violence of block printing.
"No matter how much you want to do it, you can't do that with a brush or a pencil," Alynn said. "You have to grab a knife and carve into the wood with the strength of your own arms. It's violence."
Meanwhile, in her own life, Alynn is a generous and peaceful person who gives lessons to people in the community and often gives her art away at community events, fundraisers and her own birthday over a beer.
Speaking of beer, Alynn and Carlos are true fans of our very own Founders Brewing Co. and are often found mingling and chatting with GR's up-and-coming artists. As far as I'm concerned, she's a young, talented, Mexican artist who lives in West Michigan, cares about the world around her and uses her work for social justice. You can't get much better than that.
Price range: $100-$4500
Range of time per piece: 1 week-1 month
For a man who chisels wood and tenses steel wire to sculpt, Carlos is a gentle-mannered man who speaks in soft tones. He was born in Mexico City like Alynn and studied with her at ENAP. The two met on their first day of class and they've been together ever since. It was his set of connections that brought the two artists to Grand Rapids.
Carlos said he picked sculpture as a medium because of the dimensionality of the pieces.
"Sculpture is three dimensional and I try to take advantage of that in order to address themses that have more than one dimension," Carlos said. "You can't hide anything and that is a more open way for me to express myself."
His work of late has revolved around the topic of genetically modified food. He uses wood and metal as a juxtaposition of the natural and the manmade.
"They help me to express tension in themes, and the physical tension when it evokes the thematic tension is what I would consider an achievement in any one of my pieces," he said.
His thematic thrust is the fact that an increasingly small amount of corporations are selling farmers seeds. These seeds are genetically modified to be high yield but sterile so that next year you
have to buy the seed again. They are also highly dependent on secondary products like fertilizers and pesticides, which the company will conveniently sell you.
"We all have the right to eat, to nutrition," Carlos said. "The small farmer has to go into debt and these farmers depend on a good season, so one bad season will ruin them. The tension is between the farmer with their traditions and lifestyle and the seed corporations who want to sell and please stockholders."
A recent article on this can be found here.
For Carlos, that is his role as an artist, to educate with a different language.
"If you can see my art, then you'll appreciate the colors and visual tension," Carlos said. "But, if you cannot see, you'll be able to feel the tension in the pieces through the textures and the contrast in the shapes. I try to make art accessible to as many people as possible in that sense. My art is for people who can see and for people with visual impairments."
Though it's hard for sculptures like Carlos to sell their art at prices affordable to people like yours truly, making art available doesn't always involve the exchange of money, and that is something Carlos captures well. Likewise, tensed steel cables around a wood-framed corn cob hint at something to do with man vs. nature. I can wrap my mind around that and start asking questions.