Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sandia y Melón: An Interview

The following is the transcript of an interview with Sandia Roja and Melón before their show opening at Howard Street Gallery. The show will be up for a month so check it out as soon as you can, it is really fantastic. Thanks to the artists for being so generous with their time, and candid with their commentary.

Melón y Sandia March 16, 2013

M: She is Sandia and we have known each other  and been good friends for a while and we thought it was kind of funny, you know, Sandia and Melon, Melon and Watermelon, you know? So at first when we met she was “are you melón? They call me Sandia” and I was like, “that’s weird.” So, that is how we met. Her artist name is Sandia Roja, so we decided to do a show together eventually and now, three or four years or something, now we are doing a show.

CB: How did you get access to this space?

M: Through Tony…I know him from the graffiti scene. Howard Street Gallery does a lot of graffiti venues and me being a graffiti artist he contacted me and said “Hey we want to do a show with you.” It was just going to be me, but I just did a show recently with Fonzo and Amuse, the one before was at Galerie F and the one after that was at Modest Skate shop in Forest Park, and I felt like it was too much, so I asked if there was another artist…and then I said “I think I might have someone…and she said ‘yeah.’” So here we are.

CB: {to sandia} So I am doing an interview for Sixty Inches from Center, are you familiar with them at all? They cover alternative art, street art, graffiti…so somehow I became facebook friends with Melon, and I like his work, and so I wanted to cover this opening. And so we are talking a little bit about how the show came together, I’d really like it if you could talk a bit about the piece you are most excited about…how it came into being.

S: Whew! The piece that I am most excited about…it is not here! {laughs} I forgot it at home. I am a teacher so we were doing visualization as a reading strategy at school. So I had to do a assignment of a guy, a little guy, closing his eyes with a bubble, a thinking bubble. And we were drunk, at night, and I started drawing it, and I was like, “This doesn’t look like anything kid like!” and it turned out to be a huge, long, colorful merman, and it said “Melón y Sandia” on the tail, really colorful, really cool.

M: Yeah, we collaborated on that.

CB: Have someone bring it at the last minute…like do a big excited drum roll.

S: Haha yeah, “And its here!” A drunken collaboration.

CB: Tell me a little about your style: where it came from, what influences you.

M: My style, hm. I think I have a graffiti, Chicago style. And my style pretty much evolved from that. And I think that me living out in Hawaii for about six years, I developed not only a style from taking the style I had from here to Chicago, and taking it to Hawaii and developing it into my own style and technique. I had a few friends that I was inspired by in Hawaii. We should show each other things, and it evolved to [the style I have] now. A lot of people say they don’t know, that they can’t tell where I am from from [looking at] my style. If you go to Hawaii, I would do a lot of triple auras and really thick outlines, and people were like. “Hey, why are you doing so many outlines?” …and I think working in the gallery, developing a [fine art] style really pushed my style to new heights…working between different worlds…

CB: How would you define graffiti versus gallery work?

M: Its tough. You have people that hate graffiti, but they like the styles…for me I like doing gallery work [too]…but with my graffiti…its almost like being selfish with my graffiti, I like to do my graffiti for me, and that’s pretty much it..that’s why my gallery work is different…but you can sell the style…

CB: We are talking about style, development of style. How would you describe yours?

S: I think Melón inspired me. I grew up with paint. My family, they are all painters, people going about their regular lives and also doing art. But it was a hobby. Then during University..I had a piece up called “Beautiful moment/woman (?)” and then I had an exhibition at Rainbow, and I was like, “You know what, I could…I could do this…” and then Melón came along and he inspired me with his cartoonish comics and that’s it. My style…I don’t know if I have a style. I like really up front solid lines. I love black and white. He inspired me to get away from doing black and white to doing color. And I went back to doing wood cuts, and I hadn’t done a wood cut in a while. I am excited about that piece! A skeleton in turquoise above Melón…

CB: The style to me, reminds me a lot of the engravings in Mexico, the pre-revolutionary stuff…

S: Yeah, that inspired me a lot. In my hometown, in Mexico, there is a really famous printer, Jose Guadelupe Posada, and that’s where the style of the skeletons came from. Maybe that’s my style!

M: Yeah, could be.

CB: So are you [to melon] from Chicago?

M: Grew up here, born and raise. And when I was 21, 22, I went into the service that’s how I ended up in Hawaii…

CB: Where did the name, “Melón” come from?

M: Oh, Melón is a name from a long time ago. I am Puerto Rican and Guatemalan and when I was a kid I couldn’t really say “Guatemalan” [instead] I would say “Watermelon” So some people thought that it was funny. So when my brother started doing graffiti, back in the late 80s, as soon as he started doing it, I fell in love with it.

CB: How old were you?

M: Oh man, I must have been 11 or 12 when I started. When I was 13 that’s when I got my name Melón. I had so many different names, and I kept bouncing around and was like “I don’t like it, I don’t like it.” Finally my brother was like, “Just write Melón!” Back then it was Melon. And I was like, oh yeah, Melon, exactly. It’s the shit! It just stayed with me.

CB: Where did “Sandia” come from?

S: When I was little they would make fun of me, saying, “Sandy, Sandia, Sandy.” Sandia is “watermelon” in Spanish and I would say “I’m not sandia! I’m not sandia!” and I just learned to embrace it, and I am Sandia. I guess. Its pretty cool that we are doing a show together because you know of the London Bridge song?

CB: London Bridge is Falling Down?

S: Yeah. There is a kinesthetic thing to it-movement- you hold hands…

M: And they have the same thing in Mexico!

CB: Can I take a picture of you guys doing that? {making the bridge with hands} Is that alright?

S: So the people, they go around in a like a chacha line, holding the shoulders instead of the waist and sing a song, “Melón y sandia…” and at the end it falls down, and whoever is in the middle has to choose a side, is it melon or is it sandia…

M: So the bridge is like, she is Sandia and I am Melón, and its like “Será Melón sera Sandia…”

CB: So like the same but different?

M: Yeah.

S: We had an idea of making it kind of political, are you Mexican or American, which side are you gonna pick? Because there is always that culture clash, am I Mexican? The [sense that] I am too American for the Mexicans and too Mexican for the Americans, but, we didn’t have time, so we just decided to have fun with it.

M: I think what it was is that with our work schedules, we both work full time jobs and trying to put that together…it was a lot of sleepless nights. Literally, just sleeping an hour or two and then going straight to work. 

CB: How long does it take to make one of your wood carvings?

S: I did the skeleton in one night. I ended up with cuts all over my hands. The next day my kids [at school] were like “You have boo-boos!” Yes I have lots of bo boos. But it was worth it. If I focus I am fast.

M: Yeah she is. I am slow.

S: He is very detail oriented, and sometimes I am like “Melón, move! Move! Move it!”

CB: There is something interesting in that yours [melon’s pieces] are so exacting and yours [sandia’s] have a sort of kinesthetic energy in the wood carving…

M: I think there is something really interesting to see how we were gonna make this look good. But I think we did a good job. I think one of my favorite pieces is one where we collaborated, we call it “City Bird” and it is a bird with a city inside of it and smoke coming out.

S: It was just a piece of wood, and I just found it on the street. I had taken a picture of a bird one day, and I thought, “Oh, this is a nice bird!” and I just drew the silhouette and it stayed on top of a dresser for a year or two. Then Melón came over one day and said “Oh we should do something with it,” and I said, “you can do whatever you want with it.” And he started painting it and I thought then we came together and I would say, “We could do this! Pshewwm Pshewwm Pshewwm!” And that we painted together. And that is a very cool piece.

M: Her words were “Let me interfere here,”

S: “Can I, Sandia-ize this?”

CB: What is your favorite piece form the show? [to Melon]

M: I think the one that I just put together, which is…

S: The Matador.

M: No, the Virgin Mary, or I don’t even know if it is the Virgin Mary or Guadelupe. I was looking at it, and it has the style of Guadelupe, but its got the sacred heart of Mary. And I was like “Wait, that doesn’t go together? Or should it?”

S: She is a virgin, period.

M: Yeah, she is a virgin, but I am fascinated with the Virgin Mary for some reason. I just think she is an interesting woman.

CB: In what way?

M: Well, one, she is a virgin. But also she is a powerful woman. People, she is an icon, and a lot of people look up to her. I don’t know anything about her, and I don’t know if I will ever be super religious but something about her is captivating…

CB: So I was just looking at the one, the woman in blue with the tiger, with no face…so what is the deal with [your pieces] not having faces?

M: Well, wow, at first it started with me trying to figure out how draw when you are a kid. You know how they teach you to do the face.

CB: Yeah, to do the proportions…

M: Yeah, the proportions. I felt like I was drawing and putting a face, and my ex wife asked me “Oh, who is that?” and I was like “no one in general.” And it dawned on me that if you put a face on a character automatically

S: It becomes somebody.

M: It becomes somebody. You are automatically categorizing somebody, that individual. I felt in that sense like not putting a face so that it could be anybody. And you also figure out…society bases a lot of beauty on a woman based on her looks, and I think that my fearless use of colors kind of adds to that beauty and I don’t need a to show that this woman is beautiful. Just look around her, and everything around her is beautiful. Some might call it soft, I call it being in touch with my feminine side I guess. But yeah. So and then after  a while it became my signature, and a lot of people recognize my work just based on that face.

S: I went to a street festival once, and a bunch of art stands, and I am just walking around, and was like “Wait a second, is that Melón?” because there was a painting with a character without a face and a cross and everything, and I called him immediately: “Hey, do you have a piece here?” and he said “No. I’ll be there in five!” Because it is trademarked right?

M: I did trademark a few of those drawings with the same exact face, now I am trying to get it more patented…

S: It wasn’t him, but the lady actually told him that she knew him and his work.

M: Yeah she said she knew and liked my work.

CB: That’s really interesting.

M: Yeah, I think it is always cool when you see somebody that does something similar to what you do. Similar but to me…some people might [have] the graffiti mentality and be like “that’s biter shit!” but you know, to me it is like, everything has been done or used in some way shape or form. So I think it is just influencing.  I think there is a saying that goes something like “Some great artists copy and better artists steal…” I don’t have it word for word but I think it is true. There are things that I say that I realized I can do it in my style and it develops…and every time you do a piece you see how it develops in the process and how is it going to turn out, and ask yourself how you will develop it. And you learn. So every time I do a piece I want it to be so that I learn from it.  I don’t want it just so that I paint it right away. I think learning from your pieces is always big, and my pieces are based on more emotion than any time of political…I think I use a lot of emotion, not only from myself but what I see that other people go through…that’s why I use a lot of hearts…

S: I think I am influenced a lot by immigration. I came to this country when I was 14. So I came here and I came with a visa but overstayed and was illegal, now I am legal…I thought “this is so unfair!“ So my pieces started showing that. [Also] domestic violence, Mexican American immigration, the celebration of death…in this country [death] is creepy, but it’s not. So I wanted to turn it around and show people that death is not sad, it should be celebrated….maybe that is just how I was raised. I had a kid, on Thursday, when we came to the carpet on Thursday to read a book, and he just started crying. Everyone is waiting for the book. And I ask “why are you crying” because he responded that--- it just dawned on him, they are six years old--- that “ I am really sad because I just foud out that we are all going to die. I am going to grow old , and , take pills and then die” and so that had an impact on me and I thought “I am glad I am doing this.” Even if he is not going to be here. It is the …showing people, “don’t be afraid…its ok…live a good life…and this is what you are going to look like.”

CB: Anything else that you all want to talk about?

S: The medium. I like that he uses a lot of acrylic and the coating the transparent coating. I like trying all kinds; I have drawings, I have wood cuts, I have acrylics, I have an oil painting….charcoal with markers and pencil…I like trying out different stuff…sculpture, there is a little tiny sculpture.

CB: How long does the show run?

M: A month or so.

CB: Cool, I will try to get this out before. Thank you.

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