By Lucinda Breeding
Features Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: 27 October 2016 06:51 AM
Austin artist Ladi Loera will bring his Día de los Muertos-inspired art to Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival on Saturday. Loera renders iconic pop-culture figures in Day of the Dead style, including Prince (at left), Muhammad Ali and David Bowie. He also renders gay and lesbian couples in the style, as in this piece above, titled “Amadas” — Spanish for “female lovers.”
Austin artist Ladi Loera never covered his eyes to keep from seeing devils or skeletons when he was a kid.
It all started with a gift from his grandmother. She gave him a little rubber devil and a little rubber skeleton to play with.
“And I loved it,” said Loera, who returns to Denton on Saturday to man a booth of Día de los Muertos-inspired art at Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival. “You become enamored with certain things when you’re a kid. They had superpowers. My devil could fly and the skeleton he had his own talents — I can’t remember what they were now. I always feel bad for the devil. Everyone blames him for things they do.”
Loera grew up in Houston. After his grandmother gave him the spooky rubber toys, he started drawing diablos y calaveras, the devil and the iconic skulls. The skulls and skeletons are associated with indigenous Mexican folk art that illustrates the ancient Day of the Dead — a high holiday celebrating the lives of the dead. The Spanish imposed their Catholicism onto the folk art after they invaded in the 1600s, enslaving the indigenous people and forcing the natives to convert to Christianity.
Loera has been drawing the skulls, skeletons and devils since he was a kid. And he said he’s always gotten some grief for it. It started at home.
“What’s interesting is that when I grew up in Houston, we were one of the first brown families in the white suburbs of the Spring Branch area,” Loera said. “I remember my dad asking, ‘When are you going to stop doing this?’ Being a brown family in a white suburb, blending in was the best way to deal with things, and I wasn’t blending in.”
Shoppers who stop by Loera’s booth on Saturday will see a range of products — painted tiles, glasses, rubber coasters and mousepads, prints and more — emblazoned with Day of the Dead imagery. Loera’s work isn’t the most literal. In his studio, he lets the past mingle with the present, and Mexico linger with the U.S. (and England.) He’s depicted Prince and Muhammad Ali as Día de los Muertos skeletons — and David Bowie, too. He’s also applied the imagery — which is loaded with historical and spiritual meaning — on tiles that depict same-sex lovers as skeletons.
“What I get most with that is people coming up and stopping me in my booth to thank me for including them, because they aren’t included in anything,” Loera said. “I have the kind of art that people either run to me or they run away from me. A lot of people cry about cultural appropriation. But the way I see it? If you’re not demeaning the culture or mocking its people, it can be really beautiful.”
Loera used to share his Austin home and studio with his late partner, Chris Braswell, who died from a rare form of cancer in 2010. The artist said he started painting Day of the Dead images on glass as gifts for his boyfriend’s family. They were fond of his depictions of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo as a skeleton.
When the cupboards filled, it was Braswell who said, “Enough. Either start selling this or get rid of it,” Loera recalled. That’s when Frenzy Art was born, and when Loera shifted from painting to digital art. Loera does large, expensive pieces, too. But the idea of art as merchandise strikes him as a good way to make it accessible to almost everyone.
The artist has his theories on the surge in popularity of Día de los Muertos among non-Mexicans — aside from the striking images of happy skeletons dancing, making music and living.
“America has never been good with death,” he said. “We’re always trying to overcome it. We have AIDS. We have cancer. We work so hard for cures, but we still die. [The art] brings something that people don’t like to think of to the forefront, where it needs to be. With death in the forefront, it makes the people you love more loved, and your enemies get less important.”
Vendors will line Hickory and Industrial streets during the festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday in downtown Denton.Originally published in DentonRC.com.