The Sauna School

The high-spirited ArTrujillo Studio Gallery springs up from a once-seedy cellar on Lake Street

"Why," I ask Trujillo, "did you start this place?"

There is a pause, which is so long that I begin to wonder if Trujillo has even heard the question--the noise being so great now. Then he launches into an explanation. Over the past several years, he says, painting murals has become his usual artistic gig--he's done 22 of them across the state of Minnesota. As Trujillo readily admits, these are not the most challenging works. Mostly nostalgic views of idyllic Mexican villagers and street scenes, they are vaguely reminiscent of the style of Diego Rivera or David Alfaro Siqueiros, but without much social commentary. The murals are colorful and attractive and tend to warm up the spaces of such locales as Me Gusta Mexican Cuisine in Minneapolis and No Name Pizza in St. Louis Park. "People ask me to paint commercially," Trujillo says. "Murals are my commercial work. But I find freedom in my own kind of work."

He points to the drip paintings stacked on the floor of the studio, and talks about how Siqueiros, his artistic hero, lived in New York in the 1930s and was the teacher of a young art student named Jackson Pollock. "A Mexican taught Jackson Pollock. Now I'm taking that back."

I ask Trujillo if he will demonstrate his painting methods, something most artists refuse to do--being oddly secretive as a general rule. Trujillo seems surprised, then he becomes excited and starts talking rapidly and moving around the studio. "Okay. But first I insist you take a beer. It's cheap beer, but at least it's cold..."

Trujillo goes into the studio space and begins rummaging around, pulling out square plywood panels about two feet tall by two feet wide. "I like mass production," he says, spreading six of the panels across the studio floor. He begins speaking rapidly. "I had not planned to do any more paintings," he says of the show that opens in a week's time. "But oh well...." He laughs.

"My favorite color is yellow. Everything has yellow in it--the sun, beauty, light." At this, Trujillo takes a bucket of yellow paint, dips a four-inch-wide paintbrush into it, and splashes strokes of yellow here and there onto each of the panels, going at it in order down the row. "On the first strokes," he says, "I have no idea what it is going to be. Later, it will start to take shape....I always use very bright colors."

He moves continually, using different hues of paint in succession--baby blue, rose, lavender, forest green. The shapes are jagged, like a crazy interlocking puzzle. He never stops moving, dripping and sloshing color back and forth along the row. When he is finished with the brush, he takes a spray can of neon-pink paint and begins filling in the spaces between the jagged shapes, overlapping in spots, creating an organic topography.

"The rules say not to mix water with oils, but Picasso once said, uh..." Trujillo pauses. "He said something like, 'I don't search for things, I find things.' So I'm finding here."

He follows the pink with a can of kelly-green spray paint, then a can of metallic gold. Meanwhile, the jam session across the gallery has broken into a version of "La Bamba." By now, the wide-eyed family has left. The music grows ever louder. "They're crazy," Trujillo says, laughing, but not stopping his task. I wonder if he feels lightheaded from the spray-paint fumes.

"When I start dripping, that's when it starts to come together," he says. As if to prove his point, he grabs a can of lemon-yellow paint, pulls out a mixing stick from the can, and begins dripping spaghettilike lines atop the jagged colors. He moves his hands quickly and naturally, as if conducting a very fast symphony. He does this with several more pigments--bright red, dark brown.

These are by no means masterpieces, but there is something fresh and alive about Trujillo's approach to the work. The aesthetic is pure and honest, full of vibrancy in its application and its color palette.

"This is easy--everybody can do this," he says, ending his paintings with a flourish and a that's-all-folks kind of smile. There are no secrets here, he seems to say; what you see is what you get. "This is what I love. This is what I do. I'm painting my country like Rivera did. But I'm doing the action-painting thing, with my own Mexican traditions."

As I make my way upstairs and out to the street, I gaze at the flattened expressions of the passersby on the sidewalk--all the people who have no idea of the fantastic racket that is going on underground.

 

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