I Made an Alligator

When I go to an art party, I never know what to expect. Sometimes the art is interesting. When it's not interesting, I say it's not my cup of tea. I was invited to an art party at Mario's North Park home, which was a pleasant surprise. He hung only one of his paintings in the living room, as he needed one wall clear for a slide show that a New York artist would be presenting.

Mario showed me his portraits and several paintings of eyes. I asked why he painted so many eyes. "My dad was an artist, and he talked about the importance of painting eyes and hands." He was enthusiastic as he explained his process, and he showed me the poster he created for Fiesta del Sol, which is this weekend on Imperial Avenue between 21st and 25th Streets. Mario's poster had a sun in the word "Sol," with eyes, dancers, a guitarist, and international flags wrapping around the world. When I told him that I liked the flags, he said, "We didn't want just the Mexican flag. I was a bit inspired by the marches here in San Diego, but this isn't a Cinco de Mayo type of thing. It's for the entire community. Not just blacks. Not just Mexicans. A reaffirmation of all culture."

Someone else came up and said, "You must've seen Mario on the cover of the Reader a few months back with one of his paintings." I nodded, even though I couldn't recall the issue. I also didn't recall the mural I was told he had painted inside the Ken Cinema. He said, "It got painted over about 10 years ago, when Landmark took over."

When the New York artist presented her slide show, she explained the pieces. I didn't care for how the faces were edited together. An older Latino man suggested to her that it would be easier to do on computer. She explained her technique to him, but he insisted that it would be easier to Photoshop. She smiled, exasperated, and said, "Thank you," as she continued on with her slides.

When an artist named Karlee showed her paintings of a pregnant woman, including the fetus and several images around the body, I said it reminded me of Frida Kahlo. The Latino man snapped at me, "No, it doesn't! It's nothing like her!" Karlee smiled and said, "Oh, yeah, she has done stuff like this. I was actually going through a Frida phase at the time."

Mario was a gracious host. He greeted people at the door and took his time to explain the art, sometimes almost dancing in front of the piece. Later, when the music started, he grabbed a drum and started walking around his house pounding it. He told several people that if they ever wanted an art party, he would make his house available to them.

I went upstairs to Mario's studio and saw more of his paintings. One was of Mexican students leaving classrooms to protest the immigration laws. I told him that I didn't agree with students leaving class, and that I thought most of them probably just used it as an excuse to miss school. I was prepared for a heated debate. He just smiled and said, "Yeah, I know. But that's how revolutions start. That's how we can make changes happen."

A bulb burned out on the projector, and it took 15 minutes to get it working. Another artist had gone to his car to get his projector. A younger Latino with a leather hat said, "That guy is Superman, getting his projector to save the day."

I asked the young man if he was an artist. "No. I'm a chemist. I do take photographs." He looked up and noticed the light was back on in the projector and said, "We can do shadow puppets with our hands while we are waiting for the slides." I made an alligator.

Between artists talking about their pieces, discussion would turn to the Fiesta del Sol and how it would be raising money for scholarships. There was a debate about the art competition and the sizes of various pieces.

An African-American artist was there sketching. He was quiet until he got up to make an announcement about the Fiesta and how a group of graffiti artists called the B-boys would be painting.

I had an interesting conversation with a woman named Naimeh. We talked about the therapeutic value of art. She told me about how we interpret colors and shapes and how they can change your mood, calm you. I thought about my dentist's torn and faded posters of polar bears and elephants. When he's drilling my teeth, I wish he had put more thought into his decor.

There were pizzas in the kitchen, and someone was pouring wine from Argentina. I grabbed a glass and went onto the porch. The chemist was out there talking about sterilization in Puerto Rico in the 1970s. The women he was talking to took the opportunity to talk about the injustices in the world.

Karlee was talking about art with a guy, and I overheard her say, "I've given some of my best pieces to ex-boyfriends. I regret that now." She seemed happier at the prospect of her new boyfriend, who had moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles. I said, "It's definitely closer to San Diego." She smiled and said, "I know. We'll see what happens."

Someone mentioned the "Art Miles Mural Project" -- 12 miles of murals -- which is going to be worked on at the Fiesta del Sol. Anyone who shows up can paint, as long as they sign in and sign their name on the back. The mural is going to go to Egypt and then to France.

Mario ran through the house with burning sage. I thought it smelled of burning flesh and went outside. When Mario walked outside with it, I told him I went out there to get away from the smell. He laughed and said, "I never saw someone move so quickly to get away from sage." He explained that American Indians used sage to get rid of evil spirits.

It got me out of there in a hurry.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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