The 33-year-old artist and barber was born and raised in Albuquerque. His father, the late Eddie Baca, and second cousin, Freddy Armijo, are well-known for wood carving. "I tried to pick up from them and learn a lot from them as a child and growing up in my teens," he says. "I have an old abstract piece that was one of the first ones that I did. ... And it was something that me and my dad worked on together. I must have been about 13, 14 when I ended up finishing that."
While Baca's work leans toward the figurative and literal, he refers to the style of his forebears as more abstract. Armijo and Eddie both have a background in decorative furniture and sculpture. A lot of religious iconography pops up in Armijo's work, who’s made a living off his craft. His pieces are collectibles that fetch a pretty penny in auctions these days.
As for Joel Baca, you may recognize him as the guy standing behind your head. He's cut hair Downtown at Ace Barbershop for the past two years. That's also where his A Collection of Works show is on display. Baca says it's the first time he's publicly shown his art since he had some pieces up at the Golden West Saloon.
"It's just kind of my roots, man—New Mexico style,” he says. “I try to stick with what I'm from, what I know.”
That familiarity extends to another of Baca’s recurring subjects. Opposite his barber station mirror—decorated by the photos of fly-fishing exploits—is a series of carved sculptures and panels that’s mostly trout-themed. "Catch and Release" is a recessed panel with a hooded fisherman crouching over a fresh catch, which flounders in a shallow tide pool. It's a straightforward and well-polished piece, and Joel shrugs off any notion of metaphorical significance. That’s because the woodworking process itself is meaningful. "As far as the carving goes, it's kind of a spiritual connection," he says. "My father passed away in ’01. When I do a piece I kind of think of him. Because that's something that's a part of him that's in me."
Whether it's cutting or carving, he sees it all as an artistic pursuit. "I think of it as one in the same,” he says. “It's removing bulk and getting to a certain point to where it looks aesthetically pleasing."