Ace barber and woodworker is handy with a blade
By Sam Adams
The first time I talked to Joel Baca about his art, I'd been sitting in a chair wearing a black smock. Looking above the gilled trophy photos in the lower corner of a mirror, I noticed a few examples of his work in the reflection. One was a few feet away, and rather familiar. The others were hanging on the opposite wall. They all looked sharp as a razor.
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.
His sculptures, paintings and ink drawings convey themes that any Burqueño would recognize. Marigolds and skeletons pop up in colorful tableaus he's painted over hand-carved wood panels. There are also religious nods in more toned-down pieces, such as a poplar relief of St. Francis and a carved oak sculpture titled "Our Lady."
"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."
It’s not the only thing Baca gets from his family. His mother and father were both stylists. Eddie ran a salon in town for more than 20 years. "I was raised in his shop, pretty much," Baca says.
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."
A Collection of Works
Runs through Feb. 29
109 Fourth Street SW
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