Operation Art Box, part deux
 Alibi V.21 No.39 • Sept 27-Oct 3, 2012 


Cubes of Beauty

Operation Art Box, part deux

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
As the Alibi's circulation manager, I meet readers every day. (I also meet the weird things people leave in our boxes, but that's another story.) I hear the kudos, the criticism, the occasional lunatic rant—and generally a lot of encouragement to keep it up. What I am constantly reminded of is that over the 20 years this paper has been in existence, it's really become a part of the fabric of Albuquerque.

Alternative newsweeklies are founded on the principle of community and hyper-local coverage. People care about their free weekly paper and jump at the chance to participate by writing letters, submitting stuff for review, entering contests and, for two years running, transforming our distribution boxes into nifty works of art. I love the spirit of collaboration that surrounds Operation Art Box: At the end of the day, each artist who participated can point out the window of their car and say, “Hey, there's my Alibi box.”

Just like last year, we selected the best / strangest / most executable ideas from more than 60 submissions, and gave each artist $25, a can of clear enamel, some beer money in the form of ABQ Brew Pub Alibi Bucks and a newspaper box. This year, we also held a show at Boro Gallery exhibiting the results, as well as the artists’ nonbox artwork. We were able to gather not just the art boxes for an opening, but all the artists, their friends and families, and hundreds more visitors over the course of an evening. It was a blast. The folks at Boro were great, and having all the components in one place created a feeling of community with a hint of conspiracy.

A big thanks to the 2012 participants, all of whom kicked out the jams on this project. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting each person and even made some great friends. Thanks also to Circulation Special Forces Darrell Sparks and Gretchen Hudson, who helped round up, deliver and deploy the boxes. Staffer Valerie Hollingsworth coordinated the gallery show with aplomb.

We attempted to deploy each box in a location synchronous with its theme. Thus, Adrian Magallon-Leonard's underwater octopus box went in front of a sushi joint. Sharon Vargas' Doña Sebastiana box depicts the character of Death, so we brought it to famously spooky Old Town. The artists' other work will remain at Boro Gallery through the end of September.

Adrian Magallon-Leonard

In front of Sushi King at 118 Central SW

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

An emerging artist and musician, Magallon-Leonard relocated to Albuquerque from Memphis, Tenn., last year. When he looks at art, he says he always wonders what the subjects are thinking. That’s why he includes thought bubbles in his work. This piece conveys air and water themes in a style borrowed from traditional Japanese work. It’s updated by the appearance of a pop-art octopus whose tentacles wrap around the box. Magallon-Leonard imagined the box was submerged under water: Lucky octopus was searching for an Alibi, and found a whole box of them. Adrian and his wife Aurora recently celebrated the birth of their son Luka.

Joseph Paul Baca

In front of JC’s New York Pizza Department at 215 Central NW

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

A native of Albuquerque, Baca's artwork references the myriad images that exist in the part of the world we inhabit. Combining childhood experiences with the perspective of his adult self, he examines what “cool” is and how the mythology of cool is constructed. This box features flaming skulls and bones, which are ubiquitous contemporary images, particularly in New Mexico, and an army of Ed Roth's Rat Fink character. All this is depicted, along with a psychedelic, pop-art inspired background, in the context of an arcade game called “Alibi.” Remember though, this one's set on “free play” all the time. Baca, who is an art teacher at Cesar Chavez Community Charter School, also produces pen-and-ink drawings that explore similar themes.

Danny Skinz

In front of the Herb Store at 107 Carlisle SE

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Skinz is a graffiti artist of some renown. His murals grace the walls and trains of cities around the globe. Under the umbrella of his company, Actual Creative, he has used his skills to make commercial art for a living since the ’90s. That said, he still bombs the fuck out of anything big enough to suit him. When Skinz got his box, he called back a couple of days later asking if we had anything larger. Newspaper boxes are a somewhat standard size, so he took the thing apart, bolted the pieces to a wall near a ditch in the North Valley and proceeded to do what he usually does: big-ass murals. He managed to apply the large-scale art form of graffiti to a small, three-dimensional object [“Distro Inferno,” Sept. 6-12]. Think of the resulting Alibi box as three fragments of a whole piece, like the detail images of a painting in a book. Look for a photo of the mural affixed to the top of Skinz' box.

Sharon Vargas

In Old Town at 2005 North Plaza NW

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Vargas, who grew up in Northern New Mexico, depicts Doña Sebastiana, aka Death, from a version of the folk tale “La Comadre Sebastiana” her grandfather would tell. It's basically the story of a poor woodcutter who, while cooking a stolen chicken, is visited by Mary, Jesus and Death, each of whom asks to share the meal. The woodcutter refuses all except Death, doing so because Death doesn't discriminate between rich and poor. An appreciative Doña Sebastiana then blesses the woodcutter with special healing powers, guaranteeing him a successful life. The story doesn't end well for the woodcutter, whose eventual greed draws Death back for another visit. Vargars’ piece illustrates the links between the infinite nature of time, mortality and the divide between the rich and poor. Vargas, an IAIA graduate, also creates haunting acrylics on Plexiglas.

Kris Trujillo

In front of the Alibi offices at 413 Central NW

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Trujillo is a for-real Burqueño. We had to schedule the pick up of his completed art box around a Lobo game, where he was expected in the tailgater section by 11 a.m. Trujillo is an apprentice in the Local #412 Plumbers and Pipe Fitters union, and his day job sees him shaping a lot of sheet metal for HVAC work. Off-duty, he is an architecture buff, so it's fitting that his box depicts the most prominent building in the Albuquerque skyline. Trujillo's box has sheet metal fabrication on top that forms the iconic pyramid of the building, and the sides are replicated in intricate detail, complete with window washers and a bungee jumper. His other artwork reflects his graffiti background and is representative of that style.

Ben Adams

In front of Tractor Brewing Company at 118 Tulane SE

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Born and raised in Albuquerque, the city is in Adams' DNA. He is a photographer, sushi chef, painter, screen-printer, drummer, father and raconteur, among other things. Adams reproduced the artwork from Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album, which was, in fact, originally borrowed from an illustration in a dictionary entry about pulsars. This borrowing of familiar images is indicative of Adams' style. He often induces sentimental or other emotional responses in the viewer, who may be confronted with anything from a photograph of the Sahara Motel sign to reproductions of vintage local corporate logos. Adams translated the album's title into Spanish: Placeres Desconocidos.

Paul Higdon

In the Pearl Hall Gallery at UNM through Oct. 29

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Alibi, a free range newspaper,” says the side of this piece, and Higdon's box represents many of the ingredients in the Weekly Alibi recipe. From the politics popcorn popper to a nod to the perks of Alibi Bucks, this work is the static metal rock star of this year's boxes. Paul disassembled a ’50s vintage Wedgewood stove, cut the chrome and reshaped the enameled metal, then wrapped the materials around his distribution box. Some fellow art-boxers wondered if he'd turned an actual stove into a box. He enjoys exploring the limitations of mediums, and he was specifically inspired by the Operation Art Box project to use recycled materials. (Check alibi.com to see where the stove goes next.) Higdon incorporates his talents into his graduate school fieldwork in occupational therapy, helping others address challenges in life and in the workplace. He mostly works in sculpture but also produces beautiful acrylics on glass.

Ashley Plumley

In the Nob Hill Shopping Center at 3500 Central SE

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Plumley spends her days operating a dog-walking and pet-sitting business. Though certified as a dental assistant, Plumley would rather work at Dollar Tree than stick her fingers in your gross mouth. Ultimately, her dream is to become a professional artist. Her piece presents a sampling of creatures that sprang from her imagination when she was a little girl. She often visited her grandmother's house, where she was encouraged to draw her imaginary friends like the Ramhorn creature who appears on the side of Plumley's box. Gaze into the ocular cavern of this piece and, please, stick your hand in there and grab an Alibi.

Jonathan Sanchez

In front of Astro Zombies at 3100 Central SE

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Sanchez' proposal struck a chord with cryptozoology-minded staffers across all departments of the Alibi. At once horrific and familiar, the side panels of this box tell two local stories in shocking yet Comics Code-compliant form. One is a tale of New Mexico tradition and horror, and the other is science fiction set in Albuquerque. In the first, El Chupacabra is featured with the supporting cast of La Llorona and El Cucuy, a boogieman often invoked by Sanchez' mother when she had a hard time getting him to clean his room as a child. The opposite panel depicts a future where Downtown Albuquerque has been preserved as a piece of history beneath a glass dome, while tank-breathing earthlings look on from under a completely different sky. Sanchez, a graphic designer who works in the art department at the Albuquerque Journal, has been making concert posters since 2008. He won second prize in the print category at Expo New Mexico this year.

Ana Jiron

In front of Starbucks at 3400 Central SE

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Jiron's contribution to Operation Art Box belies her New Mexican heritage, featuring a confluence of the Rio Grande, the Rail Runner, an adobe hacienda, the rainbow on the Anasazi building, and balloons against a backdrop of the Sandia mountains. What makes Jiron's box stand out from the crowd is her willingness to execute this project in any medium necessary. She works with acrylic, pen and ink, spray paint, and anything else she can get her hands on. Jiron is a woodworker who restores vintage furniture, and builds custom doghouses and toy boxes. She works in construction and commercial painting for a day job.

Sherri Gonzales

Inside the Center for the Arts (Popejoy Hall) at UNM

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com

Gonzales, a volunteer at OFFCenter Community Arts Project in Downtown Albuquerque, took an amazing approach to the contest. Because she is a yarn-centric person, she determined that OFFCenter as a group would yarn-bomb an Alibi box. Collecting more than 50 different pieces of crochet and knitting—and then providing a good bit of needlework herself— Gonzales and her OFFCenter cohorts essentially made a gigantic tea-cozy for the box. For those who aren't familiar with OFFCenter, Director Ron Breen describes it as a place that “provides the space, the environment and the facilitation for seeing each other as creative equals.”