GandaraWritten by Taylor Hood
The Work of Muralist, Tattoo Artist and Street Painter Rick Gandara
After the explosion of graffiti art in the mid 1980's, many young artists took to the streets, determined to turn their communities into sprawling canvases. Public art began to take on a new meaning. It was no longer restricted to corporate art or commissioned pieces. The dull iron sculptures and scenic oil paintings began to look as traditional and uninspired as the companies and public works that bought them. Young talent exploded over the corporate walls and washed over the train yards and factories. Bright bubble letters expressed angst and desire for social change. Large, vibrant colors rattled down arroyo walls and across street signs. But then something happened, something that can only be described as a war on art.
The government, behind the artistic curve and, as usual, making a concerted effort to severely crack down on petty crime, began a campaign to lock up the best street and graffiti artists. They hunted down creative minds and labeled them "criminals". In a stroke of banal irony, "criminals" are what they got. Artists gave way to "taggers" and gangs marking their territory. The legitimate artists began to turn from the back alleys and overpasses and focus their talents on quieter canvases. Many of these artist picked up a tattoo gun. One such person is Albuquerque talent and Kansas native, Rick Gandara. Last week, The Inside Mag got to sit down with the rising star and hear his thoughts on the medium he loves and the path that brought him back.
Gandara fell in love with the Albuquerque graffiti art scene as a kid, going back and forth between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Manhattan, Kansas in the late 80's. The boldness of vision and risk involved with "guerilla art" immediately grabbed his already artistic mind. As a rebel youth it was tagging that pulled him in at first. However, it wasn't long before the Sharpie was replaced with spray paint. In school, he began drawing family portraits; on the street, he began to build a name. But, like others in his medium, he began to find that the money was in tattooing.
With his usual passion and fervor, Rick Gandara threw himself fully into the tattoo world, relegating his street art to the back burner. Over the years his work has become more detailed and complex. Today, Rick Gandara continues to push the boundaries of his art and people are taking notice. His work can best be seen at the oldest tattoo shop in New Mexico, Route 66 Fine Line Tattoos. But the streets still called to Rick. Full back tattoos and sleeves are perfect for body art, but to put his mark on a building and have it last...the allure was too great. So, when world renowned portrait tattoo artist and Fine Line Tattoo owner, Brian Everett needed an artist to paint a mural on the side of his building, he immediately thought of Rick Gandara. The Fine Line Mural has quickly become an Albuquerque landmark. It was featured alongside an artist profile on Bob Baxter's Tattoo Road Trip and even featured on the USA Network's hit series In Plain Sight. That's when he was discovered by the Manhattan, Kansas Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. They found the Albuquerque transplant and decided to do whatever it took to bring their native son home. "It took a lot to bring me back to Kansas, but the chance to bring my art to my hometown was too much to pass up."
After learning the details of this, his most ambitious project to date, Gandara decided it might be time to take on a partner. One name popped into his head time and again, local graffiti legend and spray paint artist, 2Face. Gandara and 2Face rented a vehicle, packed it to the brim, pointed their tires East and rode the tornado back to Kansas.
The mural that went up on the Eagle's Lodge in Manhattan Kansas was a grueling and rewarding experience, says the young artist. "Sometimes that shit was 99 degrees with 98% humidity." But over the course of the week, Gandara and 2Face learned from each other and discovered more about their art then they had ever known. Rick is a passionate artist that knows all of the in's and out's of his craft. 2Face brings a lifetime of experience. Together, they found new techniques and uncovered a little more of their creative voices. Rick says that their goal is to raise spray paint to a new level. "I want it to look like it was brush painted or even airbrushed." Rick says as he finishes his beer and leans across the table towards me. "I love the speed of spray paint. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a time-lapse video. But I also want it to be something that people stop and take time to look at."
From it's troubled roots to it's near extinction, Graffiti art has struggled and fought for a place in the art world. Considering that a respected organization like the Fraternal Order of Eagles sought out a graffiti artist to paint the side of their building is a testament to how far the art has come. The fact that all they gave him to work with was, "we want it to look like Kansas; to be about Kansas." is a testament to how far Gandara has come. From the buffalo in the tall grass, to the giant, black tornado, to the proud Buck and leaping Trout, this mural is as much Kansas as the Fine Line Mural is Albuquerque. What Rick Gandara has done is find the voice of a community and bring it out with a spray paint can. In any other place, at any other time, he might be arrested for creating such beauty.
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