Monday, November 13, 2017

Black Margarita - Margarita Negra

Black Margarita - Margarita Negra
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
Margaritas are quite famous, but have you tasted a black margarita?  A black margarita is like a piece of the night in which the moon, the stars, and dreams culminate in a mysterious, dark and elegant cocktail.  It’s a romantic and gothic elixir that will wake your most poetic nocturnal inspirations.

It pairs well with a black tie tuxedo and a little black dress.  I’m nocturnal by nature and I love entertaining at night with delicious food by the moonlight.  So I served black margaritas at my most recent Noche dinner.  Noche is my secret dinner club in which friends gather for a feast, amazing cocktails and wine.  

Black margaritas are simple.  Its foundation is still tequila, sour mix, and fruit liqueurs.  But for this margarita I took a chance on an obscure or lesser known tequila from Los Valles, Jalisco called El Padrino de Mi Tierra. (El Padrino - The Godfather).  

Only 100% blue agave is used in this Reposado Tequila. Brick ovens roast the agave for 36-54 hours, allowing the tequila to retain the sweet natural mellow flavor. Slow-fermented 48-60 hours and then distilled in copper pot stills for a rich taste with notes of caramel and oak.  It’s excellent for high-end tequila cocktails.

El Padrino Reposado tequila is “rested”, which means it will have aged in oak between two and eleven months prior to bottling.  This gives the tequila a light color and depth of flavor. 

The black margarita gets it’s dark, striking black color from the Blue Curaçao and raspberry liquors.  Serve very chilled and enjoy the midnight stars! 


  • 2 ounces El Padrino Reposado tequila
  • 1 ounce Blue Curaçao
  • 1 ounce raspberry liquor such as Chambord 
  • 1 splash of lime juice
  • fill with sour mix and cranberry or pomegranate juice
Mixing instructions:

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into a salt or sugar- rimmed glass. Garnish with lime.  

Written by Leticia Alaniz


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Andhra Prawn Pickle or Royyala Pachadi

Andhra Prawn Pickle/ Royalla Pachadi
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
Spices and seafood are magic in southern India.  When spices are used to preserve fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood in combination with dried chiles, you’re tapping into the vast culinary treasures that India has to offer with a wealth of thousands of years of pickling.  Each region has their family recipes that are generational and the ancient practice of preservation by curing with salt, vinegar and sugar were a way to keep perishables for longer periods of time.  Especially long after harvest seasons or when droughts or other natural disasters might have caused food scarcity or ruined crops.  The richness of pickling has evolved over centuries and it’s not easy to pinpoint exact recipes or methods of preservation.  

The tradition of pickling can be traced back since time immemorial and perhaps that’s why almost every culture in the world discovered their own methods to preserve their food.  But in India, drying and pickling is a long standing tradition that seems untouched by time.  Particularly so in the southern states of the subcontinent.

My first taste of prawn pickle was in Andhra where I was given a very proper Indian welcome with the most aromatic, unforgettable introduction to the wonderful taste of the preserved coastal prawns.  It was culinary love!  Lyrical descriptive words don’t do it justice.  But I will say that prawn pickle can be described as smoky, sour, tangy, hot, spicy, gingery and savory.  It’s one of the first things I wrote about in my journal.  Those are amazing gastronomical experiences that I’ll never forget.  

After being on the hunt for a really good prawn pickle as I remember in Andhra, I simply could not find one commercially prepared back in the US that had the same amazing flavor.  I longed for the prawn pickle that gave any Indian meal an instant burst of tantalizing flavor.  I romanticized the aroma from my memories and it became an obsession to find it.  I didn’t have such luck.  

I felt the hunger of exoticism and ancient gastronomy, of tea and cardamom, of ginger and golden turmeric, hunger for the sensuality that wakes the senses with the aroma of the wet earth during the monsoons and the sweet and sour of Andhra pickles.  Therefore, in my search I studied many commercial pickles and their flavors, some were described to me orally but not in precise measurements, others I found in books, but not quite the same, until I developed my own recipe for the prawn pickle I had been looking for for so long.  It’s the flavor that took me back to the India I remember, to the people and to the food that harbors so much history and the perpetual fruits of it's land.  

For this particular Andhra prawn pickle or royyala pachadi as it's called in telugu, I think I’ll start my own tradition of pickling recipes and keep this recipe in the family.  But I do hope that all that come to visit me may enjoy what makes this recipe so special, and may we raise our glasses to Indian culinary traditions and to many shared plates.

Photo Leticia Alaniz

Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2017


Friday, June 9, 2017

Sandra Lara - The World I Live In

Sandra Lara Artist
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
Sandra Lara is an artist surrounded by mystery, enigma and spirituality from which she draws across her canvases a susceptible aura of emotions that contain many different variants.  One of the variants expresses deep feelings of womanhood, of feminism, and inner thoughts that belong only to women.  Another variant is the pain of living thru traumatic childhood experiences that reflect healing thru vivid colors.  Among her canvases, Lara owns her space and time.  It's the exploration of her sense and outlook on life that become the colors and voice of her collected thoughts and life experiences.

Lara is a remarkable artist that does not fit into any kind of mold or tradition of art movements.  Her acrylic work is steeped in the inner workings of lines depicted as stories of individuals and their emotions.  Collections of her work are a reminder of the precise engravings of Mexican engraver and painter Francisco Toledo who often depicted humans, animals and the dead in one cosmos.  Lara’s artwork contains surreal images with stark movement and broad, direct brushstrokes that invoke poetry and the illustration of our psyche without a designated time present.  Many of her very personal pieces are autobiographical with abstract, fantasy and in a sense Freudian elements that very well call into order the writings of André Breton.  Lara’s style can best be described as pure art with life and dreams.                

Sandra Lara - I had some happy, sad and traumatic times in my childhood.  I was very shy and withdrawn.  I was born with epilepsy which caused me to struggle academically in school but my teachers just labeled me as the “quiet” or “shy girl”, or assumed I couldn’t speak English.  I was an easy student who didn’t talk to anyone; I didn’t ask any questions when in reality I was “zoning out” or having small epileptic seizures.  I struggled thru elementary, junior high and high school, not knowing or ever being tested for learning disabilities and did not get diagnosed until adulthood.  All the while, I had a severe math learning disability and ADD.  I was bullied in school, had no friends and was academically lost.  The only thing I had was my family.  We struggled thru traumatic times losing our seven-year-old sister who died when I was five years old and two years later losing our two-year-old brother when he choked on a balloon while he was at daycare.  Our mother worked at the daycare and was there and witnessed the tragic event.  The heartaches and struggles brought our family incredibly close together and we still have a very special strong bond.  The suffering loss at such a young age made me look at life differently than others my age.  I was an “old soul” by age 10.    

LA - Life experiences seem to find a way into our daily life thru different forms of expression.  We may become artists, writers, travelers, musicians or we may become great teachers, wonderful parents, etc… But art is always a very personal form of expression.  I’m glad your childhood heartaches reflect the healing and love I sense in your artwork.  Did you always know you would become an artist? 

Lara - No, I took an art class in high school and was told by my ninth grade teacher to “give up this drawing thing” and try “homemaking" instead because I struggled drawing a pair of shoes.  In college, my major was actually in Social Work and I had to take an elective, so I chose to take a drawing class.  I struggled throughout the whole class but was guided by Kathy Windrow.  She was an amazingly patient, nurturing and talented instructor.  She saw something in my work, specifically the final project of my self-portrait and asked me to join her in her painting class.  My passion for art started after that.  Today I model Kathy’s nurturing, patient, humorous style of teaching for my students where I teach at a jail education program.       

LA - Did you go to a formal art school?

Lara - I started my formal art school training at DCCCD in 1994 at Eastfield College under the instruction of Kathy Windrow, whom I still consider a dear friend and mentor today.  Eastfield College offered an incredibly nurturing environment for me.  The Art Department was so gentle, patient, and welcomed me with open arms.  In 1999 I started taking independent studies classes at SMU under the late Bill Komodore, Robin Koch, and Lorraine Tady, who are still dear friends and presently continue to mentor me.  
Sandra Lara
Countdown to the Meltdown 30x30 Acrylic on Canvas
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017

LA - Are you a storyteller thru your art? 

Lara - I feel I’m telling the stories of the voiceless thru my art, becoming their voice, through my own language.  The same goes for the recent Dallas Police shootings.  Through my drawings, I’m telling the story through the brainwaves of everyone, the bystanders, officers, families, and the hospital staff.  The day of the shootings, the first day that came through my mind was “I Can’t imagine the chaos that is going on in everyone’s mind, it must be like a bunch of electrical volts going crazy.”  That’s what gave me the idea of studying the EEG drawings of brain waves and creating it into a piece of artwork. 

LA - War and Peace are two opposites that seem to bring out human emotions and empathy.  Do you think your art reflects your ideas and opinions on the modern world we live in even among tragedy?

Lara -  The drawings I’m currently working on are about the tragic shootings the Dallas Police suffered on July 7, 2016.  It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year!  I’m creating drawings based on the brainwaves of everyone involved in that tragic event.  Many people were affected directly; the families of the victims, the nurses, the bystanders and of course the officers. 
Sandra Lara
Brain Activity: The Aftermath 7/7/16
20x20 Ink on Khadi Paper
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017

LA - Throughout history, there have always been tumultuous times.  Ever since humans started living in communities and started competing against each other or against other tribes.  The difference is that in our lifetime it seems as if it’s just all the more tragic with weapons of mass destruction.  It’s a scary time we live in.  

LA - Does the world today or social issues that are unjust upset you?  How does that reflect on your artwork?

Lara - I work with incarcerated women at the Lew Sterritt Jail in Dallas and I collaborate with an incredibly gifted director, producer, and writer named Cynthia Salzman Mondell.  She has a project called Sole Sisters in which the female art students in the jail education program share their life struggles with their artwork.  Sole Sisters is a women’s empowerment project that asks the ladies when the last time they felt like a woman and to create the kind of shoes they wore.  I can honestly say I have sincere empathy for many of these ladies.  I know what it feels like to be ignored, labeled and bullied.  I feel a sense of responsibility to help these women who are at their lowest point in their life by teaching them how to express their emotions thru art.  I want to help them find some sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and value to their life.  I feel so honored to be a part of this project.  It compels me… I can’t hide or blind my eyes and soul to the heartache and social issues we experience today.  I’m not an intellectual, a graceful speaker or a polished leader.  But I am an artist.  My creations will be my voice and let the world see things from my point of view. 

LA - What are your spiritual beliefs and practices.  Do you connect with a greater source or a spirit keeper?

Lara - I was raised as a Baptist, but I can honestly tell you that I have respect for all religion.  I think every religion has something beautiful to offer to the world.  I do pray to a bigger entity, but I don’t believe I have to go to church to pray.  I pray to my God in private.  I pray for peace, I always give thanks and I know I have a purpose.  This directly takes me to my beliefs in life.  My philosophy is to simply treat everyone with kindness, respect, and compassion.  I believe that if someone helped you at a very trying time in your life, be kind enough to help someone else out.  I believe we’re on this earth to help each other.  To show compassion to those who society has cast aside like worthless garbage.  To teach everyone that they have a voice.  It may not be a vocal voice but thru art they can release their feelings and emotions and remain silent no more.    

LA - Our family is our connection to our hearts and to the past of our ancestors.  They’re the ones that give us a sense of purpose.  Did your parents support you to become an artist? 

Lara - Yes, I’m very blessed that my parents have always supported me as an artist.  My family is my direct connection to my canvases.  I feel very proud of my family.  I have an amazing support system.  Being an artist is not the easiest profession in the world (and expensive) but they always support me no matter what.  We have been thru some of the most tragic and traumatic times any family can experience.  The tragedies did not tear us apart, they brought us closer together and bonded us.  I’m incredibly proud of my family.   
LA - What kind of subjects do you mostly paint?

Lara - I paint mostly about emotions.  But I represent the emotions of humanity and the force of suffering, the loneliness and the inner passion.  I have been compared a lot to painter Michele Basquiat so I can honestly say that his work has had an influence on my work because of the beautiful poetry and language that he uses in his work and the way he speaks to his audience.  Certain challenging episodes in my life have led to my creation of pieces like ‘Birds That Put The Bullies in the Box’ and ‘Countdown to the Meltdown’.  Both pieces are about my childhood memories of being constantly bullied as a child and about the heartbreak that came with all of those challenging times. 

LA - Does heritage have a place in your art?

Lara - Yes, I’m very proud to be a Latina.  Often times, the colors in my work are bright bold colors.  I create drawings that are very tribal.  My painting ‘She Warrior’ stems from my love of Kachina dolls.  My parents told us to never give up.  We are indigenous people.  We are warriors and we are survivors.  

Sandra Lara
Graduation: The Spirit of the Dancing Ladies
30x30 Acrylic on Canvas
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - What has been a highlight of your life and career?

Lara - I was asked to be represented by the prestigious art gallery Mary Tomás.  It was such an incredible day for me.  It meant my work had some value to it and it gave me a sense of worth.  Another highlight of my career is being able to work with Emmy Award director Cynthia Salzman Mondell.  It has been such an honor to be working with an incredibly talented woman.  She has been a great mentor and dear friend in my life.  My dreams for the future are to have my work in galleries not only here in the United States, but internationally as well.  When I see a glimmer of hope in their eyes, that is my inspiration.  
Sandra Lara
Past: Transition: Present
Commissioned for Sole Sisters Project

LA - Where was your first art exhibit?

Lara - I was very lucky to have such incredible teachers at Eastfield College (DCCCD) and they introduced me to the art world very early in my life as a student.  I had my first art exhibit in 1995 for the Día de Los Muertos Show at the campus gallery. 

LA - Do you like music?  Does music influence your work?

Lara - Music plays a significant role in my life.  I listen to everything.  I’m a pretty eclectic person.  In my work, it depends on what I’m painting or drawing.  If I need to draw or paint something with lots of detail, then I listen to very soft music.  If I need something that needs very broad brushstrokes, lots of colors, then I go with something more upbeat.

LA - Music as an art form inspires us and it also heals.  What’s your studio setup and what’s a typical work day for you when you paint?

Lara - I don’t drink or smoke or prepare a special meal.  I don’t think of food much when I’m working.  I prepare mentally by making sure I have a very quiet moment.  I have ADD, so I call my friends and family and tell them I’m about to begin work so I ask them to not disturb.  To best manage my ADD I strive to have some form of routine every day.  When the routine is disrupted or something is off my whole day is off balance.  So I go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time.  I get distracted very easily when I work so I put on my headphones, start painting and go for it!  But when I do come out of my studio, every now and then I like to bake delicious brownies that my family just loves! 

LA - What motivates you to keep painting?  

Lara - I fell in love with art many years ago, it woke up a soul that had been hurt, heartbroken and bullied for so many years.  I paint with a pure heart, emotion, sincerity, and intuitiveness.  My art is my voice.  My art is the voice of those who suffer and the misfits.  My art is my freedom and my sanity.  I’m a very simple person.  I don’t consider myself an intellectual because to me an intellectual means you are superior and I don’t consider myself superior to anyone.  Yet at the same time that doesn’t mean I will be inferior to anyone.

LA - What inspires you the most?  

Lara - Working with the incarcerated population; I work with women, men, young 17-year-olds and those that have been diagnosed with a major mental disorder.  On the first day of art class they walk in with their head down, thinking they can’t learn because someone or life itself has broken their spirit and label them as stupid, dumb or lazy.  Oftentimes it turns out about 90 percent of these broken human beings have a learning disability and are incredibly talented, smart and creative.  They simply need a way to channel their strengths in a positive way. 

LA - What has criticism on your work been like?  

Lara - I have heard things like, “Can you draw?”, “Do you practice voodoo?”, “You need serious counseling”; and on the other hand, I have also been told that my work is incredibly soulful, emotional and highly sophisticated.  I listen to all criticism and learn from it.

LA - Many people will ask what’s the purpose of art.  Why create?  Why do we write?  I believe art is life and it’s the mirror of our humanity.  It transports us to different corners of the world and in different times.  

LA - Is there a city in the world that you feel is best suited for you?

Lara - I haven’t had the opportunity to travel much, but I hope to one day.  I have gone to New Mexico.  It was breathtaking and calm.  Dallas is very hurried and always on the go.  If I could pick up my family and move to another city it would definitely be New Mexico.  

LA - New Mexico is one of my favorite places in the world too!  There’s so much mystique and that’s one of the many reasons why it attracts so many artists from all over the world.  They go for a visit and stay there to live.  And that very mystique is a calling to pay attention to the calm and quiet, to nature and to spirits past.  Is there a person in history living or deceased that you would have liked to have met and what would you tell them? 

Lara -  I would like to talk to my deceased cousin Norma, my grandfather Pedro, my sister Cynthia, and my brother Oscar.  I would tell them that the anguish and pain I suffered when losing them has given me the ability to help others through their pain with art.

LA - You are your art and I’m very proud to know you.  Gracias Sandra!

Sandra Lara is represented by Mary Tomás Gallery
Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas CADD
Mary Tomás Gallery

For more information of The Sole Sisters Film Project:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bee's Knees - The Frank Meier Gin & Lavender Cocktail

Bee's Knees - Gin & Lavender Cocktail original by Frank Meier
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
With all this lemon and lavender you’d think it’s high tea time hour.  But for this drink that dates back to the hard times of the prohibition era, you’ll need a coupe glass, gin, lavender, honey and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

The Bee’s Knees takes us to Paris’ enigmatic Bar Hemingway located in the lobby of the Hotel Ritz where a mysterious bartender named Frank Meier, who served as a spy during the French Resistance when the Germans occupied Paris in the second World War, authored the classic aptly named cocktail.  

Meier trained at the legendary bar in New York’s Hoffman House Hotel and was in the eye of the hurricane during the prohibition of alcohol.  Lots of underground gin was being served, yet it was of inferior quality.  To mask the strong odor of the less than ideal gin, Meier added citrus and honey resulting in a cocktail that became “suave” or “the best”, thus the slang for the Bee’s Knees name among the jazz clubs.  With his bartending training underway, he returned to Paris to become the Hotel Ritz’ first head bartender in 1921 when it’s Cafe Parisian opened its doors.

Meier’s talent for creating delicious cocktails combined with his sense of hospitality to the glitzy and the Lost Generation of intellectuals made him famous.  It was the Golden Age at the Ritz and some of Meier’s clientele included the King of Spain, the Prince of Wales, the Russian Grand Dukes and one of his best friends, American author Ernest Hemingway.  

Meier was Austrian born and part Jewish, yet he continued to run his bar even when the Germans occupied Paris.  It was a risk he was willing to take.  He survived the war, avoided deportation and actively engaged in the resistance by assisting many Jewish residents to obtain fake documents and passports that allowed them to hide from the Gestapo’s concentration-camp round-ups.  

Frank Meier cocktail mixologist at the Hotel Ritz, Paris
Because Meier helped the French resistance and British spies, he was constantly under Gestapo surveillance.  He also passed notes for Hans Speidel and Carl Stülpnagel to assist them in planning the assassination attempt of Adolph Hitler which failled.  He was essentially running a mailbox with other Ritz staff members passing coded troop movements to the French Resistance via Switzerland.  

There’s no telling how many people benefited in avoiding death at the hands of the Nazis from the help of Frank Meier, but what is known is that a couple of years after the war in 1947, the mysterious anti-Nazi spy disappeared into the night but not before leaving his treasured recipes in a small book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.  Its publication was circulating since 1939 but included only 1300 copies and they’re sought after at auction to the highest bidder.  

One of the popular recipes in the book is the Knee’s Bees cocktail.  In Meier’s recipe it doesn’t include lavender, but for this version, in honor of France and its lavender fields  the cocktail includes an infusion of lavender syrup which you'll surely enjoy.  

Here’s a toast to the many lives saved by Frank Meier and to Meier himself, raise your glass with a Bee’s Knees.

Bee’s Knees with Lavender

Granulated sugar *
2 ounces (60 mL) Gin
3/4 ounce Lavender syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Fresh lavender (for garnish)

Rim a chilled coupe with sugar and set aside.  Combine the gin, lavender syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake well.  Strain into the sugar-rimmed coupe and serve garnished with fresh lavender.  Makes one cocktail.    

*Dried lavender can be added to the granulated sugar for garnish.  

Lavender Syrup

1 Cup of water
1 Tablespoon of dried lavender flowers
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of honey

In a saucepan, bring the water and lavender flowers to a boil.  Add the sugar and honey and bring to a second boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Strain, discarding the lavender flowers, and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  

Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jonathan Ramirez - Portraits, Magic & Surrealism

Jonathan Ramirez
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
You paint portraits, you make sculptures, you create drawings, and you compose original rock n' roll full of imagery and messages, yet you don't consider yourself an artist?

"I don't consider myself an artist but yeah I always wanted to create something artistic all my life, from paintings or sculptures… I guess I'm not an artist but a person that's inspired to create things." 

Jonathan Ramirez may be humble in accepting the reality that he's on his way to superstardom in the art scene; yet he's already garnered countless art recognitions and has been invited to showcase his art in solo exhibitions in Europe, USA, and Latin America.  His pieces have been acquired by top galleries and collectors.  As a whole, his body of work is recognized for its complexity and depth and for encompassing cultural and political commentary in highly detailed portraits in a renaissance style mixed with modern art that includes surreal depictions in mixed media.  To describe Jonathan's art would be difficult to place it in one single style.  His portraits alone are prophetically sensitive, and they're suffused with a theatrical air.  They're images that reveal an enormous power of feeling and observation.  His underlying theme is the sentimentality and expressiveness of the deep gaze of the eyes in each of his portraits.  It's a gaze that may sense tragedy or the brevity of the moment in which we live in.  Elusive brushstrokes follow the gaze and in some portraits, drips of color roll down towards the bottom of the canvas, almost as if the beginning of life rolls down towards the end of life reminding us that life is a perfect delicate balance which must come to an end.    

I remember the event where I first met Jonathan at a Battle of the Bands concert where he was playing with his band called Moon Fluid.  The music of Moon Fluid was a progressive style of rock n' roll with a blending of blues, post-punk, ska, jazz, gothic rock and even latin influences.  He was playing chords on his guitar and naturally, his music stood out and it was loud.  I was there to photograph the concert and I wanted to know what Moon Fluid was all about.  Soon after, I was photographing covers for his singles and band portraits. 

Jonathan was born in Monterrey, Mexico and the famous neighborhood, Barrio Antiguo, famously known for its art scene, poets, writers, and intellectuals may have been the right place to shape his artistic persona.

In his words: 

"My childhood was very strange… I was a quiet kid, always drawing USSR war propaganda posters… I was very interested in war propaganda since I was a kid.  I used to copy and create my art-war drawings in mixed media with popular Disney characters interwoven.  I think that's why my current paintings resemble my childhood art.  I grew up in a poor neighborhood in a middle-class family.  I'm very proud of my heritage, of my background, and where I came from. "

LA - Does your heritage have a place in your art?

Ramirez - Yes, in fact, I started my first collection inspired by my Mayan culture with a touch of a modern perspective.  I love to combine some of my roots and cultures in most of my paintings.  Even if I'm finished doing the Mayan collection, I try to apply my Hispanic heritage to my artwork.  

Portrait of Rasputin by Jonathan Ramirez
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - What kind of subjects do you mostly paint?

Ramirez - I love to paint portraits but I also like to do detailed work and there are a few times that I paint surreal subjects in different mediums.  I'm known for painting using the natural stain from wine, coffee, spices and of course traditional oils, acrylics, and charcoal.  Fire makes it on my canvases quite often and it's quite a spectacle when I paint.  It's like a rock concert.  My art, in general, is emotional and colorful.  It's magical and dark with a flair of gothic.

LA - Your art seems to speak its own language that transcends time.  It has a sense of universality.  Are you a storyteller through your art?

Ramirez - I think each of my pieces has a story to tell so I'm definitely a visual storyteller.  I let my art speak for me.  I'm a very shy person so everything you see in my work is related to something I might say or a personal story.  

LA - Do you think your art reflects your ideas and opinions on the world we live in?

Ramirez - Yes, my art reflects the modern world we live in because the world I live in inspires me to create so it's a balance.

LA - How do you view social issues of the world today?  Do negative social issues portrayed in the media bother you?

Ramirez - I don't get angry, the world is already angry with each other, so instead I get inspired to create what I do.  For everything I see in social media, I create something that will have an impact.  I mean, you have to be a creator to not fall into those games.  I keep myself distracted from all of that.  If I see a subject I like and If think I can project that into art I make that happen.  I believe art can make a difference.  In the world we live in, I can't step away or blind myself to current social issues so I just find a way to express myself thru art and let the world see my point of view thru my art.     

Jonathan Ramirez
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - Are you spiritual or what do you believe in?

Ramirez - I would say the older I become the more I become non-religious.  But I would say I'm spiritual and I'm really trying to look for the answers of existence, you know… is there life after death?  Or what's next?  Things like that… I'm not sure if you call that spiritual but yeah I really love peace.  And on the subject of philosophy, I love Plato. 

LA - I think Plato was the philosopher that argued the issue of "being alive" and "being dead", two opposite states, and "dying" and "coming-to-life" must balance out dying… so it's interesting to wonder about what comes next.

LA - Do you question anything in life, for example, what our purpose is and the existentialism of life itself?  

Ramirez - Yes, I do all the time.  Before I go to sleep and close my eyes I think deep.  There are so many questions and not enough answers.  It's very difficult for me to go to bed thinking what there might be after this life and how I can apply that to my next painting.  Waking up and having those six hours face to face with a canvas and trying to apply my feelings and emotions raises a lot of questions.  Existentialism definitely has a place in my paintings.  

LA - How do you prepare yourself mentally when you begin a new canvas?  What's your studio setup like?

Ramirez - My studio is a mess, but that's how it should be.  It's the only place I feel secure and happy.  I try not to think before I start painting, then I play music depending on the mood.  Then, of course, I drink wine or something to get a little high on emotions if you know what I mean!  

LA - What bands do you listen to?  

Ramirez - I love Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Smashing Pumpkins… in fact, I'm working on a collection inspired by one of their albums: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  You can also find Tool and A Perfect Circle on my playlist.  They really inspire me in my creative process.

LA - Music is a very big driving force that keeps us going.  What else has had an influence on your work?

Ramirez - In the past four years, my art is influenced by my personal experiences.  My love life especially, my heart has been getting hurt a lot.  So in a way, my loneliness drives me to keep painting or the fact that I don't feel like going out much and meet people.  It's a strange thing to say, I'm not very social so I project myself into my paintings.  My love life has been very disappointing.  Past relationships, lost love, death and of course, music is what keep me going.  

2016 Collection by Jonathan Ramirez
LA - Are you happy with your life?

Ramirez - Death is a surprise party that may come at any moment.  I'm very happy now but who knows tomorrow?  I live every minute of my life as if it was the last one.  I enjoy the moment and never look back or look into the future.  For now, I feel proud of my art, my work, everything I do and create. 

LA - Life is full of pain and death.  It's an indisputable truth and in between, we can find happiness among ourselves.  Your paintings certainly speak of life and death and their vibrant colors seem to seek authenticity and they convey the message that we can get more out of life. 

LA - What are your artistic dreams for the future?

Ramirez - As far as workflow, I would like to keep creating every day, even if it's a small sketch which I may never share with people.  I see myself today and my future alone, creating art, making crazy and dark paintings and sculptures.  I would love to display my new collection and share it with the world for sure.  I would like to experiment with new mediums and I would like to explore my brain and be more active with art.  And as for my music, it's a little bit harder to accomplish because I have to depend on others so that I can play a gig.  I love my band Moon Fluid but I need the other musicians and many times they're not available.  So painting is more of a solo activity and it has actually possessed me more strongly, so I'll just keep creating solo.    

LA - What has been a highlight of your career?

Ramirez - I guess I consider it a major highlight when I exhibit my work.  It gives me great satisfaction when people see my work in person and see the time and work that I have put into the art.  It makes me feel that I have something good going for me.  Exhibits keep me going because it's the drive that I need to inspire me.  I'm not always dependent on a public, but it does give me a great boost.  

LA - Where was your first exhibit and when?

Ramirez - It was in London I believe in 2011 at Debut Contemporary.  After that show, it seems Dallas started paying more attention to my art so I started to do more exhibits in my base city of Dallas, but I still keep traveling to Europe to display my art.

LA - Is there a city in the world that you think is more suited for you?  

Ramirez - I think a lot of artists might choose New York or Los Angeles but I feel better suited for London.  I think the art scene is growing so much in London and I think it's also so beautiful and inspiring for me.  I react to the city and it's like a strong energy from which I draw inspiration.  

LA - What has criticism on your art been like, whether positive or negative?

Ramirez - Because its art there will always be a lot of different opinions and I have received both negative and positive critiques.  What I do is just listen and I try to see their point of view.  Does it affect me?  Not at all, I respect peoples' opinion all the time and I love to get feedback. 

LA -  How do you view the artistic scene in Dallas?

Ramirez - I usually check the art scene, I go to exhibits.  I mean it seems to me everyone is famous nowadays, you see a new model, photographer or a painter coming on social media every day.  So I think art has a place on social media and it's a great platform to get the word out.  All the cool people come out on social media, so I'm just gonna ride the same train.   

LA - Do you have your family's support and approval?

Ramirez - My family is very supportive.  I'm lucky that I came from a family that always embraced the arts.  For example, my father was a musician and my mother sang in a choir.  So music and the arts have always been a part of our lives.  It just came naturally to me.  At first, they were a little bit shocked or scared when they saw my paintings, especially the darker ones with dark themes, but now they understand me and support me all the way.  They do wonder why I paint so many portraits, but they're cool, portraits are my passion so they love them now.

LA - Your portraits assertively embrace the renaissance art movement, especially the way light glances along the flesh of the faces which is hard to accomplish.  And speaking of the renaissance, is there an artist of that period or other periods that you would have liked to meet if you could?

Ramirez - I would have really like to meet Leonardo, Michelangelo or Dali.  All the people that I have dreamt of meeting left a legacy behind either in art or music.  Their legacy makes me happy and that's why we're here, to experience that.  I like to live in the moment but I wish I could meet a couple of those guys.  I have learned a lot from studying their works.  I only aspire for my work to make a mark somewhere, to leave its legacy and to perhaps make an impression on a person for the better.  It really makes me happy when people enjoy my art which I create with my heart.

"Great art takes all that we've got to put into it.  And when we're gone, all that remains is art." - Jonathan Ramirez
Mayan Prophesy by Jonathan Ramirez © 2016

Friday, January 13, 2017

Iñaki Oñate: A Modern Auteur Filmmaker

Photo © Natalia Sabatino
Iñaki Oñate is an auteur filmmaker and visual artist.  I first heard his name thru his father Iván Oñate whom is a well known, respected poet and narrator in Latin America.  In a chance meeting at a book festival in Houston, Texas, the poet, Iñaki’s father, proudly talked to me about his son and gave me a DVD of one of his films.  The film is titled El Fin De La Película (The End Of The Film).  At the time, I was working on other projects so I left the film on my desk for at least a month before I sat down to watch it.

Good things that come my way deserve attention and what I found in Oñate’s film is precisely the kind of art that intrigues and fascinates.  It was a film that I would consider auteur cinema.  The kind that brought to mind the films that were being made in Paris in the late 1950s and 1960s termed New Wave Cinema by François Truffaut.  There was a sense of subjective and objective realism, and the narrative carried itself in a verité manner.  Subjects were photographed in artful black and white in natural settings, with natural dialogue.

Films are only one part of Oñate’s repertoire, he’s also a well established visual artist, illustrator, musician and sound designer.  His art is provocative and in a way his pieces convey messages of ecstatic truth.  They move the audience to think about the reality or absurdity of the world and social issues in which we live in.  

El Fin De La Película (The End Of The Film)
by Film Director Iñaki Oñate
Iñaki Oñate was born in Quito, Ecuador on November 7th, 1988.  He grew up in a home that in his words was, “Synonymous with freedom, but a freedom that carries a high degree of responsibility.”   His art education and discipline may have began at home, but his final formative years in cinematic studies were spent at the Universidad Del Cine (FUC), in Buenos Aires, Argentina and aptly among the avant garde society which surrounded him.   

LA - What was it like growing up in Ecuador with a famous author as your father, it must have been fascinating.  Did you have a happy childhood?

Oñate -  My home has always been my refuge, my source of wisdom.  It’s here where I cultivated my aesthetic and ethical identity.  I think a good childhood is not only a happy childhood, but a childhood that teaches you to be strong.  My upbringing basically consisted of the process of brutally colliding with reality and resisting with the help of the force cultivated in my home.  

LA -  Did you have the support you needed to become an artist?

Oñate - I have been very blessed to have family, people, friends, and colleagues who have demonstrated their appreciation, their respect for the things I do and at the same time they have helped me grow with constructive criticism and utmost sincerity with their opinions on my work.

LA - In growing as artists it’s extremely valuable to be surrounded by people who are willing to express sincere opinions.

LA - Since when did you have an inclination towards art?

Oñate - I think I must have been drawing tirelessly since the age of two.  As a child, I would put sounds and dialogue to the images that I drew on paper.  I was unconsciously drawing frames of imaginary movies.  I do remember one of my very early pieces.  It consisted of a series of pen drawings based on impressions I had on the film Samson And Delilah by Cecil B. De Mille.  I must have been around five years old, but at a very young age, cinema caused in me a hypnotic effect.  In those days, it was very common to see biblical films on TV like the one mentioned or The Ten Commandments.  They were part of the regular programming.  There was something in the sacrifice of the main characters, their renunciation of themselves in pursuit of something beyond superior that clicked with my metaphysical being.  Of course, as a child I did not rationalize this, I just let the film carry me away by intuition and the emotions that those movies and stories generated.  

LA - What do you remember most from your childhood and youth years that play an important role in your art today?

El Paso de la Vida by Iñaki Oñate © 2015
Oñate - Art was always my sanctuary.  It was the place where I was free.  There was no better ecstasy than returning home after school and throwing myself to the ground surrounded by drawing paper and then proceed to draw for hours.  Eventually, the same would happen with the piano, the guitar and finally cinema.  The cynicism of the world around me was always a source of frustration and at the same time inspiration.  But there was also an element of the strange and ghostly that was ingrained as a result of having had an encounter with an angel when I was a child.  I saw it in my house and I felt its energy was good.  It had feathers but it was grotesque and deformed.  Nevertheless I sensed that it was an angel or something close to an angel.  

LA - That type of imagery stays with us for a long time.  It reminds me of the movie Birdman with its satirical black comedy and drama.  

LA - In what way did your parents influence you?

Oñate - My parents gave me their love and ethics.  They taught me valuable lessons and that one must be consistent with oneself.  One must be loyal to one’s principles, and above all one’s art.  I learned that I had to be loyal to one’s aesthetic discourse that goes beyond the work.  My art must be incarnated in life itself.  There is no middle ground in the true artist.  You must give everything to create your work and create something that truly speaks to another human being.

LA - What is your concept of art and what style do you mainly prefer?

Oñate - Art is an excuse to express emotions or ideals.  Its the only truth that exposes our essence: that of animals stricken by fear and desire looking fiercely for someone who will love us or at least give us a warm illusion.  As for styles and mediums, I must say that drawing, music and film are all of equal importance to me.  I think cinema encapsulates all the disciplines I explore.  Its the hybrid par excellence.  

LA - What art movement or artist in history has had an influence in your work?

Oñate - If I must choose an art movement or artists that have strongly influenced me, I must say that the 16th century School of Art in Quito has had a great impression on me.  Also, the renaissance philosopher Francis Bacon, film directors Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch, and the music of Pink Floyd. 

LA - Do you draw inspiration from politics and current social events?

Oñate - I'm inspired by everything.  I do draw inspiration from certain events recounted by the mass media but also and above all I look for stories and events that happen near me, in the faces and the backs of everyday life.  That’s where I believe the real human epics are. 

LA - I couldn’t agree with you more.  And I also believe every artist paints their own reality and in their own language and they portray life according to their imagination.  What are some themes you paint?

Oñate - I think I’m essentially an existentialist, since I was a boy until today.  The theme that defines me most is the being and its dialogue with nothingness. 

LA - Are you spiritual?  What do you believe in?  

Oñate - I’m a spiritual person by nature.  No one ever made me believe in anything.  Yet I feel God in the rain, in the wind, in the leaves, in the bliss of love, and in the truth of art.  

LA - What period in history do you think you would have liked to live in?

Oñate - I think I share the morality of Woody Allen’s movie: Midnight in Paris.  While we may find fascinating previous periods of time, there is nothing better than finding beauty in the here and now.  I think it’s the duty of every artist to find the identity of his time.  

LA - We all have an important role in society.  Do you think your work has an influence of those around you?

Oñate - I want to believe that yes, and sometimes people that I don't know at all have expressed their admiration and appreciation for the messages or the things I say thru my art.  Art must be a threat, a threat to reality, for what is established as absolute.  Art must teach us that there is no such thing, that everything can be modified.

LA -  Have you had any challenges in exhibiting your art and what has the criticism been like whether positive or negative?

Oñate - From a very young age I had a deep respect for my things.  For me, to make art meant that art itself had to deal with healing my own problems.  With my paintings I try to overcome the demons of my past or my present and I also try to pay homage to the angels who have passed thru me.  Some already in another dimension, while others are deformed from the brutality of life.  When I was 15 I made my first short film.  It was a school project and it was only me with my Handy camera and the collaboration of two friends.  Seeing the good reception I had at my school, I dared to submit the film to an international film festival in Montreal, Canada.  It was my very first exhibit.  The festival was called Festival Du Films Du Monde and my short film was titled Faces of Time.  They showed my film just before a feature film by the son of Juan Rulfo.  After the exhibition many people expressed their pleasure towards my short and a TV channel asked me for an interview.  It was a small baptism of fire and blood.  My film was selected and since then I started to produce more films and have been lucky at international festivals.  From then I began to show my work at universities in the film circuits where I felt to some extent that my films were conveying an important message to completely unknowns.  That gave me the incentive at a young age that I could seriously take the idea of filmmaking as a profession and dedicate my life to the art.  I was determined to set a universal message for others through my cinema, my music and my drawings.  

LA - What role does Argentine culture play in your art?  Are there political or social messages intertwined in your art?

Oñate - Argentina has been fundamental not only for my art but for my life.  It has been the place that has seen me grow form a teenager and become an adult.  Argentina has given me the friendships, the muses, and the vital learning curve that every artist needs for his art to be true, to have emotions, to have drive.  It’s where I learned to make art that was more human.     

LA - Life itself makes us evolve and the place we live in shapes us… What has your evolution as an artist been like?

Oñate - I have always felt and perceived my art as my own language, a personal and intimate way of shouting in an aesthetic and harmonious way everything that happens in my heart and mind.  My evolution as an artist has been based on perfecting techniques and finding new resources, inquiring other artists and learning, but also in not letting the voice of the inner child to be lost and maintaining the violence and the game I’ve had since I was very young.  

LA - What is your studio like?

Oñate - I don’t have a studio.  I work in the small mono environment where I live in Buenos Aires,  I have the necessary basics, but I tried to decorate the place a little with posters of movies or movie stars as well as with clay sculptures that I make for my animations.  More than a studio, I would say it looks like a lunatic’s lab.  I don’t have preferential schedules to work.  I simply act based on the strength of an idea or a sketch of the moment.  Sometimes, something can take me minutes and other times it can take days.  I drink apple cider when I work, I think it’s good fuel for my ideas.

LA - Do you cook?  Is cooking part of your repertoire?

Oñate - I love to cook for myself and for my friends.  I like to make macaroni and cheese with tuna.

LA - Cooking is one of my major life forces too.  How do you feed your mind?  What books do you read, who are your favorite authors, and what films do you watch?

Oñate - I like to read novels and poetry: Boris Vian, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Charles Bukowski, and Joe Sacco comics.  The work of my own father Iván Oñate has been fundamental for the construction of my aesthetics.  In the film arena I like Blue Velvet, Pink Floyd The Wall, Amadeus, The Godfather Trilogy, El Silencio, and La Hora Del Lobo just to name a few.  Everything I’ve seen has been influential on my work directly or indirectly, but the films mentioned have been crucial and are films I have seen at least two or three times.  

LA - How do you recharge energy?

Oñate - Usually what awakens my libido to create something is either a song that I like, a good movie or even the smile of an inspirational muse.

LA - Music sounds like a great way to relax and create.  What music do you listen to?

Oñate - It may vary, I’m essentially a rocker: Pink Floyd and Stone Temple Pilots.  But on the other hand the classical music of Schoenberg (The Night Transfigured Concretely) to the music of Chopin have been my companions when I create.  These days I listen to a lot of sound tracks from movies.  

LA - What are your dreams and plans for the future?

Oñate - I want my parents, my bothers, my nephews, and my friends to be proud of me.  I want to fall completely in love again.  I want my work to be seen all over the world and for my work to express sincerity to any inhabitant of this universal human village.  I think over the years I can discern what may have been wrong in my life or what errors I have made.  What I can say is that thanks to positive things that happened, they have impacted me enough to build the strength to process the negative and transform it into life lessons and new material for my work.

LA - What do you feel most proud of?

Oñate - My family.  Of my family values.  Of the honesty and the struggle of my parents for a better world. 

LA - Are you a romantic?

Oñate - I think every artist should be a romantic.  We’re driven by ideals and feelings and we must have the courage to be like this in a cynical and cruel world.  

LA - What moves you more whether to inspire or to provoke negatively?
Souvenir by Iñaki Oñate 

Oñate - Negatively, I’m bothered by the hypocrisy and corruption of politics and by people who blindly follow false leaders with such fanaticism that causes brothers and sisters to be murdered among them.  It causes me despair to see that people don’t realize how they can have the power but instead they allow the manipulation and deceit of just a small circle of bastards.  We have the last word and our own ideas, not those that govern us based on lies and cheap fables.

LA - I agree bad governments are the ills of our societies.  

LA - What philosopher or philosophy inspires you?

Oñate - As a teenager I used to follow Nietzsche and Camus.  Now I like the desperate and poetic rhetoric of Émil Cioran.

LA - Those are amazing philosophies to read.  I’ll keep in mind to read essays by Émil Cioran.  I know they’re deep and raise important questions of humanity and pessimism.  Have you applied any of your favorite thoughts on philosophy to your works?  Which art pieces or films do you feel most proud of?

Oñate - I feel a special affection for a trilogy of short films that I produced when I was a teenager that consist of: The Machine, Lord God of the Insect and God is in the Mirror.  They narrate the passage of the child to the adolescent and the adolescent to the adult who must fight for his soul and for his ideas. 

LA - Your’e a master at what you do but also a master thinker.  This has been a very good moment and in cinema we would call this a sequence.  I’m very glad and honored that you shared a sequence of your life here.  Thank you for your generous time and for your honesty. 

Iñaki Oñate produces his films thru Undergofilms Productions.  His artwork and photography are displayed in select galleries and published in Europe, USA and Latin America.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dawn in Dolores de Hidalgo

Madrugada en Dolores de Hidalgo
©  2001 Leticia Alaniz Cano
Oil on Canvas
Dolores de Hidalgo, or simply known as Dolores is an important city in Mexico with an important history.  Its in the north-central part of Guanajuato.  It is here where the cry for independence or the Grito de Dolores- the thundering for insurecction was heard for the first time in the early hours of September in 1810.  It was at the parish church Nuestra Señora de Dolores where Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla uttered his famous words and demanded the voice to be heard all the way to Spain.  Independence was imminent and Spain officially recognized Mexico’s independence after the Treaty of Córdoba was signed in 1821.  In honor of the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the citizens renamed the city to Dolores de Hidalgo.

I read about the famous battle and the history of Mexico’s independence as a child since elementary school and growing up I heard stories about the beautiful art, ceramics and culture.  The art itself is what attracted me to visit the historical city several years ago.  To say that it’s fascinating and mystic falls short because there’s an aura of wonder everywhere and in everything.  

The city was an Otomí settlement long before the arrival of the Spaniards and their essence can be found in the ambience, the mood, and especially the food.  There’s a distinct aroma in the air of wood burning, chiles roasting, fresh fruit, flowers from the countryside, and tamales steaming that’s ridiculously and intoxicatingly beautiful.  This is the real Mexico, it’s in the heart of the country and it’s where travelers can experience the colors, the vibrancy and ancient history with a jarrito de atole or a clay pot of atole in the dawn hours of the morning (atole is a traditional pre-hispanic Mexican porridge).  

From their carts, vendors sell hot atoles along with tamales in the madrugada just before daybreak.  Atoles and tamales are the traditional Mexican breakfast and vendors sing their marvelous offerings in poetic rhyming sounds that give life to the city: “Pasen a comer tamales, todos los que van pasando, tamalitos calientitos, aqui vamos preparando, pasen a tomar atole su atolito y champurrado, panza y corazón contento hacen fuerte al ciudadano.” 

A loose translation would be something like this: “Come on by and eat tamales, everyone that passes by, come eat hot tamales that we’re making here, come on by and drink your atole, your warm atole champurrado, be it known that a happy heart and a happy belly, makes a person strong.” 

At the earliest hours one morning, while the dew was cool and a blanket of light fog enveloped the city, I went out for a taste of atole and tamales.  The church bell rings every hour and it can be heard from a long distance so I followed the sound to the main plaza.  The chatter was vibrant and the tune of the vendors is a calling for a good meal.  Before the morning sun rays even made their appearance, I managed to sketch an elderly couple walking down the steps of the main church at the plaza which later I finished in oils in my studio.  I recorded a vivid picture of the colors they were wearing and the way the light spread its color cast.  It was around 5:00am and I knew that was the moment in time for my chance to live such a beautiful morning in the heart of Mexico.    

Written by Leticia Alaniz ©2016 

Madrugada en Dolores de Hidalgo
Oil on Canvas ©2001 Leticia Alaniz