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March 19, 2014

Envious and Inspired at the Downtown Redlands Art Walk

Written by  Kimberly Johnson
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A bit of very thoughtful Redlands alley art. A bit of very thoughtful Redlands alley art. Kimberly Johnson

“Work with what you’ve got,” he said. “My medium of choice is really just working with whatever I have.” Gabe Gonzalez wasn’t intending to be particularly profound. I could tell by his body language and how he seemed genuinely excited to find a way to concisely explain his method.

He has this willingness for experimentation. It’s self-evident in his work. He builds. He contorts. He illustrates. He creates. In a day and age where identifying yourself as an artist can be slightly taboo, Gabe Gonzalez has done just that—acted as an artist—a master of his own eclectic style and the ruler of his own varied methods.

I met Gabe last year during the Downtown Redlands Art Walk on an equally warm afternoon. The California landscape has been unforgiving to us over the past year, and the fact that I was sweating on this Sunday afternoon when I should have been enjoying sweater weather is testament to this. While the DTR Artwalk is still an extremely new venture—only having been in effect since June of 2013—I’ve managed to meet so many impressive artists through the course of my visits, including Gabe.

I remembered Gabe—even after all those months—because, quite like me, he talks a lot. This is one of my favorite characteristics in a person because it leaves the floodgates open for information to flow out. He told me all about his pencil sketched illustrations done on coffee stained paper. I remember wanting to go home, brew a pot, and splash a mug of black coffee over a stack of printer paper full of my best attempts at drawing something legible. But I didn’t—not because anyone should ever feel pigeon-holed in their creative energy or because trying something new is anything bad, but because I feel I may have irreparably damaged something in the process had I haphazardly tried to do so.

Gabe has a skill—a definitive one. Like he said, his preferred medium is working with what he has. “Found objects and whatever I can get my hands on,” he adds. After seeing his work a second time around, I believe in his skill even more. The man built the display case in which all of his art sat on and hung from with his two bare hands. His new series of drawings which—like the rest of his body of work—channel steam punk aesthetics and robotic imagery, are flawless. He’s what we like to call an artist’s artist.

And just like that—as if it were planned—the next talented art walk participant I approached, who like Gabe, is too skilled to sum up in my attempt at written praises, made a sell. I love seeing this. I love watching the transfer of a handmade work from an artist to a pleased customer. The young tattooed buyer, with a sense of bravura that matched the work she’d just purchased, held up her newly acquired item and added, “I bought this because I just love his characters and I love his style.”

Kurtis Ryovich’s style is bad— bad as in the good bad— bad as in the (slightly poorly written, but pretty spot on) context of this Urban Dictionary definition of a “diva.” His illustrations of exclusively female images exude this raw and astute appeal. They are super heroes with piercing eyes, unsuspecting villains and miniature Lucille Balls and Audrey Hepburns.

And as it should be, this is Ryovich’s full time job. He up and quit his former position two years ago to pursue his craft full-time—and with good reason. I have no doubt in mind that he was born for the purpose of painting. Specifically so that people like me could pay people like him to produce stunning images that we can gawk over and wonder how exactly oil paint on chestwood could look so, so good. The envy didn’t stop there. I made a full day out of being impressed. I made my way through and out of Augie’s alley, passing by a lone flautist whose presence was enjoyed. He came equipped with a confident gaze and one flute in hand to calm every passerby who was breaking a sweat maneuvering through the crowd. I followed up the free flute performance by heading towards one of my favorite places on earth, A Shop Called Quest.

Not only is it one of the only places in the Inland Empire where you can purchase comics, art magazines and zines (click-through for a reference into zine culture), but it houses a long- time tradition similar to that of the record store and the coffee shop as a haven to just go when bored, to kill time, to make friends and to be exposed to new knowledge. In the spirit of gaining knowledge, I learned what “munnies” and “dunnies” are that day, exclusively due to Quest’s in-store live art.

When I called Ray Duran, manager of A Shop Called Quest and coordinator of the Downtown Redlands Art Walk early Sunday morning, he let me know he’d have to miss out on the festivities to hold down the fort at the shop’s Claremont location. However, Quest employee and artist, GG Alva, would be in full effect at their Redland’s space “painting munnies.” Instead of asking what that meant exactly, I assumed I would be entering the shop to see GG anarchistically painting…money.

Instead, Alva was hard at work crafting out miniature characters equipped with super tiny sized clothing and accessories. After a bit of analysis and with help from Alva, I finally understood what a munny was. Munnies are small vinyl figurines made popular by the toy company Kidrobot. Smaller versions of the figurines are referred to as “dunnies.” They are not, as I had earlier assumed, currency.

In line with artists showcasing on the job and also being exposed to new things, I got to meet Grim Illustration’s Lori Beck. “I actually work here,” Beck said pointing to the Farm Artisan Foods sign behind her. She stood behind a wooden table blanketed by her drawings smiling far more than you’d expect from someone who goes by a moniker including the word “grim.” Lori Beck is an illustrating bubble of grinning wit who preps food at Farm Artisan in between creating celestial drawings.

“I use a method called stippling,” Beck noted. Foreign to me, she explained stippling as a medium of illustration to produce a pattern or design using formations of small dots. Like my experience with Gabe, I felt slightly motivated to go home and try my hand at the craft. I would just need to avoid stabbing myself with a writing utensil or indenting any furniture— but I was inspired.

Beck’s illustrations vary from creatures you may meet during space exploration to the imagery of other worldly goddesses. They are unique and so blatantly conjured up from her own imagination. The artists that I’ve come across make their crafts look so easy when in reality; the skill comes with tried and true practice. It comes with a passion of gaining knowledge of the esoteric and a desire to simply create.

With events like the DTR Art Walk available, art buffs and those as easily enthused as I, will always have somewhere close to home to be inspired.

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