By Jesus Figueroa
Rafa Esparza returns to East Los Angeles College with “Paletas de Sangre” (Blood Popsicles) on display in the “MexiCali Biennial 2013” exhibit at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
“I liked how the work dealt with the gruesome and violent subject of narco trafficking and revenge killings. It is terrorism intertwined with a seemingly harmless act of buying candy or in this case paletas from the local street vendor.
“The paleta is artistically appropriated as a substitute for drugs,” Ed Gomez, one of the three guest curators of the “MexiCali Biennial 2013” exhibit and fellow artist, said.
Having been on display at ELAC, his final year as a student here, considering this to be his first serious artwork showing. He now finds himself to be back at ELAC, this time on display at the VPAM “MexiCali Biennial 2013” exhibit.
He received his Bachelors in Fine Arts at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“This is like so special to me. I came to school here for like eight years. The common story of its only two years. It turns into the 10-year plan. But coming back, it just feels like full circle for me,” Esparza said. “Paletas de Sangre” along with the “MexiCali Biennial 2013” caught the eye of Los Angeles Times Art Critic Christopher Knight.
Esparza was the first artist mentioned and whose display is the main picture of the article. Knight gave the entire show a positive review and Esparza was thrilled to read the review.
“I read it the morning it was printed. Amy, the curator, texted me the link. I went to it and read it. I was super excited and psyched about it,” Esparza said.
Esparza has decided to go for his Masters in Fine Arts in hopes of bringing his knowledge to ELAC as a teacher. “I saw a connection between SMC (Santa Monica College) and UCLA. I want to establish one for the talented artists ELAC has,” Esparza said.
Seeing the cliché of being the only person of color in the UCLA classrooms, he became motivated in creating a connection between ELAC’s diverse and talented art students and that of UCLA’s. Having a foundation of support and encouragement from ELAC art professor Jim Uyekawa, as well as his parents, propelled Esparza to follow his passion for art.
“I didn’t always know what it would mean to be an artist. But I think I formally made that decision (to be an artist) here at ELAC,” Esparza said. Discovering his passion really awoke the artist in Esparza during his ELAC years.
“I took a few graphic design courses. That’s the path I was going to take, just be a graphic designer, then I started taking classes with Jim (Uyekawa). “I took some intro design classes, some art classes, then I ended up taking every art class that he offered and I just became obsessed,” Esparza said.
Esparza never thought he would transfer out to UCLA, but Uyekawa helped him in achieving what Esparza once thought would be impossible.”When I got accepted into UCLA, Jim (Uyekawa) was bragging to the whole department about it,” Esparza said.
Change occurred with the then Vincent Price Art Gallery under new director, Karen Rapp, as Esparza was set to transfer. “The year that I left (ELAC) was either Karen (Rapp)’s first or second year. I was kind of bummed to leave because I was already seeing all the cool stuff that she was doing, even when it was in that smaller space,” Esparza said.
Although taking art classes at ELAC, Esparza still grew as an artist during his time at UCLA.
“When I transferred to UCLA, I went in mostly as a painter and drawing. I had never done alot of the work that I started to do there, which was performance art,” Esparza said.
The luck and success that Esparza says he has achieved brought his family to a whole new place. “My family, prior to me being in my first show, had never been to a museum or a gallery,” Esparza said.
To Esparza, artists are not “touched by an angel” or have some kind of special gift. Through dedication and hard work artist make themselves stand out. “I definitely believe that drawing and painting that’s a skill and you can learn it. Having gone through that process of going through that rigorously practicing and engaging with making, I feel very strongly that anyone can be a maker and can produce art,” Esparza said.
With his luck and education, Esparza has been shown at many galleries and in many shows.
With his education and BA from UCLA, Esparza still finds that ELAC has provided him with much to be thankful for.
“I went to UCLA and it has this superstar faculty but Jim (Uyekawa) still has been one of the most inspirational instructors that I’ve had,” said Esparza.