Art, they say, is in the eye of the beholder — and the beholders in the Art District on Santa Fe can be tough critics. That's what Marcos De La Torre discovered after he hired Justin (no last name, please) of Ill Resist to paint an unusual interpretation of an office chair — a wild-looking monster chair — on the wall of his store, JB Office Supplies, at 800 Santa Fe Drive.
"That very same day, everybody started freaking out," De La Torre says. "The people around here didn't like it because it wasn't their style."
What style was it? Ted Gill, a developer who serves on the Santa Fe Local Maintenance District, which keeps up the trees, landscaping, sidewalks and pedestrian lights in the district, thought it looked like gang graffiti. "There must have been forty complaints," he says of the mural that suddenly appeared in early June in a very high-traffic area of Santa Fe. "I think what was offending most of the artists was that it was so visible and the script was in a gang kind of script."
Santa Fe Art District
"Graffiti scares everyone who isn't involved in graffiti," adds John Passaro, who owns the Standing Sun Gallery at 826 Santa Fe and serves on the art district board. "Graffiti means gangs. It is gang members writing to each other. Most people don't understand or appreciate the fine distinction between what looks like graffiti and what is graffiti...and that's not the kind of environment they want to come in to."
De La Torre was disappointed by the reaction to the piece. But he wanted to be neighborly, so he accepted an offer from Gill to have the mural painted over. Three days later, it was gone.
But not forgotten.
"Only in the art district, right?" says 29-year-old Justin. "There is such a gray area [with graffiti]. It's just a matter of opinion of what people think. If that mural was anywhere else, it would still be up. The art district is funky, backwards. They are snobs."
At Ill Resist, Justin's studio, he specializes in tattoos, but he also does sculpture and paintings. "I just sold a painting for 700 bucks," he says. "It was photo-realist of a lady leaning against a train. It was all aerosol, but it was aerosol on canvas."
De La Torre would now like to turn his store's wall into a place where artists can show their work on a regular basis — above a small painted ad for his shop — and he's working with the city's zoning department to get the plan approved. "I want to let people who don't have money but do have talent — I want to let those people show," he explains. "You never know; you could run into a Picasso."
But would Picasso pass muster with art-district critics? Passaro says they'd like to see the wall painted, too, but with something everyone approves of, "that doesn't remind people of gang work."
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Despite the critical reception it received from district officials, many people in the neighborhood told De La Torre that they loved Justin's work. "Everyone's fighting over it now," he adds, "but it's my wall."
Scene and herd: With his quick quips, Jon Caldara, the head of the Independence Institute, is the go-to guy for any reporter looking for a contrarian quote. But while Caldara is a master at shooting from the lip, he didn't do as well shooting from the hip on Saturday, when the Institute's annual ATF event (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, not necessarily in that order), featured an impromptu battle of the sexes between Caldara and Kelly Maher — who outshot him in the slowest sudden death contest.
It was a double loss for Caldara, since Amy Oliver, the institute's Snuggie-clad director of operations, got off the line of the chilly day as she drove a golf cart around the shooting range, exercising her "right to wear arms."