Now into his third year as director of public relations for the summer Contemporary Hispanic Market and its winter incarnation, selftaught artist Robb Rael said he more or less inherited the role from his mother, Judy Ortiz. “The job was kind of dumped in my lap. But that was OK by me since I was already helping my mother do it,” Rael said in an interview at his framing business, Get Framed Inc., at the Design Center on Cerrillos Road. “My mother had been on the market committee in various capacities for about 12 years, and she wanted a break.”
For Rael— the artist, not the public-relations guy— this is his sixth year as an exhibitor at Contemporary Hispanic Market. His first time was in 2004 after having been rejected twice in previous years. (All the artists who participate in summer market are invited to exhibit at winter market.) “Art was really a secondary interest for me. My first love was music, with hopes of becoming a rock star,” he said and laughed. “My wife— now my ex-wife— was the one who exposed me to a world of art, which got me interested. But my mother has been a traditional painter for more than 30 years, and her work was an inspiration for me as a kid. I would watch her paint at night, then go into my room and draw.”
Rael’s art, however, is far from traditional. “My work takes from comic book art, graffiti art, Pop Art, and illustration, but my technique is more painterly than any of those,” he said. And not only does Rael draw and paint on paper and canvas, but he also produces imagery on skateboard planks. “The greatest compliment I ever got about my art was from a neighbor, who said I was a ‘ contemporary van Gogh.’ And once, somebody compared my work to that of Pop artist Peter Max, who I had never heard of before. But many have referenced my art to Jim Vogel’s, whose stuff I love. We both depict Hispanic life in New Mexico using bold colors, exaggerated shapes, and lots of movement in our styles.”
Eventide and Stranger in a Strange Land are good examples of Rael’s work. He plans to exhibit them at the Ninth Annual Contemporary Hispanic Winter Market, held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 and 28, at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe.
Guidelines for entry into the market include a rigorous jury process by a panel of art professionals whose membership rotates from year to year. Typically, judges are museum directors, curators, gallery owners, and established artists not associated with the market in any particular year. “Judging takes place the end of January for the summer market,” Rael said. “What they look for is originality, quality, a thorough knowledge of your medium, and everything must be hand-done. Artists must also be New Mexico residents and be at least one-quarter Latino descent.” Work in all mediums is considered, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, jewelry, photography, furniture, ceramics, and mixed media.
Rael estimates that, in any given year, the selection committee receives about 100 submissions for 20 to 30 open slots not taken by returning artists, and he believes that’s good for younger artists, even though the competition is tough. In the past, judging was done by slides, but that process was deemed unfair because slides never accurately conveyed the quality — or lack of quality — of someone’s work. Artists are now asked to hand-deliver four or five original pieces for review. Every five to seven years, all exhibiting artists are reviewed, which Rael sees as good policy. “To be blunt, some artists can get lazy and deserve to be weeded out,” he said.
“Winter market is usually smaller [than summer market], with only about 50 artists as opposed to more than 100 during the summer,”
he said. “As a result, winter market is more local in flavor, and items are generally smaller in size and more affordable for holiday buying.” He added that artists keep 100 percent of their earnings at winter market but pay $150 to $175 for a booth.
Among those scheduled to show at the winter market, along with Rael, are Marion Martinez and Michelle Tapia. Tapia is a Santa Fe silversmith who has shown at market for nine years. “The Contemporary Hispanic Market is really a dream come true for me,” she said via e-mail. “I always wanted to be in the show and loved looking at all the talented Hispanic artists who have gone beyond tradition.” For her jewelry, Tapia uses 14-karat and 18-karat gold as well as sterling silver, does her own lapidary, and works in scrimshaw— carving bone and ivory. “I only use fossilized walrus tusk [for my scrimshaw], which is thousands of years old and dug up by Native Alaskans and sold. ... I never use fresh walrus or elephant ivory,” she said.
By any measure, Martinez’s creations are among the more unusual and creative when compared with those of her market peers. Martinez has been associated with Contemporary Hispanic Market since 1993. “My work symbolizes the bridging of my culture’s traditional imagery with the modern world,” she said from her studio in Glorieta. “We live in a super-high-speed technological era where traditional imagery can easily be disposed of. Using this medium [recycled computer circuit boards and other technological finds] brings the beauty of our cultural history together with a 21st-century wow!”
According to Rael, this year’s winter market will be special for a variety of reasons. “The environment of the Railyard District, our proximity to the new farmers market, and the new gallery scene there all lend themselves to our event. But the show by itself has always had a family vibe to it, which is great for the artists and the public. It’s when we can all hang out and get to see what everybody has been doing the past year, seeing new work, new ideas.”
Michelle Tapia: She Dreamt She Was a Dragonfly, 2009, sterling silver, 14-karat gold, fossilized walrus tusk scrimshaw, and semi-precious stones, 2.5 x 2.25 inches