Old Man Gloom in wartime

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Watch your trou­bles go up in flames along with Old Man Gloom on Fri­day, Sept. 2, at the an­nual Burn­ing of Will Shus­ter’s Zo­zo­bra. The event, which kicks off the week­long Fi­esta de Santa Fe, is spon­sored by the Santa Fe Ki­wa­nis Club. It is the 92nd time the men­ac­ing effigy is lit aflame and the third year his con­struc­tion is in­spired by the Ki­wa­nis’ Decades Project, a count­down to Zo­zo­bra’s cen­ten­nial in 2024. This year, the theme is the 1940s. Artist Rus­sell Thorn­ton brings the am­bi­ence of that by­gone era to his ren­di­tion of the fear­some fig­ure who tow­ers, dozens of feet tall, over Santa Fe. On the cover is Thorn­ton’s of­fi­cial poster, a pen-and-ink draw­ing with dig­i­tal paint­ing. Burn him! But don’t burn the Pasa.

SMALL LIZARDS ARE A PART OF THE ROADRUNNER’S NAT­U­RAL DIET,

but what weapons could a brave-enough lizard use to face off against an ad­ver­sary like New Mexico’s of­fi­cial state bird? Artist Rus­sell Thorn­ton de­picts just such a con­fronta­tion, in which a blue-tailed lizard armed with sword and shield squares off against his nat­u­ral enemy — only the sword is a cock­tail pick, and the lid of an old tin can stands in for a shield.

“I imag­ined that he’s find­ing some trash that’s been ly­ing around,” Thorn­ton told Pasatiempo about Jack Blue­tail vs. the Roadrunner: A Small Drama at Tent Rocks. The of­fi­cial 2016 Zo­zo­bra poster artist’s most re­cent il­lus­tra­tive art­work, in­clud­ing the roadrunner-lizard im­age, makes up a se­ries called Vi­sions Along the Camino Un­real. “This on­go­ing color se­ries is com­prised of imag­i­nary res­i­dents of a some­times real and some­times sur­real en­vi­ron­ment we call the South­west,” he writes on his web­site, www.rus­sellthorn­ton.com, ad­ding that the scenes are based on his own trav­els through­out the state.

“Since Jan­uary I’ve been work­ing on the se­ries, and I’ve been wait­ing for them to turn into some­thing,” Thorn­ton said. “They’re about tak­ing some of the el­e­ments and char­ac­ters of North­ern New Mexico and plac­ing them in this sort of fan­tas­tic sit­u­a­tion.” Odd jux­ta­po­si­tions come into play in his work — such as when he takes a fa­mil­iar state em­blem like a ho­tair bal­loon drift­ing over desert ter­rain and adds an el­e­ment that doesn’t ap­pear to be­long, like a ptero­dactyl snatch­ing a fish from a lake. In other com­po­si­tions, a skele­ton leans against a vin­tage au­to­mo­bile some­where en route to Her­mit’s Peak, and a horned toad hitches a ride on the back of a raven fly­ing over the Or­tiz Moun­tains.

The Zo­zo­bra poster com­pe­ti­tion, spon­sored by Santa Fe’s Ki­wa­nis Club, is a part of the Decades Project, the Ki­wa­nis’ on­go­ing ex­plo­ration of Zo­zo­bra’s chang­ing ap­pear­ance over the years. The club makes use of those his­toric rep­re­sen­ta­tions in the an­nual de­sign of the 50-foot effigy, in­for­mally re­ferred to as Old Man Gloom, who is burned ev­ery Septem­ber — this year on Fri­day, Sept. 2 — in Fort Marcy Park, as the kick-off event of the Fi­esta de Santa Fe, which takes place from Satur­day, Sept. 3, to Sun­day, Sept. 11, on the Santa Fe Plaza.

The omi­nous specter of Zo­zo­bra was an in­ven­tion of artist Will Shus­ter, who cre­ated the fig­ure in 1924 as a sym­bolic threat to the city and its cit­i­zens, and whose rit­ual burn­ing is a way to cast off wor­ries and fears. Shus­ter turned the rights to Zo­zo­bra over to the Ki­wa­nis Club in 1964. The Decades Project be­gan in 2014, with Ki­wa­nis min­ing images from Zo­zo­bra’s “grum­ble” be­gin­nings in the Roar­ing Twen­ties. In 2015, they moved to the next decade, the 1930s. This year, the project, which is a count­down to the 2024 cen­ten­nial burn­ing of Zo­zo­bra, is fo­cused on the 1940s. Artists who sub­mit­ted their work to the poster com­pe­ti­tion are not ex­pected to fol­low the Decades theme, al­though pri­or­ity con­sid­er­a­tion is given to those who do. “They have some pa­ram­e­ters,” Thorn­ton said. “They sug­gested WPA types of colors and things from around the pe­riod of World War II. I started on my piece with­out know­ing ex­actly what I wanted to do, but I love that era, the Amer­i­can WPA works and that great poster style that came out of the 1940s.” In ad­di­tion to the of­fi­cial poster artist, Ki­wa­nis se­lected Michael Martinez as this year’s T-shirt artist, Terry Bo­han­non as the ticket and mer­chan­dise poster artist,

and Sami Romero as the pre­mium ticket de­signer. There is even an of­fi­cial Zo­zo­bra kid’s poster, cre­ated by Ean Gar­cia, and a child’s T-shirt de­signed by Natalia Canaca.

Thorn­ton’s win­ning poster is a syn­the­sis of pho­tog­ra­phy, draw­ing, and dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing, where a tow­er­ing Zo­zo­bra looms over the hills as flames race up his spec­tral form, fire­works burst around him in bright rain­bow colors against a bruise-col­ored sky, a fleet of World War II-era bombers fly off in the dis­tance, and a train in the fore­ground heads out of town. “I’m us­ing Pho­to­shop brushes,” he said. “Pho­to­shop has a bad name be­cause a lot of peo­ple use it to ma­nip­u­late photos, typ­i­cally poorly.” Thorn­ton starts not with Pho­to­shop but with a black-and-white draw­ing. Dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of the com­po­si­tion are sep­a­rately scanned and then com­bined dig­i­tally. “The Zo­zo­bra poster was a real learn­ing curve for me,” he said. “I was kind of a comic book, fan­tasy guy grow­ing up and did a lot of self-pub­lish­ing, do­ing fan zines and band posters, stuff like that. My thing is more il­lus­tra­tion. I would like to make a se­ri­ous comic that’s good enough to hang on the wall, a piece that’s good enough to be the cover of Amaz­ing Sto­ries or some­thing.”

Thorn­ton grew up in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s. He con­tin­ues to be an avid comic en­thu­si­ast; his strip “Met­ro­glyphs” runs weekly in The Santa Fe

Re­porter. “I’ve al­ways wanted to do book cov­ers and graphic nov­els. One of my fa­vorite artists is Bernie Wright­son. He was one of the cre­ators of Swamp

Thing back in the ’70s. He did one graphic novel il­lus­trat­ing the en­tire Franken­stein story. Great book. All black and white. I sort of em­u­lated the pen-stroke style of some of those artists, and I added these re­ally sat­u­rated South­west­ern colors.”

Thorn­ton’s ca­reer in Santa Fe has mainly been in the restau­rant busi­ness. “I was work­ing for Ger­ald Peters’ com­pany for 17 years,” he said. He man­aged sev­eral es­tab­lish­ments for Santa Fe Din­ing, in­clud­ing Rio Chama and Rooftop Pizze­ria. “At one point I had about seven restau­rants that I was in charge of. Or they were in charge of me, I could say.” In 2015, Thorn­ton re­tired from the restau­rant in­dus­try to de­vote time to fam­ily and build­ing his art ca­reer. “I’ve al­ways done a lot of art, but not enough to sat­isfy my whim.”

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