Jimmy James Canales and Michael Menchaca Relive a Great Year 

By this time last year, Jimmy James Canales and Michael Menchaca had both caught our attention with intriguing shows downtown and somewhat surprising inclusions uptown at the McNay. While Menchaca, who’s currently earning his MFA from Providence’s Rhode Island School of Design, got into the museum the old fashioned way (contributing a serigraph to “Estampas de la Raza”), Canales, who recently earned his MFA from University of Texas-San Antonio, had his knuckles tattooed as part of a collaborative performance piece there with Julia Barbosa Landois. Throughout 2013, both San Antonio natives successfully pushed the envelope, with Menchaca unveiling a sociopolitical window installation at Artpace (“AUTOS SACRAMENTALES”) and Canales blurring the lines between performance art and everyday existence by living at UTSA Satellite Space for a period of three weeks (“IRL: In Real Life”). We caught up with both of these distinct voices to recap 2013 and find out what’s next.

Jimmy James Canales

What medium are you best known for?
Performance art. And kissing.

What are some of the themes your work explores?
As a boy I used to pretend I was some kind of action star or adventurer or G.I. Joe-type person. Recently I’ve been realizing that art is my place to bring these childhood fantasies to life, and literally live these adventures through my art.

What’s your fondest memory of your MFA thesis show “I.R.L”?
24 hours, 24 friends. I spoke with Sarah [Fisch] in L.A. over Skype ... I had a friend in Berlin that I spoke with ... and someone in Mexico City. ... Some other people came and cooked me an egg. Me and my parents shot arrows. That was funny and fun and totally cool.

Which local artists do you most admire?
I like Megan Harrison’s tactile paintings. I really liked Chris Sauter’s [Fl!ght Gallery] show. And then my homeboy Albert Alvarez.

Who’s your biggest inspiration?
Chris Burden. He’s one of my heroes. And Joseph Beuys. But also Marina [Abramovic].

Tell me about getting tattooed at the McNay.
Chris Davila asked me and Julia [Barbosa Landois] to do a performance in response to [“Estampas de la Raza”]. Julia did her ... serenade, kind of karaoke thing with a Jesus piece. And then I did this bloodlining. The idea was to work within the theme of the show and to think of stamping yourself and creating a memory, following a tradition.

And what did it say?
“Survival.” I graduated in 2008 from my BFA program. I had this fear of not having any stability. From that period on, this idea of survival has been in my head.... I liked the idea of [the] survival of culture and how it doesn’t necessarily survive like we want it to.

Any big plans for 2014?
I just got a job at Palo Alto College, so I’ll be teaching.

Will Mapache Man be making any appearances?
Oh yes, he will! I’m really excited, actually, for this project that I’m gonna start working on called the Missionbots.

Transformers versions of the Missions?
[It’s] kind of a media onslaught. So you have the animation, you have like an opera performance of the five missions coming to life, maybe with Mapache Man as some type of narrator.... I can see it [like a] classical, Nutcracker kind of thing.

Michael Menchaca

What medium are you best known for?
Screen-printing and printmaking.

What are some of the themes your work explores?
Immigration with pre-Columbian references ... ancient world myths ... themes of duality ... hybrids.

What are your top three accomplishments of 2013?
[Getting into] RISD, the Artpace show and the summer print show at IPCNY [International Print Center New York].

Which local artists do you most admire?
Mark Pritchett, Joey Fauerso and Sarah Castillo.

What can you tell us about being included in the “Estampas de la Raza” show at the McNay?
I was going to a residency that I couldn’t afford, so I was forced to sell my undergrad prints and [Ricardo] Romo stopped by and he bought a whole bunch of them. When I was at the residency, I got an email saying ... the McNay was interested in including it for a show.

What about the Artpace show?
After I got back from Skowhegan, I did a residency at Transit and I was installing ... and Mary Heathcott stopped by ... and saw me working like a caveman. ... She kept in touch over the next couple of years and then she asked me if I wanted to show.

Speaking of that show at Transit, wasn’t there something related to trains?
In ancient myth, there’s evil spirits encountered at crossroads. So there’s this metaphoric meaning that I was interested in using as a starting point. And then I started thinking about evil spirits in terms of the way we relegate non-English speakers, otherness in the U.S. And pairing those two things together was basically the theme for that show “The Beaner Express.”

How would you describe San Antonio’s art scene to someone who’s never been here?
It’s something I often have to do in Providence. I always tell them that it’s very fertile ground. There’s lots of room for breakthroughs. Lots of opportunity, especially for young artists.

What was your favorite exhibition of 2013?
The Mike Kelley show at [Museum of Modern Art’s] PS1.

Any big plans for 2014?
I’m going to Sri Lanka next month. I got a travel grant from RISD; it’s called a Design Lab. It’s a program that was started to help targeted populations to address global issues of poverty; to help them facilitate social and economic recovery through art and design. [Sri Lanka] just came out of a 30-year civil war in 2009, and there are something like 70,000 war widows, women and children that are in desperate need of sustainability.

How does Providence compare to San Antonio?
There’s no Taco Cabana, which is a huge bummer.

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