SOUND AND VISION 

 
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Artist Cruz Ortiz in a video still from "El Corrido de El Super Taco Gone Bad," which was created with an approach used in corridos - flowing narratives on an extraordinary happening or ballads about unsung heroes.
Local artists find creative inspiration in their favorite songs

Cruz Ortiz' love of music has always been evident in his witty, tongue-in-cheek prints and videos. Ironically, though, his career as a visual artist might not have happened if he had learned to master a musical instrument.

"I so wanted to be in a punk-rock band," Ortiz says. "And you don't need but three chords, and I still couldn't do that. That's when I found my niche with making prints, silkscreen posters. I started making fliers for the bands, and stupid T-shirts, and I'd hang around the skateboard scene and the Taco Land scene."

The cross-pollination of art and music has been a major part of pop culture over the last 40 years. Many of the major British rock figures of the '60s and '70s attended art school, lending them a veneer of bohemian sophistication that set them apart from their American contemporaries. Joni Mitchell's love of painting shaped her approach to lyrics, the Velvet Underground mined Andy Warhol's Factory crowd for material, and Bob Dylan credited the art classes he took in 1974 with teaching him how to write songs that stopped time.

 
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Juan Miguel Ramos' works reflects the influence of his history as a punk rock drummer.
Of course, this kind of influence cuts both ways, and local artists regularly employ music both to inspire ideas and to set a mood while they are working.

Last year, Vincent Valdez created a series of pastel drawings called "Made Men," with each piece based upon a different line from Dylan's song "I Shall Be Released." The series featured a boxer, a soldier, a street kid, and a Christ figure, all facing deep spiritual tests. Valdez has also explored Chicano fascination with hip-hop fashion and mythology, depicting young cholos who idolize Tupac Shakur and covet the big-pimpin' lifestyle. "Someone said if you've ever been interested in what a generation is about, look at their music," Valdez says. "I like that idea."

Ortiz shares Valdez' fascination with pop culture, and he addresses it with the guerrilla instincts - and absurdist sense of humor - of a confirmed punk rocker. His video alter-ego, Spaztek, is a rasquache renegade who bicycles around town downing Cheetos and Big Red, consistently mesmerized by the mass-consumer madness around him. At times, you get the feeling that Ortiz' own listening tastes are shaped by Spaztek. Consider Ortiz' unabashed admiration for the work of '70s soft-country crooner Kenny Rogers.

"I love Kenny Rogers! 'Coward of the County'? That is my theme," Ortiz gushes. "Spaztek is totally the coward of the county. He wants to listen to his daddy, but he runs into the Gatlin boys, and ends up kicking all their asses. It's the romantic sense of the song that I really enjoy. With Kenny Rogers' songs, romance is just buttered on, and I like that kind of biscuit."

Ortiz' short Spaztek videos grew out of his early experiments with live performance, in which he would lip-sync to his favorite punk records or front a live punk band.
Ortiz' short Spaztek videos grew out of his early experiments with live performance, in which he would lip-sync to his favorite punk records or front a live punk band. When he edits his videos, he incorporates whatever music has the right vibe, whether it's the Pixies' "Tony's Theme" or Tejano standards by Freddy Fender.

"When I actually get in the studio and work on prints, I usually have KEDA, the conjunto station, blasting," Ortiz says. "The stuff they crank out is mind-blowing. I know people are listening to it, but I feel like I'm the only one hearing it, and it just feels so fresh when I hear it. And that's exactly what turns me on."

Local artist Juan Miguel Ramos drums for the Latin-tinged rock band Sexto Sol, and he is also a devoted collector of San Antonio and Texas records. Ramos has even produced art videos in which he made a point of using only local or regional music. He cites accordion master Steve Jordan as someone who helped him think more deeply about his own visual art.

"I used to listen to Steve Jordan a lot, and what was very interesting to me about him was all the layers and hybridity that would go on in his music," Ramos says. "That kind of thing is something that I thought about in my work: layers of identity and even layers of imagery."

 
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Vincent Valdez' Yo Soy-ee Blaxican explored his fascination with the cross-cultural impact of hip-hop aesthetics.
Issues of cultural identity had a lot to do with Ortiz' latent appreciation for Sunny Ozuna, a San Antonio kid who took Tex-Mex to American Bandstand in the early '60s. Ortiz recalls getting turned on to Ozuna when an elderly friend of his wife's grandmother dropped off a stack of old vinyl records, including five Ozuna classics.

"There's an album of his called The Versatile," Ortiz says. "It's got this picture where he's wearing this classic pink '50s sweater with a sports jacket. And the other picture is him with a mariachi suit. Seeing that stuff made me love him on a whole other level beside the music. The whole concept of what he represented: being able to ride the line, being nationwide. This short, little Mexican."

Two years ago, Ortiz incorporated the "short little Mexican" into one of his most indelible pieces, a video featuring Spaztek - in intense close-up - lip-syncing to Ozuna's tearjerker "Put Me In Jail."

"Someone told me that I pushed back the Chicano movement 20 years," Ortiz says, with a laugh."They said, 'You totally ruined that song.' They said every time they hear that song on KONO, they see Spaztek bobbing his head from side to side on the TV screen. •


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