My Top Ten Films of 2012

Tonight is the Academy Awards. As the votes are being finalized and I prepare for my annual drunken Oscar party, I decided to take some time to write down my top ten films of last year. I understand that it’s February and top ten lists are usually revealed at the end of the year, but, hey, I am no professional critic. I have to actually pay for all the movies I watch. Anyway, without further ado here are my top ten movies of 2012.

Perks of being a wallflower10) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The film was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (who is also the man that wrote the book). It revolves around Charlie (played by Logan Lerman), a freshman, who befriends a couple of seniors, Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and Sam (played by Emma Watson). The story is not new. It is a coming of age flick that you have probably seen many times over, especially if you are fan of John Hughes. However, while it may seem to some as formulaic, I found it to be quite a unique take on an old story. If you are a fan of the Smiths, I highly recommend this film.

 

 

The Hobbit

9) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ok, so this is where my nerdness comes out. While The Hobbit may not be of the same quality as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I quite enjoyed this first installment of what is to be a new trilogy of the Tolkien universe. It was good to see Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Gray once more and I quite enjoyed Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo Baggins. Gollum, once again, steals the show as we get to see how the ring came into Bilbo’s possession. I’m just happy that Peter Jackson is not screwing up this prequel trilogy like George Lucas did for his.

 

Dark Knight Rises8) The Dark Knight Rises
The last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was, in my opinion, its best. While most will continue to love The Dark Knight as the best of the three, I do believe that Nolan outdid himself with this one. While I can certainly agree that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight is unmatched, I think The Dark Knight Rises as a whole is better. I still love Tim Burton’s version the best though and, unfortunately, so many have forgotten how great that version really is.

 

 

Zero Dark Thrity7) Zero Dark Thirty
The controversial film, directed by Academy Award winning director, Kathryn Bigelow, takes its audience through the ten year search of the most wanted man in American history. Obviously, there are no surprises here as everyone knows how this story ends, but the journey to get there is an intriguing story to say the least. The film revolves around Maya (Jessica Chastain) who is put in charge of finding Osama Bin Laden. The film somewhat plays as a detective story as Maya tries to unravel all the clues to Osama’s whereabouts. It takes you through so many false leads that you start to wonder if the film will end like you thought it was going to. When we finally get to the final scene, there is almost a sigh of relief that we actually made it.

Argo6) Argo
The current front runner for best picture is another tale based on real life events in the Middle East. The film follows CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he attempts to rescue six Americans hiding in Iran. In order to do this, he concocts a plan to fake a film by the name of Argo. While I think the film is a good one, I am not convinced that it deserves the best picture award. Its best moments come from its supporting cast of John Goodman and Alan Arkin who provide the comic relief. I found myself more intrigued with the lengths they go through to create the façade than the actual rescue itself. Just like Zero Dark Thirty, the film is more about the journey to the end than the end itself.

Life of Pi5) Life of Pi
I actually just saw this movie last night. I did not have high expectations for it, but I was quite surprised by how good it was. The story is of a teenager named Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma). He is a son of a zookeeper in India. When his father decides to move to Canada, Pi and his family hitch a ride on a cargo ship along with all the animals. When a huge storm sinks the ship, Pi is found shipwrecked on a life boat with a Bengal tiger and the story follows them as they struggle to survive. This film is a visual spectacle and I was quite sad that I did not get to see it in 3D because I think this is the kind of film that actually benefits from it. It captured me emotionally and it leaves you with a somewhat mystery ending.

Looper4) Looper
Every year there is that one action sci-fi film that really captures my attention. In 2011, that movie was Super 8. In 2012, it was Looper. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, who is an assassin for the mob in present day. However, the people he kills are sent back from thirty years into the future. One day, his own future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back for him to kill. A brief moment of hesitation allows for his future self to escape and the film follows Joe as he attempts to stop himself from changing the future. If you love your action sci-fi films, this is not one to miss. It’s not up for any awards, but it is by far one of the best that came out last year. I actually thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt did a great job in capturing Bruce Willis’ mannerisms and facial expressions worthy of some acting recognition, but I understand there are far better performances out there. So for all you folks out there just looking for some entertainment, I highly recommend this film.

Lincoln3) Lincoln
What more can you say about the acting prowess of Daniel Day Lewis? There is no contest. If you want to see some amazing acting, this is the movie for you. The film follows the 16th President of the United States as he works to pass the 13th Amendment. The civil war serves as the backdrop, but we don’t see much of the war. As the title suggests, this is all about Lincoln and the difficult decisions he must make in the most crucial of moments in American history. Tommy Lee Jones is great as Thaddeus Stevens and one of the best scenes in the whole film involves him as he insults a fellow congressman. The film is a cinematic masterpiece and I am rooting for it to take the best picture award from Argo.

Silver Linings2) Silver Linings Playbook
This is another acting masterpiece of a film. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher, who is recovering from a mental breakdown. Just released from the mental hospital, the film follows Pat as he tries to get his life back together again and win the heart of his ex-wife once more. He meets another person with a troubled past, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and they both take on a mutual agreement to help each other out. The film is an unconventional love story with a wonderful balance of comedy and drama. Robert De Niro does a fantastic job as Pat’s gambling addictive father and both lead actors are superb and have great chemistry on screen. Yes, the ending is a bit predictable, but the theme this year seems to be that it’s not about the end itself that matters; it is how we get there.

Django1) Django Unchained
Another Quentin Tarantino triumph! Just when I thought he could not get any better, he goes out and does something like this. Ok, if you have seen a Tarantino film before, you might say to yourself, “What is so special about this one?” Honestly, it is the same Tarantino style that you have come to love, but somehow it is done in such a way that it still feels fresh. As in every movie he has made, the dialogue is superb. Christoph Waltz, who plays the German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, once again takes Tarantino’s words to a new level. The film follows Schultz and former slave Django (Jamie Foxx) as they attempt to find Django’s wife and free her from slavery. The film is a gritty portrayal of slavery and pulls no punches. Yes, it is historically inaccurate, but we should have known that Tarantino’s stories are always more fantasy than reality. Whatever the case, I am against the charge that the film does not take slavery seriously and makes light of the institution. Quite the opposite, if there is anything to take seriously in this film is the portrayal of slavery that it attempts to show. While the deaths of all the racist characters in the film are stylized and exaggerated, the brutal tortures of the slaves all take place off camera. This allows for the audience to imagine the horror for themselves and creates an emotional reaction in strict opposition to the deaths of the slave owners. This dichotomy of presentation allows the audience to have a polar opposite reaction to the death of characters in the film, one in which we care so deeply and are angered by it, and one in which we care for nothing at all and even laugh at it.

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Samtheinkblot Exclusively on Santanero! Personal Blog Shutting Down

Hello everyone, effective immediately all future articles, comments, opinions, etc. will be posted through the Santanero Magazine website. I will be closing down this blog (as soon as I figure out how) and I will be writing exclusively on http://www.santanerozine.com. Most of my past articles and interviews will be posted on the website for you to read if you so wish. Please supposrt Santanero Magazine.

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Planet of the Ape Bots

photo by Janie Lynch

Planet of the Ape Bots:

An Interview with Santa Ana band, Orangutron

By
Samuel Munoz

I first encountered Orangutron in 2011. They had played a show during the Summer Concert Series of that year held in Downtown Santa Ana. At the time, they were a three piece with Richie on bass and lead vocal, Colin on guitar and back up vocal, and Courtney on drums. I enjoyed their performance and inquired with Richie as to maybe doing a show together with my band, Inkblots. It turned out that the only show they would play with us would end up being the last Inkblots show held later that year in December. This time around, they had added a new member, Tae Kim on lead guitar. The show they played that night was levels above the show I had seen earlier that year. They presented a type of dirty rock and roll that kicked you in the gut and roared and chugged its way to multiple climaxes within each song. I knew that one day, I would need to get their story.

The funny thing is that I’ve known the singer, Richie, for quite sometime. In fact, we went to high school together. I’ve seen him move from band to band, always looking the part of the coolest motherfucker in each of them. The guy has style, what can I say? He has become the complete opposite of his former geeky high school self–taking on a persona that has served him well as a front man. However, it was not until his involvement with Orangutron that I really felt he matured as a musician. Richie has surrounded himself with three very experienced individuals who have honed their craft through almost two decades of countless musical projects and it seems it has reflected quite well on Richie. I was very impressed with how good he had become and the music he was now creating.

The music of Orangutron is difficult to categorize. Each song is a product of full fledged improvisation, molded and cut down to a presentable size. As a result, the music takes on many styles with each band member including a little piece of their own to the finished product so that each song truly becomes an authentic collaborative effort. While it may help to describe their sound as reminiscent of Television’s Marquee Moon, to say that Orangutron is just another post punk band would (as Tae so eloquently put it in the interview) be an injustice. Unfortunately, the band currently does not have any presentable recordings. Although they do record all of their improv sessions at practice, they have yet to step into the studio and record the finished products. The only way to really understand the sound of Orangutron is to catch one of their shows.

The band met up with me at Memphis in Downtown Santa Ana in early August for a nice little chat about the band. With some drinks at our table, we talked about Orangutron’s early years, their song writing process, and the possible categorization of their music.

Drawing by Tae Kim

Sam:
Let’s start with introductions from each of you and maybe a little bit of background on your time here in Santa Ana?

Colin:
I’m Colin Price. I’ve been playing the guitar for twenty-something years. I moved to Santa Ana around 1998. I came down with my brother, Courtney. Been really happy ever since because the rest of Orange County was really boring [laughs].

Richie:
My name is Richie. I’m 27 years old. I was born in Santa Ana. I’ve been here all my life.

Sam:
Do you want to give us your real name?

Richie:
Yeah sure. It’s Richard Kerns [everyone laughs]. Well, no one ever came up with a last name for the nickname. It was just Richie. There was no back story, no comic book origin, no radioactive spider. I have been known by other names like Richiban Shinigami which is my name on Facebook…

Court:
My name is Courtney Price. I’ve been playing music for about twenty years now. I switched to drums from guitar about ten years ago. I started hanging out in Santa Ana in ‘98. I started going to Koos [Café] for open mic. Then later, when Koos closed down, we started hitting up Neutral Grounds here on 2nd street and started doing open mics there…I‘ve been playing ever since in different projects with my brother.

Tae:
My name is Tae Kim. My age is nobody’s business. I am the guitarists, keyboardists, and back up singer for Orangutron. My affiliation with Santa Ana? I guess I am a newcomer. I started hanging out in Santa Ana around 2002 with a few people I knew at the Spurgeon building. And I just slowly started realizing that there was this growing artist community here: musicians, bands, and stuff. And yeah, I’ve been coming around ever since.

Sam:
So tell me about Orangutron. How did you guys get together? How long have you been together? Give me the story.

Richie:
We had been hanging out, not necessarily together, but we would bump into each other at parties that Jack Marko [local artist] would have. So, from time to time we would be jamming with one another. When Slow [one of Ritchie’s former bands] broke up, there was about a three week period where I didn’t do anything.

Colin:
Yeah, he was depressed, cutting himself, growing a beard [laughs].

Richie:
I think I was playing Legend of Zelda for three weeks.

Sam:
Which one?

Ritchie:
Ocarina of Time

Sam:
Nice! That’s the best one [more laughter].

Drawing by Tae Kim

Richie:
Anyway, I think I was at Proof one night, after those initial three weeks, to see some bands play. These guys [Colin and Court] were there and the conversation came up about Slow. They were like “You guys broke up! Oh that’s horrible! So you want to jam sometime?” [the Price brothers laugh]

Court:
He had a gig that was booked before the band had broken up and we just suggested that we could back him up if needed. We started off just getting together playing some Slow songs and some Richie songs. We did that for the first year.

Sam:
When was this?

Richie:
It was in January of 2009.

Sam:
And you guys started off as a three piece right?

Colin:
No, actually Tae was with us since the beginning. Court and I had been playing with Tae in different projects for like ten years. Orangutron started as a four piece, but Tae decided to leave the band. I guess the music was not satisfying Tea’s taste at the time. [I came to find out later that Tae actually quit the band on Colin’s birthday in Nov. of 2010. The band has yet to forgive him despite taking him back]

Court:
Yeah, but I have to say, we didn’t really start to thrive until Tae quit [everyone laughs].

Colin:
It was about a year before Tae came back.

Richie:
He saw us play a few shows without him and we were sounding good, so he was like [in a wimpy voice] “Can I come back guys? You guys are sounding awesome. I really miss playing with you guys.” And we were like [in a somewhat sympathetic voice], “Ah, I guess.”

Drawing by Tae Kim

Tae:
I was playing in another band and we were on the same bill. I was outside while the three of them were playing and the door man was like, “These guys are pretty good, you know.” And I was like, “Yeah, I was actually in this band.” He was like, “Really? Why did you quit?” I said, “I don’t know why I quit. They are pretty good. I think I should rejoin them.” At the time, it was more of a joke, but I really found it interesting how the music changed after I left. I dug the whole collaborative song writing process. The songs are an extension of everybody in the band instead of just one person.

Court:
Richie had written all the songs before hand, but when Tae left, we were trying to figure out what our sound was going to be. We started improvising and a couple things came out that sounded pretty cool. And from then on, all of the Orangutron songs have been written essentially the same way. We improv, then look back at what we’ve done, cut up the song and arrange it in a way that makes sense. The lyrics get edited. Richie is really good at improvising lyrics. We take his lyrics and see what works and what doesn’t. […] In the end, it worked out really well because what we were looking for in a lead guitarist was Tae, so we were really happy that, once we got something a little more to his palate, he came back. It was really frustrating looking for another guitarist.

Sam:
Are the lyrics always completely improvised?

Colin:
The lyrics are a long process.

Court:
Richie would be the best person to talk to you about the lyrics because he is the one who spits out the initial draft.

Sam:
So you all work on the lyrics together? It’s not just Richie?

Richie:
No, if I did, the lyrics would be a lot less intense. What happens is I will initially improvise lyrics while we are jamming together and Colin will transcribe it.

Court:
We record all of our practices. Colin will come in the next practice and have it all typed out.

Sam:
Wow, can you even understand it? Because I know when we tried to record our practices with Inkblots, I could never understand from the recording what the fuck I was saying. The instruments drown out the vocal a lot of the times.

Richie:
Yeah, half the battle is trying to understand what I am saying. It’s like “You nuts frecd oour fjds” [laughs]. I mean I try to be as coherent as possible. I’ve learned to just repeat phrases when I notice that I’m mumbling.

Drawing by Tae Kim

Colin:
Being a musician, sometimes the words get overlooked, but I love thinking inside the words. I think Ritchie is like a great poet and he reminds me a lot of the beat writers. It’s just a stream of consciousness about places and things that are happening to him. I love the process of going back to the words and trying to put the themes and stories into a more mythological context or philosophical context.

Sam:
Can you take me through the process of it a bit?

Colin:
Well, first I just write it all out as I hear it. Then we look at it, and we say something like “Well, this verse is just pointless, but these four verses are really cool.” You know, they come out off the top of his head all the time, so it can’t possibly all work.

Court:
If we are fortunate, it’s five minutes of continuous music where the lyrics come out and boom we’re done. Sometimes it’s over the course of thirty minutes and we got to figure how to take minute 1:35 and put it together with minute 12 through 15. We need to figure out a way of cutting out the middle and make that bridge. So then the lyrics have to come together in a way that is not comfortable or easy and so the song takes a little bit longer to build.

Colin:
I think “The West” would be a very interesting song as an example. There were like three different phases in “The West” that Ritchie was singing about. I think he had been watching a lot of Deadwood which is how I think the title of “The West” came about and in the end of the song he talks about the Wild West. In the middle of the song, however, it’s like this personal broken hearted love story where you fall in love with a girl and your friends don’t like her. Then the beginning of the song is this personal story about going to college and meeting new people. That was all done in the course of a 15 minute improv. We had to tie those three lyrical sections together. The song got shut down to 7 minutes and it became this coming of age story and waking up to the experiences of life with a love story in the middle. When we get to the Wild West section, we meet this old frizzled man who got his women stolen and has a ruined life.

Court:
You wouldn’t necessarily gather all those things by looking at the song. A lot of the conversations we have as a band are assigning and ascribing meaning to these lyrics that are our own, but we don’t necessarily expect the people that are hearing it to interpret it the same way.

Tae:
It’s open ended…

Photo by Andrew Galvin

Court:
I think we try to stay away from being preachy. We are not trying to tell anyone how they should live, or how they should do things, or subscribe judgment to any of the things we are talking about. It’s more like creating a landscape or environment or a fantasy for people to engage in. There may be meaning in there, but it’s not universal.

 

Tae:
It’s more like reflections than story telling…

Court:
You will never hear us say “You fools, can’t you understand!” in any of our lyrics.

Sam:
Damn it! That line is in like five of the songs I‘ve written [everyone laughs] […] Last thing I want to talk about is the style of your music. How do you describe it? It’s sometimes really difficult for me to pin it down. I sometimes hear Joy Division, sometimes it’s more of a jam band. I also hear a lot of Television in your music.

Tae:
I think calling our music one genre would be like a total injustice. I guess we are just a lot more honest about what we like, what we want to project. We like all these good things versus we want to be post punk or dance rock or whatever. I mean calling us one label would be a complete injustice.

Court:
I mean, it’s a tough question to ask because whenever people do ask that question I’m always using like these bizarre combinations in order to try to explain it. [In a confused voice] “You know we are like a combination of Grateful Dead meets The Velvet Underground meets Can meets uh something else.” I think the improvisation really influences our music a lot and because of that the songs are not going to fall into traditional pop music structures, so then it gets hard to label. But then again, all the bands that you ascribed to us, I would agree with. They are influences that we do have at some level.

Tae:
I think it’s more of what people call you then what you decide to be. I don’t think you decide to be post punk or something like that because a lot of the times people are like you guys are post punk and I would be like “We’re not post punk, we’re like the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead is not post punk!”

Richie:
It’s just Rock and Roll to me. I don’t know what else to tell them, really. If you try to put specific categories to it, there is this expectations that it has to follow certain specific characteristics: “Oh, it’s folk, so then you must have acoustic guitar.” I think if you tell them, “it’s rock and roll,” then you leave it up to them to fill in that blank.

****

Learn more about Orangutron on Facebook.

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A Portrait of a Non Writer: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Experience Diego Campos

A Portrait of a Non Writer:
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Experience Diego Campos

By
Samuel Munoz

[Article appears as it was published in Santanero Zine issue #4]

Preface

To many, Diego Campos is an unknown—just another normal guy who lives in Santa Ana. He drives a normal car. He has his morning coffee. He goes to work. He has a pint now and then at one of the local beer stops. However, to a select few, Diego is a poet, an artist, a revolutionary, the patron of the Santanero content-less literary art movement. His life itself is a work of art.

For years, I’ve contemplated a way to capture the story of Diego. I admired him from afar, and I wanted the world to know his life and be inspired by it. But how could I do it? How does one document the story of a man who refuses to write, to be photographed, or to be recorded in any way?

I was intimidated, but I had a plan. I befriended Diego; I became his confidant. Slowly but surely he began to reveal his inner thoughts to me. While so many have only scratched the surface of the mystery that is Diego, I began to dig into its core. I understood his genius. I became intoxicated with his company. He was a man so interesting that I started to lose touch with my loved ones. My previous friends grew to hate me. My mother would call me insistently, but to no avail; I would never pick up. My girlfriend even thought I was a homosexual. “I don’t understand it!” she would scream. “Why else would you spend so much time with him and not with me?” Unfortunately, my explanations would not suffice to keep her at home. She eventually moved back in with her mother.

Despite everything, I was not bothered. I knew the project was worth it, but I still had one problem. Although I had managed to stay close to Diego, I was unable to record him. I dared not to carry around my recorder, even in secret, for fear that, if caught, I would never again be allowed to talk to him or be in his presence. My plan was to memorize and then write it down later. In this way, I would not endanger my friendship with the man.

It is now more than two years since I began this project and I’ve compiled thousands of notes filled with countless observations of events, words, and actions involving Diego. Everyday after I had spent time with him, I would come home running eager to write down the day’s happenings. Today, I am finally ready to organize my notes into what I can roughly consider somewhat of a portrait of a man whose life is drenched in secrecy and mystery. Diego’s life is an enigma that so many cannot even begin to comprehend, yet I am determined with these entries to build a picture that can reveal the answer.

Still, I am hesitant, with every word that I write, I push myself further away from the man that has been my life the past 2 years, 3 months, 14 days, and 7 hours. Once this is published there is no way that I can ever show my face to him again. Of course, I could do this anonymously, but who else besides me could tell these stories. I am the only link to all of them and surely a man like Diego would quickly figure it out.

My hand trembles and fear enters my body, but I am determined to write. Is it selfishness? Do I continue to write because I am certain that once this story is complete, it will bring me a rush of fame and recognition from my peers? Or is it pure altruism? Diego‘s story, I am positive, will inspire and provide insight to so many. After all, that was my intention for starting the project in the first place. I believe I have said this already, have I not? But I continue to stall! Why? Am I truly ready to betray the man I have considered my closest friend? Was he not going to be…what do the kids call it now a days…ah yes, my best friend forever? No! I cannot continue to fall into these tangents. I have to begin. I have to write. If Diego will not write, I will be the man to write for him. It is the right thing to do. I shall begin now…

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This Charming Man

“Self Portrait” – acrylic on wood

This Charming Man

by

Samuel Munoz

[Below is the article as it was published in Santanero Zine issue #3]

photo by Jaime Rubio

If you are walking down the 2nd street promenade in Downtown Santa Ana on the first Saturday night of the month, chances are you will see a tall, heavy set man, who goes by the name of Dino Perez, standing by his booth selling his art with a smile on his face. You may have spoken to him already or even bought one of his many original trinkets.

Dino has been setting up his booth for every Santa Ana Art Walk for the past two and half years. Born and raised in Santa Ana (a fellow Spartan and Centurion), Dino’s work has been steadily gaining in popularity—his work having also been exhibited and sold in Fullerton and Los Angeles. He is a toy maker, a painter, and a graphic designer. Despite the fact that his artistic media is not musical, Dino cites as his biggest influence the music of The Smiths—going so far as to include lyrics or song titles within his work.

I decided to pay a visit to Dino’s home and talk about his successes as an artist (which seem to be strangely correlated somehow with Elvis’ birthday). He took me into his studio, and with The Smiths playing in the background, the following conversation began:

“I want the one I can’t have and it’s driving me mad (it’s all over my face)” – acrylic on wood panel

Samuel Munoz:

I would like to start with getting a little background about you. Specifically, how did you become seriously interested in creating your own art?

Dino Perez:

Well, I’ve always enjoyed drawing and coloring. I can remember as a four year old, my mom sharpening my crayons, I always had my coloring book around. I enjoyed watching my dad draw and drawing with him. I remember drawing a lot of animals. [..] I decided to go to art school in January of 2007. I remember it was January because it was on Elvis’ birthday, January 8th. I went to the Art Institute of Orange County right here in Santa Ana. Growing up people would tell me that I should be a graphic designer. People would say that with my drawings I could make CD covers, and posters, but I had no idea how to start. Then someone told me about this school, and I liked the fact that I could get in without having any kind of prior training or portfolio of work. I could start from the ground up and learn all the basics. One of the fundamental things I learned was how to paint with acrylics. I took a painting class and I became friends with other people who were also painting. As a result, painting became a daily thing. I would hang out with my friends, and I would take my bag of paint with me. I started out with painting on canvas, but it wasn’t until I started painting on wood that things really got serious for me. I love the way that the wood soaks in the paint. Wood, on its own, already has a such a cool feel and texture. I feel like you can do so much more on wood. I haven’t really gone back to canvas. […] So yeah, because I went to this school, my world opened up to art, and here I am now, five years later.

Samuel Munoz:

Tell me, when did you start doing the Santa Ana Art Walk?

Dino Perez:

I started doing the Art Walk in January, 2010. It was the day after Elvis’ birthday, January 9th. At first, I was kind of hesitant. “Should I go out there and show my work? Try to sell my work?” You know, you second guess yourself a little, but at the same time you’re just like, “you know, it be nice to show your work!” It’s nice to have your friends see it and enjoy it, but to have someone who may never see your work, walk by, see it, and like it, that’s a special feeling.

Samuel Munoz:

Would you say you were successful right away?

“But We Cannot Cling to Old Dreams Anymore”

Dino Perez:

I think that all of 2010 was a big learning experience. The first art walk was very nerve racking. What made it really nice, however, was being in the heart of Santa Ana; it was like a homecoming. I saw a lot of old friends that helped me to feel at home and get some confidence. The first time, I did make some sales, but more than anything, people came and spoke to me personally and had nothing but good things to say to me. That is what made me say to myself, “OK, I’m coming back next month.”

Samuel Munoz:

And you’ve been coming back ever since right? Have you missed any?

Dino Perez:

Only one. It was my brother’s graduation from high school. I was going to miss it, but my parents would have killed me (laughs).

Samuel Munoz:

When was your first big break?

Dino Perez:

My first real art show was at GCS in Downtown Santa Ana. It was in April of 2010. That really changed everything because after that people would come to the art walk and tell me, “Oh, I saw that painting at GCS.” My art was now somewhere where everyone could see it. It had proper lighting and it was in a legitimate gallery. I was always very thankful to GCS for giving me that opportunity. Currently, I’m on the display window.

That’s How People Grow Up – Mixed media on wood panel (the $500 dollar painting)

Samuel Munoz:

Tell me about your first big sale?

Dino Perez:

I sold a painting at the Santa Ana art walk for 500 dollars. I had never sold anything for that kind of money before. And, of course, it was on Elvis’ birthday [laughs]. Art walk landed on January 8th that year I think. I remember listening to The King that morning. Anyway, the guy who bought it was visiting from Finland. He was eating dinner at Lola Gaspar. He came out and said to me that he saw my painting from the restaurant and he told me that he wanted to buy it. I gave him the price and he asked if I took checks. I had to tell him no, cash only. So, he ended up going to like three different ATMs and he came back with 500 dollars—all out of breath. I was shocked that he even came back.

Samuel Munoz:

And you also do the art walk in downtown LA right?

Dino Perez:

Yeah, I do the art walk there. It’s really nice because in LA you get people from out of the state and out of the country possibly looking at your art. I’ve also done downtown Fullerton and they have been really nice to me too. There is a store there called Adorned in an area called Carpe Diem that hosts a flea market, first Saturday of the month from 10am to 4pm. I show my work there and they sell my work there as well.

Samuel Munoz:

I notice that with a lot of your work you have a recurring theme. You have recurring characters. I see the bleeding heart a lot, the owl, the big dog looking guy. Is this just something of a signature that you want to have or what?

Early Oliver

Dino Perez:

It’s actually more about how I am feeling at the moment. If you notice, with my older paintings, I used “skeleton boy” a lot. He was everywhere. I mean everywhere. Right now, not so much. Now, its more of Fred [the owl] and Oliver [the big dog]…I once had a professor who told us that as artists we live in our heads. I never really thought of that. It made sense after that to me that it wasn’t a weird thing to constantly be in your own little world, and so I developed these characters that were in my head. Oliver came to me while I was doodling at home watching Friday [a 1995 film starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker] with my nephews. I was a bit stressed out because it was in, of course, January of 2011, and I was about to graduate from school in a few months, so I wanted to relieve my stress and stay lighthearted about things—cheer myself up. [Dino grabs his sketch book and begins to show me his first drawings of Oliver] So I was drawing some funky stuff, kind of cartoony, from that started coming this face [points to a drawn cartoon-like wolf face]. I started looking at my dog and adding the ears. I drew him as a girl at first, which I had not done to any of my characters in a while. […]

photo by Jeff Frost

Samuel Munoz:

What about Fred?

Fred is actually what I consider to be representative of myself. In a way, he is my self portrait. He started out as a toy, and then later, I decided to paint him in my work. I came up with him at night; usually, that is when I come up with most of my ideas. I was getting that “night owl” feel and from that came Fred [laughs].

Samuel Munoz:

So what does the future hold for Dino?

Dino Perez:

My plans for the future are simply to produce more paintings, more toys, and show my work on as much stuff as I can. I like to make stickers, paint on purses. One thing I would like to do is shirts. I haven’t made any shirts yet. I want to have my designs on everything. Who knows, maybe with all the characters that I have I can make a cartoon or even some stop motion animation. I don’t see any limitations.

Contact Dino via email at dino@dinoperez.com or go to his website www.dinoperez.com, or his blog www.dinoperez.tumblr.com.

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We are the United Artists of Santa Ana!

Photo by Marcos Huerta

 We are the United Artists of Santa Ana!

 By

Samuel Munoz

[The following article was published in the Santanero Zine on June 2, 2012. It appears here as it was published with minor updates]

In October of 2011, a contract known as the Rehabilitation Agreement for the Santora Building for the Arts expired. This agreement between the city of Santa Ana and current Santora owner Mike Harrah stipulated, among other things, that the Santora building be 80% occupied by artists. It was a contract that provided a substantial sum of money to Harrah so that the Santora building could thrive as an artistic hub. In the years that the contract was in effect, many of the residents of the Santora were ignorant of such an agreement. All the while, Mr. Harrah, unchecked, did not abide by the terms of the contract. While some artists of the Santora suspected that the document did exist, the denial of its existence during a community meeting last year by then Community Development Director, Cindy Nelson (who’s name is actually on the contract), coupled with the lack of willingness from anyone else involved with the contract to acknowledge it, kept the reality of such an agreement a mere rumor.

In January of 2012, however, local artist, Alicia Rojas, took it upon herself to find a copy of the elusive document. Alicia told Santanero:

I finally said to myself, I’m going to get off my ass and go to City Hall and find this contract. I reached out to a couple of the local reporters and they gave me tips on how to find it. I got a lead from one of the reporters that found it because of my prompting and asking for it. Then I went out and got it for myself. I read it and saw that the contract had expired.”

This was not the first time that Alicia had been active for the benefit of the artist community. She along with a few other artists had been active with the now defunct organization known as AVASA (Artist Village Alliance of Santa Ana). This group had formed in 2011 to combat what the artists felt was negligence by owner, Mike Harrah, towards the Santora building and its residents. It was this group that initially attempted to oust the acknowledgment of the then rumored contract. Alicia continues:

“What pissed me off mostly was that, during AVASA, we wanted to ask the city about this contract because it was a rumor. Because of the yelling and screaming that we did, all of a sudden the city wanted to meet us. AVASA was in the center of all the news and blogs in the city. The city set up an arts forum for the first time in years because we prompted it. Cindy Nelson held it. They invited a bunch of the local organizations. Bowers Museum was there and we were there as AVASA. Matt Southgate [fellow artist of the Santora and former AVASA member], asked Cindy Nelson about the contract. She was with the redevelopment agency that signed the contract and she said that nothing existed. And this was when the contract was still legit! So when I actually found the contract for myself many months later and saw her name [Cindy Nelson's] on it , I remembered that moment. I said to myself, ‘How can they do this to us?’ It spurred so much anger in me that they had lied to us. So I sat there and began to think about it all. I said to myself, ‘How can I turn this into a positive thing?’ I wanted to approach this in a new way from what was AVASA. I wanted to revive AVASA under a new name [by this time AVASA had disbanded].”

It was from this moment that spawned the creation of a new organization now known as the United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA). Alicia envisioned a new artists alliance fully organized, bringing together not just artists of the Santora or Artist Village district, but artists from all parts of the community.

Taking a more diplomatic approach, Alicia, with the support of a few community members that included Matt Southgate, Moises Camacho [former Santora artist, whose exit from the Santora, Alicia cites as her motivation to finally search for the rehabilitation agreement herself] and Claudia Lavini [Special projects and Art Walk Coordinator for Downtown Inc.], went to the City Council on February 6th 2012 to address the recent find of the Rehabilitation Agreement and to hopefully begin a new era of cooperation between the city and the artist community. Among the suggestions presented by Alicia to the city included the establishment of an Arts commissioner, a partnership to help fund public art, a new agreement to keep the Santora building arts focused, and the recognition of a new organization that would represent the artist community and serve as the main source of communication to the city. The council, although acknowledging the importance of the arts in Santa Ana, did very little to move forward on any of the suggestions Alicia put forth on that day. Despite this, a little group of artists that would later vote to call themselves the UASA had their first meeting on February 9th 2012.

Two months later, on April 23, 2012, Adam Elmahrek of the Voice of OC broke the news that an Irvine based church known as Newsong was close to buying the Santora building from Mike Harrah. The artist community of Downtown Santa Ana quickly went into a panic. The fear of censorship, intolerance, and discrimination surged through many of the local artists and important figures of the Artist Village. Most importantly, many residents feared that the Santora Building as a cultural and artistic hub was going to reach its end. The message that the church relayed to its congregation was that the Santora would serve as a place of worship and that plans of renovating the building to include a 300+ auditorium for services was in mind. [NewSong later retracted part of the plan via Facebook]

The UASA, at the time that the news of the sale broke, was quietly planning its coming out party: a celebration of the Anniversary of the Santora Building to be held on July 7th. The sense of urgency prevalent through out the Artist Village needed a uniting force. The UASA was pushed to the forefront as the representative body to the artist community. The group held a meeting on April 26, 2012 to discuss the plan of action. The meeting was attended by several key figures of the development of the Artist Village that included Don Cribb (who is credited for sparking the creation of the Artist Village), Tim Rush (a member of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society) and Lisa Bist (former Council member). Most importantly, it was a gathering that united artists and curators from across the downtown district that included the Grand Central Arts Center, and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. It was a gathering not yet accomplished by any other artist representative organization in Santa Ana.

Photo by Marcos Huerta

The UASA went to work full steam. With their elected board in place and a steady group of regularly volunteering members, the UASA released an open letter to all local news publications, to the city council, and Newsong addressing the UASA’s concerns and urging all relevant parties to come together to negotiate a new agreement that would protect and preserve the arts in the Santora. The group issued a petition that to date has reached close to a thousand signatures. The UASA presented this petition to the city council on May 7th 2012. This time, Alicia (now president of the group), addressed the city council with at least fifty people supporting in attendance. Alicia did not speak alone either. Others in support of the group joined her in addressing the council, voicing their concerns for the future of the Santora and Downtown Santa Ana as whole.

The City Council had no choice but to listen. Mayor Miguel Pulido called for an ad hoc committee to reach out to the relevant parties of the sale so that options to preserve the Santora as an artist hub can be explored. As of the writing of this article, it was reported by the UASA that a meeting between the ad hoc committee and representatives of the church had taken place. Whether a written agreement will be reached to grant the protection many of the UASA hope for is still in the air. In fact, many of the UASA fear that the committee might not live up to its purpose. The inclusion of David Benavides (who is a Newsong church attendee) in the ad hoc committee has raised suspicion prompting many to feel that his inclusion constitutes a conflict of interest. Most importantly, the UASA has of yet not been invited to contribute in the discussions of the committee. [Update: the UASA did finally meet with the ad hoc committee on May 29, 2012 after this article was submitted for publication in Santanero]

Much is yet to be seen. However, as it was in February, when the City Council paid very little attention, the “not so little anymore” group of artists continues to meet every Thursday in the Santora building committed in their mission to nurture and preserve the arts in Santa Ana. As more artists from across the city, including artists from the Santiago Art District, continue to join the group, the UASA is set to establish itself as the premier organizing and representative body for artists in the city. A reality that Alicia Rojas could only dream about just a short four months ago.

The Elected Board of the UASA

Photo by Jacquemo www.jaquemo.com

Alicia Rojas (President)

Alicia was born in Bogota, Colombia. She moved to California in 1994. Coming from a family of artists, Alicia was interested in art since a young age. She began to focus specifically on painting at the age of 27 and began showing her art at the Santora in 2005. You can learn more about her on her website www.aliciarojas.com.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Antonio Garcia

Sandra “Pocha” Pena Sarmiento (Vice-President)

Pocha, as she is known, is a Santa Ana native. She grew up in the Delhi area. A well decorated artist, her work spans three decades. She has received acclaim as a filmmaker and a writer. Her first work, at the young age of 17, was a music video for the seminal Orange County punk band The Vandals. A former resident of the Santora herself, her gallery, Pocharte, has exhibited work from such artists as Alma Lopez, Lola Alcaraz and Ruben Ortiz Torres. She currently runs the annual OC Film Fiesta held in Santa Ana, now in the works for its third installment. Her films, videos and other visual art has been exhibited in galleries and film festivals in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and San Antonio, TX. You can learn more about Pocha and all her many activities at www.pocharte.com and www.ocfilmfiesta.org.

 

Photo by Marcos Huerta

Claudia Lavini (Secretary)

Born in Peru, Claudia moved with her family to California at the age of eight. She became linked with the city of Santa Ana when she began coordinating the Santa Ana College Gallery. Her involvement within the Santa Ana artistic community includes organizing events in Downtown such as the Summer Concert Series, and The Mexican Artisan Fair. She has been a vital networking channel for many local musicians, having booked local bands for Proof Bar, and the Second Street Promenade during Art Walk. She aspires to be an arts curator and is currently working on her degree in art history at Cal State Fullerton.

 

 

Photo by Marcos Huerta

 Ben Walker (Treasurer)

Ben is an Orange County native that grew up in Garden Grove. He moved to Santa Ana eight years ago. “My father’s family has been in Santa Ana since the 1930′s and I always felt like I had some sort of connection to the city,” Ben told Santanero. He began showing his work at Raven Studios and MC Gallery at the Santora until he was given the opportunity to start up his own gallery. Ben is now part of an arts cooperative that formed Gallery 207. The gallery exhibits in the space of Raven Studios in the upstairs area of the Santora. You can learn more about Ben on his website www.benwalker.com.

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Santanero #2 Now Available

Issue number 2 of Santanero Zine is now available in Downtown Santa Ana at the following locations: Memphis, Gypsey Den, Grand Central Arts Center, OCCCA, Moyas Bakery, Playground, Santora Arts Building, El Catrin, Calacas Cafe, Road Less Travelled

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