Art show to celebrate Latino Heritage Month
Posted: October 9, 2012
The Winchester Star
winchester — For artist Roberto Rosas, the way he does his artwork not only honors his ancestors but brings their culture to life again.
Rosas, 42, was the first member of his Ecuadorian family to be born in the United States. Despite the distance from his birthplace in 1970 in Manhattan or his current life in Winchester, Rosas feels a connection to his parents’ homeland that was fostered by his family and trips there through the years.
“I feel like there is a great rapport,” he said. “Ecuador has made an indelible mark on me.”
Now, he is sharing part of that heritage with his first solo show, an exhibit at the Shenandoah Arts Council that also celebrates Latino Heritage Month. The show opens Wednesday and will run through Oct. 31 at the gallery at 811 S. Loudoun St.
There will be an artist’s reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission to both is free.
Part of the emphasis of Latino Heritage Month, which runs annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, is to broaden the understanding people have of the diversity of Hispanic cultures, said Tracy A. Marlatt, SAC executive director. Rosas’ show will do that not only because of his heritage but because of the way he approaches his culture through his art.
“I was intrigued with the Ecuadorian images, just those patterned images that incorporate birds and repetitive images,” she said.
Rosas will display three distinct styles of art in his show — black and white acrylic paintings based on tribal symbols, large portraits, and tiny sculptures of shrunken heads.
The black and white paintings are based on pre-Columbian Inca symbols he was first introduced to when his mother sent him a book on the subject in 1994.
Rosas became “obsessed” with the symbols, which were used as centerpieces on beads, carvings, and stamps, and started recreating them and making his own. He loved the iconography of the pieces, the way people could “say so much with so little.” He even has three of the designs as tattoos on his right arm that he calls his talismans.
What impressed Marlatt most about the paintings was that Rosas creates them freehand, either with preliminary drawings in pencil or paint.
“A lot of times, artists will use a straight edge. They will sketch it underneath or they will use an overhead and shoot an image onto a canvas and sketch,” she said. “Everything Roberto does is free hand. It is him holding the brush, it is him holding the pencil, and it is incredibly difficult.”
The portraits Rosas creates are airbrush paintings on 32-by-45-inch brown craft paper. He started doing the portraits about a year ago when he made a section of the basement of his family’s house into a studio. They include both friends and famous people, including Patsy Cline, Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Paycheck, Teddy Pendergrass, and Che Guevara.
The third art style was one Rosas took up last year, creating tiny clay heads called “tsantas.” The sculptures are based on a practice of the Jivaro tribes of Ecuador to shrink the heads of their enemies as battle trophies.
“If they had that, they had their enemies’ energy, their magic and could use it for their village,” he said.
Art always has been a part of Rosas’ life. He carried around paper and pen to draw on, and when he ran out of paper, he would “draw on the walls, and that is when I got in a lot of trouble.”
By the time his aunt paid for a basic art class when he was in middle school, it had been several years since Rosas’ family had moved from Manhattan (where his parents immigrated in the 1960s) to Florida. He already loved art, but having someone show him the “rules” of art made it all come together. “It felt right. It just clicked.”
Rosas took all the art electives he could in middle and high schools. He also was heavily involved in graffiti. “I hung out with the kids in the neighborhood, and that is just what we did,” he said.
After graduating high school in 1998, he studied advertising and design at Bauder College in Florida for two years until the school went bankrupt and shut down.
He decided to go to Ecuador, where his mother had been living since she and her husband divorced in the 1980s. He had visited during summers before, but this was the first time Rosas ever lived there consistently, and the following two years were eye opening.
“Over there, $40 a month is minimum wage. That puts stuff in perspective,” he said.
Back in the United States, he worked in the air conditioning business with his uncle for a few years in Fort Lauderdale but moved to Savannah, Ga. to work and attend school at Savannah College of Art and Design. It was there he met his wife, Holly House.
The couple married Oct. 31, 2000, shortly after they moved to Winchester to be close to her parents. Now, the couple has three children.
Through the years, Rosas worked for a variety of companies and also did work on the side. About two and a half years ago, he and his wife made the decision for him to become a stay-at-home dad and help care for sick family members. The change also gave him an opportunity to focus on his art.
Rosas was excited and nervous in the days leading up to the opening of his first solo exhibit. He appreciated that his work would be used for Latino Heritage because he find that “people generally lump all Spanish-speaking people together.”
In addition to Rosas’ work, the show will feature special Day of the Dead altars created by SAC members and artists to honor their loved ones, Marlatt said. This is the third year to have the altars, which represents the tradition of decorating graves.
Also as part of the month, Rosas will teach an art activity class on painting and decorating skulls Oct. 26 for the Boys and Girls Club and Oct. 27 at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, she said.
For more information on the exhibit, contact Marlatt at 540-722-2020 or go to shenarts.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org.