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Molding a Creative Life with David Ocelotl García

El Corazón de Pueblo, Colorado, David Ocelotl García

Colorado-based artist David Ocelotl Garcia is accomplished across several mediums including painting, sculpture, and murals. David discovered his natural ability and passion for fine art at the age of eleven. By the age of eighteen David was assisting professional artists on monumental bronze sculptures. Now, his own work ranges from large-scale interior and exterior murals painted directly on existing surfaces, panels, cloth and canvas. David has developed his own technique and philosophy about painting and sculpture in what he coins “Abstract Imaginism; a style of art that combines the spontaneity and unpredictability of abstraction with the creativity and perception of his imagination. His work can be seen in public art commissions, as well as museum and private collections.

How long have you been working in Denver’s arts community?

I’ve been working as an artist since I was 11 years old, however, my journey as an active community artist started when I was eighteen. I painted the Huitzilopochtli (Sun God) mural just up the road on 8th Avenue and Decatur. This area (Sun Valley) is made up of factories, DHA housing, and what appeared to be a desert of any creativity. Little did people know what lied beyond the surface. The wall gave me a voice to all that inspired me at a very young age. When I was 11, I was drawn and connected to ancient Mexican codices and I used my art to explore that spirituality. Huitzilopochtli represents the direction of the south, the hummingbird, creativity, Tlaloc (Rain God), and Mictlantecutli (God of Death). When I was painting the mural, I was using art as a meditation to unravel my spiritual awakening. Around this time, I began exposing myself to Denver’s influential Latino artists working out of CHAC (Chicano Humanities Art Council). The imagery that had always drew me in as a child I could go explore and feel inspired to create work just as they were doing.

What led you to start creating sculptures in bronze?

I grew up in the Parkhill neighborhood of Denver, where most of the families were African American. When I was 18 I found out that there was a famous master sculptor that lived in the neighborhood named Ed Dwight. He would have been the first African American in space, however, his fate led him to become a national monument sculptor and that is where our stories met. He owned a foundry in the neighborhood where he produced some of the country’s iconic and historical monuments of African American history and culture. I was nervous and intimated when I got hired to be his assistant. I thought I was just going to be making molds. The first day he was working on a huge monument with multiple panels, and he gave me sculpting tools and said, “start here.” My experience impacted me because as artists, sometimes we don’t have time to start thinking about projects, you just begin making work.

David Ocelotl Garcia, Quetzalcoatl, Bronze.

Quetzalcoatl, The Plumed Serpent, David Ocelotl García, Bronze

As part of the future LCAC Mexican Heritage Museum, The Abarca Family Collection has several pieces of your work, the one that stands out the most is “La Fiesta”. Who are the people in your painting?

The people come from my creative interpretation of photos I’ve taken and my experience at Denver’s Cinco de Mayo Festival. When you are there it is so packed and you can’t walk, then you see a wave of people dancing. When you look at the painting, there is a man grilling corn, a kid dressed as a superhero riding his bike, a creepy clown giving out lollipops, a paletero, families, a big woman dancing with a smaller man; everyone is dancing and celebrating. Also, I included mountains as a signature because it signifies where I grew up.

La Fiesta’s shapes come from scribbling designs, using a circular motion technique, that compose the balance of the painting. I compare it to a conductor that is leading the rhythm for an orchestra.

Do you know the song ahead of time or is it impromptu?

The song is a manifestation of the energy that I channel. If you are painting about the revolution, the sound can be the beat of the drums, the shouts of a protest, and marching. My heritage goes way back to that drum, that powerful tool, all the elements that went into making it include the feathers and hide. It all carries that energy, and that history flows through the movement of my hand, to my brush, which makes up the composition.

David Ocelotl Garcia, La Fiesta.

La Fiesta, David Ocelotl García

You have been working with another Denver artist, Cal Duran, lately on numerous proposals. Can you talk about your experience with collaboration?

I admire his folk-art way of making sculptures because it’s bizarre to me. For example, his lighting in his studio…I have no idea how he can see in there. I’m very technical and there is a process to the way I work where I leave room for those instincts to kick in. I first saw his work at CHAC, I asked, “who is doing this?” Because it was different from what I was used to seeing around in Denver. When it came time to collaborate, we found that we could work together without feeling forced. We joined up for Meow Wolf Denver proposals and are now part of the top 10% of applicants. We also proposed a project honoring the Lakota creation story for the Walker Art Center Campus in Minnesota.

Lakota Creation Story, Cal Duran & David Ocelotl García, Ceramic

Can you elaborate on your instinctual form of creating?

Instinct is the first element in creativity. Abstract and folk artists naturally use this process. Now it’s rare that instructors talk about instinct when they are training you. They will talk about color, lighting, and composition. Instinctual creating is utilizing that force that runs deep inside your psyche. Instinct is a person’s natural ability to create before thinking about the technical way of making art.

What advice would you give to artists trying to a live a creative sustainable life?

You need to be able to think differently and to think of art as a business. Artists tend not to focus much on this because it’s not creative. Use your business sense: Familiarize yourself with public art organizations and ask to meet with collectors, organizations, businesses in places where you believe your art deserves to be. This is a very social atmosphere. You can’t be introverted and expect people to knock on your door. If you tend to be a recluse, you will have to go outside your comfort zone to attain your goals.

The downside to all this is that sometimes people in the community just want you to do your work for free or minimal pay. This creates a difficult situation for artists that are surviving on their artwork. Society must respect and understand the value of an artist’s work. It is the job of the artist to educate others of our value. I was fortunate to learn about value through Luis and Adrianna Abarca. They have a great understanding of art and a strong appreciation for artists and their work. It’s as simple as saying, “This is unsustainable. I can’t continue to create and live this way.” Art containing social content is powerful because it makes and represents history simultaneously, and is a sign that we are evolving as human beings.

Future site of the LCAC Denver, 2705 West Colfax Avenue, Denver

Why do you think it is vital for LCAC to exist?

People are sadly forgetting their traditions. Folk art is declining, because younger generations think that it isn’t cool or relevant. So, having a place like the LCAC is a reminder of the importance to keep these traditions alive. I’ve seen the Abarca Family Art Collection and the work is powerful and important. We should be very proud of where we come from and share that with everyone. Adrianna’s vision is important because it was planted in her since she was a little girl from her father, Luis Abarca. I’ve never met a man like him, who had a passion for Latino art and the ability to see things through. The people working with the LCAC have sophisticated perspectives. People really want growth and be involved in this vision. Denver is changing fast and a big part of the population is Latino and that will continue to expand.

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