Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Man in the metal

Unlikely start, unlikely art

Express Staff Writer

Gerardo Hacer takes inspiration from motorcycle rides before getting to it in his California studio. Courtesy photo Gilman Contemporary Gallery

Gerardo Gomez-Martinez was an orphaned boy, abandoned by his Mexican-American gang-member parents and struggling to survive in foster care when his gift of folding paper into toys made him a hero among the other children.

Today, at 36, Gerardo Hacer is way past needing street cred. He's a grown man far removed from what seem to be a preordained life of violence. It was a slow and painful evolution marked by several forays back and forth between the gang world and what his inner creative spirit was seeking. From marking turf with spray paint, he moved to using the graffiti culture to express himself, filling journals and sketchbooks with ideas and finding legitimate jobs to distance himself.

Eventually, a new path was forged. It finally got definition at the base of a sculpture in downtown Los Angeles. Awe-struck, Hacer stared upward at Alexander Calder's massive "The Four Arches," its red-orange metal faces towering 60 feet overhead. The impact felt but not understood, he enrolled in Trade Tech College's welding program, dropped his birth name choosing "Hacer" [spanish verb that means "to make"].

Picking up his first metal sheet with the intention of imitating Calder, Hacer began to fold. As he struggled with the metal, adding dimension to his childhood skill, origami-inspired forms emerged.

Art critiques have said Hacer is on his way to establishing himself in the art world with his vibrant works, made by hand-folding steel in both traditional and nontraditional forms. His works, which range from 2 to 18 feet tall, were recently featured at the Laguna Museum as well as artMRKT San Francisco.

"It is my choice to be as Calder and those like him," he said, "my part in a creative process that is bigger than me individually but impossible without the 'me's' collectively."

Hacer will be in attendance at Gilman Contemporary's "Take Five" anniversary celebration at the gallery on Sun Valley Road during the Sun Valley Gallery Association's Gallery Walk from 5-8 p.m. throughout Ketchum on Friday, July 6. Toni's Ice Cream vendors will be biking around and Calle 75 will have tacos.

He explains his progression as an artist in the interview that follows. 

What are your artistic goals? Is there a certain goal that once you achieve you will feel like you have "made it"?

I am 85 years old and I am still making work. Still going, still able to create, with an entire body of work to look back at.

Are your sculptures based on traditional origami designs?

No. They are not out of a book, rather I design them myself. I consider my work as abstract sculpture using the design mentality and aesthetic of origami. When picking color I spend a lot of time getting it "right." How do I know it is right? I ask myself if it makes me feel good. That is what I am going for.

Do you remember the first origami form you created in paper? Steel?

The first form I created was the crane, when a woman who was working for a community service center read the story "1,000 Cranes" to a gathering of children. During the story she had assistants teaching us how to fold. I had always been process-oriented and was the only child after the assistant left who could remember how to fold the crane. Other children started asking me to create one for them. I just kept folding and folding this shape for them. Pretty soon the kids wanted different shapes. I was thinking, "You were here with me when we first learned to do this!" But I pulled the neck of the crane a little and made the tail longer and told the other kids it was a dragon. Awesome! Pretty soon they were all asking for dragons. It went from there. I think creating these still brings that childhood essence out of myself.

My first steel sculpture was a crane as well, about 8 inches tall. I still have it. I took the traditional crane and added my style to it. When it was finished I started to obsess about color. I watched a video on Calder picking out paint and I went to Home Depot and spent hours playing with color. I was so impressed with Calder's "Arches," how the piece interacted with the environment, how it didn't offend the space it was in.

What are your passions outside of the studio (assuming these days you ever get to leave)?

I do make a point to leave the studio. That said, I do spend all hours of the day, every day, thinking about my work. I love to ride my motorcycle. I just put together a custom Harley. It has a custom paint job, naturally.

What do you think of when you think of Idaho?

Vast. I like to travel to unexplored places. I like the idea of going somewhere new and taking a spontaneous right. It seems so vast and beautiful, I am looking forward to feeling it.

Is there a ritual or a habit you go through to set the scene or create a mood before you begin working on a new piece?

You really have to get your mind in the right space for a certain piece of artwork. I spend an incredible amount of time thinking about it and the character of the work and achieving a type of mental preparedness. Whenever possible I spend time watching animals. I drive around my neighborhood and if I see a coyote I stop to watch it walk across the street. What is it doing? What is it thinking? I like to get in that space.

On a more practical note, when I get excited about a project and I start throwing out ideas I start sketching and folding. I try and try to get it "right." To get it in character. Then I get frustrated and I gather it all up and throw it in a box. Everything. Anything on my desk. Even just a scrap of paper. Generally then I go on a motorcycle ride in the canyons. I have so many ideas of what I want it to embody. I have this idea of the fluidness of it and then there is the reality, the physics of it. Can it even do what you want it to do? I am a minimalist. I want it to be simple. If I could get a single plane to stand on its own and feel like a coyote I would do that. I am trying to create something that is dynamic without it being overwhelming.

After that is the ritual of actually preparing to build. To be ready I have to clean up the studio and create a place where it can take shape, a physical space. I can't have anything on the floor. No dirt. I will even sand down a table to create a fresh start. It is incredibly difficult for me to move from one piece to another. I need to focus on one at a time to get them where I want. When creating I am so in the moment and everything is critical. Every fold can change the posture of the animal and that in turn changes everything.

Meet Gerardo Hacer

When: Friday, July 6, at 5 p.m.

Where: Gilman Contemporary, 661 Sun Valley Rd., Ketchum.

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