Walking into Studio & last Wednesday, one would have found Shay Lopez with his back to the entrance, standing before an easel in leather flip-flops he made himself, both his right thumb and copper-brown jeans paint-stained. Classic soul played on the sound system, but given Lopez’s eclecticism, it could just as easily have been bluegrass or chamber music or 1970s AM Gold.
But that’s how it goes with Lopez, whose subjects, genres, mediums and twists of truth and fiction can keep everyone guessing, Lopez included.
“Skinscapes & Visual Fictions,” his solo show featuring all new work, opens Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Studio & and shows through June 21.
To get an idea of Lopez’s versatility, go no further than the Durango Arts Center, where Lopez’s plaster-casted sculptures currently are on display as part of the show “Pivot Point” with the work of four other artists. Last year, Lopez became intrigued by protests happening around the world and ended up primarily painting women in different revolutionary movements. Two years ago, Lopez collaborated with Adriana Cubides on plaster sculptures and performance art. On the wall last week at Studio & were Lopez’s wire work and vibrant abstract paintings, pieces described by Lopez as “more loose and improvised” as compared with his work for “Skinscapes,” where he used more brushwork and blending to create a more refined, detailed and realistic effect, pushing his ever-widening boundaries.
“As an artist, I feel fortunate that I’ve never had anybody tell me that I couldn’t try something or that I wasn’t supposed to, and so I’ve always felt free to experiment with new things,” he said. “I’ve had success with experimenting with things.”
For an artist like Lopez, choosing a medium can be like ordering at a restaurant: You don’t know what you feel like having until you sit down, look at the menu and hear the specials. For Lopez, his order might be painting, drawing, writing or playing with clay or wire.
“There’s a different mindset to each of these processes,” said Lopez, who has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, adding that when he writes, he always writes longhand, appreciating the tangible connection between thoughts, pen and paper. This link between creativity and tool carries into his visual art. “Painting with a brush is very different than painting with a palette knife,” he said.
It’s all a reflection of his personality. Shay Lopez the eclectic artist is no different than Shay Lopez the eclectic dude.
“On a given week, you might find me at Super Ted’s Super Trivia or making shoes or playing bass in my apartment, or maybe I’m walking along the river pointing out different birds I know or going fishing or going skiing,” he said. Gears churning in his head, he laughed and added, “I have a wide variety of interests.”
Lopez’s foray into refined realism brought him to one place – nudes. As the name of the show implies, there’s plenty of skin to go around, something Lopez hopes parents consider if bringing children to the not-exactly-PG-13 show. It was Lopez’s fascination with skin that led him to his body of work for “Skinscapes.”
“Specifically, the subtleties of skin, of flesh, really amazed me,” he said. “There’s all this subtlety to (it), not only the colors of the skin but the textures of it and the quality of the shadows and the light. The way light plays off skin is really remarkable.”
Making up one half of “Skinscapes” are Lopez’s up-close near-abstract paintings of skin and bodies sometimes participating in suggestive acts and eliciting questions such as, “What part of the body is that, exactly?” and “What, might I ask, are those two, um, engaging in?”
The other half of the show is his collection of nude models, whose bravery and vulnerability Lopez especially appreciated. If the subjects of the paintings weren’t intriguing enough, Lopez took it a step further, placing his subjects in front of works of art, art that exists no place else but in the paintings themselves. This painting-within-a-painting meta-awareness got Lopez thinking about where the artwork within the paintings came from and if these works-within-the-works were just as “real” as the pieces that inhabit them.
“The idea of someone standing in front of a piece of art begs the question about what that context really is,” he said. “Is that person nude in their own bedroom? Is that person in a gallery? Are they in a hotel? Is this person the artist themselves? Are they in a studio? Are they a model? What is it? I don’t know.”
Intrigued by the “fictional” art within his portraits, Lopez added yet another level to the work, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, creating back stories for each piece within the paintings, such as the one inside Lopez’s self portrait titled “Conversations, 1955” attributed to artist Revnim Snotsil.
“Putting this person in front of this painting changes the story or takes it somewhere that didn’t exist before,” he said. “I can paint that body, and that’s a real thing. There’s not much of a story to that. But when I put it in front of this other thing, it’s like giving that character a home.”
“Skinscapes” might be Lopez’s latest foray into the unknown, but to be sure, his experimentation is not haphazard slapdashery but a part of the artistic process itself, a process he’s come to refine.
“That’s sort of how I live my life. That if I try something and I don’t like it, then I naturally adapt it into some way that I will like, or I can make it work so that I like it or get along with it well enough. Or, I just (mess) with it long enough that I get to a point where I like it.”
It’s doubtful that Lopez will scale back his experimentalism anytime soon. However, the concept he produced through “Skinscapes” might have some legs, an idea to run with.
“The naked people with art, it’s an odd concept, but I think there’s something to it.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. David Holub is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Durango Herald.