By: Luis Arjona Photos by: Lillian Reitz
“Art” is a ubiquitous term transcending age, variety of work, skill, and specialties. The Coastal Bend has an ever-growing art community with astonishing talent, and our Artist Issue aims to celebrate the fantastic work done by brilliant individuals in our community by spotlighting their craft. Each creative professional practices in their own unique ways; sharing and exploring how these artists create their works illustrates what separates their craft from one another. However, the individuality in their work and career path is also the common theme bringing these artists together.
No two stories are the same, and the only constant in life is change. Within the work lies their individuality, a story, and a piece of history. The human touch exerted into something through passion and labor is one of a kind. It’s been said that getting the chance to look inside an artist’s studio is like peering into the brain of a chaotic genius. Aiming to pull back the curtain a bit, we showcase our featured artists by discovering their unique stories and talents, and obtain an intimate look at how these professionals express themselves and communicate with the world around them.
Painter + Illustrator
Alexandria Canchola’s colorful depictions and vibrant installations illuminate her capacity as a visual artist rivaling Wes Anderson’s world-making ability and narrative-driven work. Her illustrations are typically created with gouache paint on paper. This medium is a favorite due to its velvety matte finish and opaque, highly pigmented colors. The use of colors in her illustrations is vibrant and captivating, and Canchola’s ability to transport guests to new realities through her work is delightful to experience.
Originally from Chicago, Canchola has been a resident of South Texas since the age of eight. Her career in the arts was not a linear path; initially earning a Bachelor’s in Government and Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, she went on to work at an alternative weekly newspaper in Ithaca, New York. While working in journalism, Canchola realized she was more passionate about creating visual content. “I had found my love for design, and the power it manifested in giving form to content.” This realization served as a catalyst, leading Canchola to receive her Master of Fine Arts in 2D Design at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2018. Now, she is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Canchola designs, illustrates, and creates immersive large-scale installations inspired by narrative, color, letterforms, and filmmaking. Canchola draws stylistic influences from numerous sources – Japanese woodblock prints to Art Nouveau poster designs to the paintings of Henri Matisse to the films of Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola. A Criterion Collection enthusiast, she finds the bridge between narrative-based artwork and drawing inspiration from film is a beautiful vehicle to communicate meaningful work.
Her workspace seems an extension of her mind – an organized mess of scattered thoughts and ideas waiting to be manifested. Scribbled notes in countless journals filled with ideas, to-do lists, and shelves of supplies waiting to be used in precarious combinations like a delicious stir fry occupy Canchola’s studio space. Finding a place to sit might be challenging, yet everything is precisely where it needs to be. She earnestly describes her studio as “a place that brings joy, a place to exercise one’s voice, a place to think, a place to make.”
Canchola’s methods as an artist and designer diverge. Her approach as a designer is organized and strategic, but once the work gets started, Canchola lays on the horn and gets gritty. “As an illustrator, I’m not precious with my tools and have never chosen to invest in quality brushes, because I don’t trust myself to take care of them. Instead, I have about a hundred brushes – because I can never bear to throw anything away once I’m done using it,” she says.
Working on installations is a whole other process aside from illustration. Quite an architectural approach, installations require mapping out the area where work will be showcased and laser cutting material for precise and clean edges. That makes bringing an idea to life a challenge. “Many times, it feels like there is a picture in my mind that I am working really hard to get out. Progress can feel slow, as is expected when working with large scale installation work,” she says.
Canchola is a gifted creative with several facets of talent. Over the years, she has completed residencies at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, Massachusetts. As an earnest artist using narrative to develop her work, Canchola is a visionary with a compelling story and incredible work to show for it. Viewing one of her pieces allows the onlooker to escape for a while. While the scenes depicted are familiar, the world she has created within them take the viewer on a journey to worlds seemingly unknown.
Mixed Media Artist
“Tchotchkes,” a Yiddish term for trinkets, serves as the drive for Amorette Garza-Morales’s most recent work. Her collection deals with found object figurines – people and animals – which she alters by painting and drawing their respective skeletons and adding additional elements. The materials reflect meaningful personal experiences and memories from her background, South Texas cultural heritage, and religion, specifically Catholic imagery and iconography.
Originally from Corpus Christi, she went to David Wicks preschool, Windsor Park Elementary, Baker Jr. High, and W.B. Ray High School. “How about that for homegrown?” says Garza-Morales with a laugh. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, and Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Today, Garza-Morales is a mixed media artist who works with materials that run the gamut: polymer clay, nails, Christmas lights, Bible pages, enamel paint, ink, and other found embellishments. She is also an educator to the art scene in the Coastal Bend by paying it forward and sharing her expertise as a Professor of Art at Del Mar College.
Garza-Morales’s most notable and recent “Tchotchkes” series is an enticing collection of work with strong religious and cultural influences from Dia de Los Muertos imagery. “By applying the skeletons, I am equalizing the figures – we all have a skeleton,” she says. “The skeleton is not only a symbol of death. Some viewers may see the figures as scary or that the work is implying that whatever figure is ‘dead,’ in the metaphorical sense.” While the series illustrates Garza-Morales’s connection to her background, there is also a level of mortal awareness in the work, as the skeletons rendered onto the objects drive meaning and significance into the pieces.They also serve as a tangible reminder of “the temporality of the physical form,” says Garza-Morales.
Each object correlates with the others and looks somewhat baroque; you could picture them in the art movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. Though the original sources are found objects, the collection is lavish. Garza-Morales turned these relics of the past into a well-curated and -designed index of beautiful figurines.
Her first tchotchke was an object from Grandma Gonzalez’s “Last Supper,” a mirrored relief that resided in her dining room. Garza-Morales found the project fitting to connect to Dia de Los Muertos and honor the memory of her grandmother. Garza-Morales shows her hand as an intentional artist by rendering herself vulnerable to those who see her work. She hopes the art she creates will help viewers see the commonalities between people as humans. With a touch of care and attention, things that have been discarded or overlooked can be transformed to witness and celebrate their life, memory, history, beauty, and diversity.
Garza-Morales is a proud Corpus Christi native giving back to our community through the arts. Not only is her work enticing, her efforts as a professor are something she prides herself on. Del Mar College’s art program is one of three community college programs in Texas nationally accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. “I have had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the art education of many talented students that have themselves become professors, teachers, and artists, she says “How amazing is that?”
“You only have 70-80 years on average. Better decide how you’re going to use your time, because not one second is guaranteed,” stated a friend of Ryan O’Malley. Reflecting on this quote, O’Malley dedicated his life to printmaking and to his work as an artist and Associate Professor of Art and Graduate Coordinator at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Not pigeonholed to one medium, O’Malley considers himself a jack of all trades or “artistic chameleon,” as he also dabbles in painting and drawing, photography, ceramics, and sculpture, describing his artwork as simply receipts of a life well-lived. His focus is not his legacy or the work he leaves behind, but rather a life well spent doing what he loves and is good at.
Though printmaking is O’Malley’s “preferred” medium, the craft was not always on his radar. Initially, his curiosity for art developed through a genuine interest in color and texture from exploring the Wyoming wilderness growing up. During his first year at the University of South Dakota, a legendary printmaker known as Lloyd Menard swindled O’Malley into taking a printmaking course: After complimenting O’Malley’s ability in his drawing class, Menard offered a “special” spot in his printmaking class not intended for freshmen. (However, Menard tells everyone this, since his printmaking course was filled with the same first-year students from the drawing course.) Despite his bait and switch, O’Malley didn’t end up being a printmaker because of his love for the process. It was quite the opposite – he was perpetually confused and frustrated by it, but that irritation was an itch he could not alleviate. His drive did not allow him to quit until he became adept in the realm. Some things do not change, and his battle with the craft is still raging, but at least he is enjoying himself and embracing the challenge.
One thing is sure: Though Menard’s “con” to get O’Malley into his printmaking course may seem dubious, he was correct in noting the young artist’s potential. Pieces full of color, kit-bashing disparate elements, or surreal stills, O’Malley’s work encompasses several skill sets and specialties. His prints have a charm reminiscent of early 1970s New York City street art found covering the walls of buildings and subways. Other works are evocative and somewhat indescribable, waiting to be experienced. The work is either rich with contrast, relying on highlights and shadows, or potent with vibrant colors and patterns. O’Malley’s art illustrates his interests in working with a wide range of techniques within print media, since each process offers different aesthetics.
Over the past decade, O’Malley has strived to cultivate his university space to be more than a classroom. He describes creating a “positive and inclusive sacred creative environment, filled with color and light, to be buzzing with student activity.” Furthermore, O’Malley showed his dedication to sharing his passion for his craft with his students by establishing Full Court Press, a printmaking program at TAMU-CC specializing in professional publishing of fine art prints. Artists are invited to create a work in studio with assistance from graduate and undergraduate students. This venture creates a diverse learning environment and fosters critical dialog between students and working professionals. Since 2010, the work stemming from the community project has been published worldwide.
Inspired by his friend’s quote regarding our mortality and making the most of our life, it is safe to say O’Malley would impress not only his friend, but also the likes of someone like John Keating. By seizing the day and sharing his receipts of a life well-lived with his colleagues and students in the Coastal Bend, O’Malley is making his years count.
Canvas generally means strong, coarse, unbleached cloth made from hemp, flax, cotton, or similar yarn – all organic materials on which artists and creative professionals can communicate their ideas. However, no canvas is as organic and permanent as skin.
Tattoo artist Cindy Saenz has been honing her craft since 2004, and describes her creative path to entering the profession similarly to a tale of a protagonist finding their way home. She’s been drawing and making things since her childhood. Her parents would help her cope with anxiety-inducing moments by directing her energy to creative outlets. This process proved to have meditative qualities while allowing Saenz to develop her artistic acumen. “They told me to draw, to create, and they felt it would help me relax. In a way, it did. Tattooing saved me, my art saved me,” says Saenz. She also has her brother to thank; he introduced a younger Saenz to people in the music scene around town who became fans of her artwork and catalyzed her tattooing career.
Creative expression has played an essential role in Saenz’s life. Her work as a tattoo artist is intimate as she works with people to provide the best possible service. Currently working at Axis Tattoo, Saenz has been tattooing at the locally renowned shop for two years. However, she has been working for the company for over 14 years. She was tenured at Electra Art before Axis and calls working for the Edwards family a home.
At her creative oasis, one can catch Saenz illustrating beautiful and colorful tattoos ranging from Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Ghostface from Scream to scenes of Naruto rendered on someone’s shoulder. Saenz always aims to provide quality service – she recognizes she cannot do what she loves without her client base, and shows immense gratitude for those who select her for tattoo sessions. Saenz ensures they always leave her workstation with a smile. Her workspace is also an extension of her interests and inspirations. The walls are covered in drawings and sketches, and a collection of stones and gifts from her clients is also on display, next to a nicely curated collection of VHS tapes available for a customer’s perusal.
Aside from tattooing, Saenz extends her creative capacity by painting and creating mixed media art. Another venture of hers, called Them Bones, is a precious project. “Them Bones is my baby,” says Saenz fondly. Here, she works with repurposed materials found in nature and bones as the root of her creations. Beautiful trinkets, attractive jewelry, and refreshing pieces made with gems are on display through this curiosity brand, offering a catalog of well-designed products available for home décor or elevating one’s ensemble.
Saenz presents herself as a delightful person, someone who understands the community around her work and continues to express her gratitude for those who have allowed her to continue doing what she loves. “I’m grateful for my bosses, Bruce and Belinda Edwards, for giving me a place to call home. A place I can be myself and do what I love with my friends that I work with. And I’m grateful for my friend Jean O’Donnell from Renaissance Antiques, who helped my dream come to life. I love Corpus Christi for its support, and I’m so happy I can share a little of who I am here.” From collectors who find interest in her curiosity pieces to her clientele who collect her artwork through tattoos, Saenz recognizes that her dreams have certainly come true and will continue living through the canvases of others.
Fine Arts Painter
Cat Huss’s work provides thought-provoking and evocative moments. The contemporary artist strives to evolve her creative style by allowing her work, experiences, and manipulation of materials to change her art over time. Her pieces are irreplaceable due to their singularity, but she continues to strive to improve the quality and substance she communicates to the audience.
Crediting her environment while growing up in the Gulf Coast, Huss says, “I used to think nature was my inspiration, but I just recently realized that exploration of self and the human condition is the inspiration, and nature is the catalyst for that.” While getting under the hood and learning more about her background and interests, Huss holds herself as a precise and thoughtful professional. She excels in communicating her intensity, emotion, and self-awareness through her work. An anecdote from Huss illustrates her fervent affection for the work she creates: When a guest asked her the meanings behind her paintings, Huss’s response was, “They are a self-portrait.”
Utilizing acrylic paint as her primary tool to manifest her ideas and intentions, Huss also incorporates several other instruments. Graphite, paper, photography, torn paper, and soft pastels are elements of her arsenal on the occasional wood panel when the stretched canvas needs a break.
Huss credits herself as always being a creative individual, but her painting inclination did not develop until more recently, when she was on a break between her undergraduate and graduate school career. She says, “I think all of that studying and fruitful discussion awakened something in me I hadn’t used for a long time. My mind started thinking more creatively again, and in a deeper, more productive way.”
The creative process is different for everyone. As a self-described type A person, Huss calls her approach “meticulously playful.” Catapulting off an inspired creative process, she maintains an extensive library of exciting visual ideas spanning colors, visual notes from a day out, and fashion, pulling cues and mental snippets from anywhere that elicits inspiration. Her next step is to pour watered-down paint, often in many layers, allowing an amalgamation or emulsification of colors, densities, and vibrancy on the canvas. As the commingling of paint continues, Huss takes the canvas to a wall and continues to work on the piece. Her process is distinct to her sensibility and will be complete as the dance of precise and natural strokes or movements in the paint reaches a balance.
Watching someone work can look like an obscure ritual of organized chaos. However, each person has a process akin to their perspective of approaching work. Much the same can be said of matters of representation, how one carries themselves, and their studio space. Parallel to Huss’s intensity and attention to detail, her studio space must be organized – even if as a collection or series develops, her space can temporarily become a bit chaotic. The studio is a physical representation of her thoughts and inspirations, as the walls are lined with photos, patterns, color samples, and images of inspiration.
“To me, the work is a visual language … it’s communication,” says Huss. Ever since life pointed her toward painting, she decided she would work to develop a career. An in-between never existed. This has never been a hobby for Huss, but a form of communication.
Eric von Seibert
Eric von Seibert embodies the coastal lifestyle through his persona and his work. Originally from San Diego, von Seibert began painting at the age of three, and is now a professional contemporary artist spending his days in Rockport, Texas. His work ranges from abstract landscapes to portraits of pop culture icons and interpretive designs. While using his talents in sculpting neon, painting with metals, and grinding aluminum as creative tools, von Seibert has amassed a beautiful portfolio to show for his decades of creativity.
Considered a neon master, von Seibert refined his skills over the course of 25 years. He taught neon art at the University of California at San Diego, and discovered how to create beautiful effects and textures using a high-grade diamond abrasive.
When creating with high-grade aircraft aluminum, von Seibert explained, the process is fragile and his approach is calculated, for every step has to be precise. The aluminum he works with absorbs oils, and any imperfections or foreign contaminants can ruin the piece. He carefully lays his initial drawing on the aluminum and applies his dyes to add color – a process making him both an artist and a chemist in his studio.
His illustrations with aluminum have a shimmering effect due to the texture applied from his techniques. At times, the product resembles clear ocean water on a sunny day, interacting with light in a manner not unlike the slow pulse of the tides. The effect can be intense; the artist says probably 1 in 1,000 people have had some degree of seasickness due to the rich colors and intensive texture produced from the aluminum art.
His spontaneous and vibrant colors result in works rich with depth, drawn from his life, interests, and surroundings. After living in the Hawaiian Islands for 30 years, he credits the natural beauty of his locale as a source of inspiration for his work. “My studio has to be near water, preferably saltwater,” says von Seibert.
Recently, his work has been expanding beyond coastal themes and nature. While getting to know one another, we discussed Porsches and how his interest in cars has opened an avenue for new creative ventures; von Seibert recently created an aluminum Porsche art collection that was met with a positive reception.
His illustrations of the famous cars mix his signature texture and use of colorful dyes, producing unrivaled car art. This initial step into car art has opened opportunities for the artist, too – he will now be creating NASCAR and F1 car illustrations on his signature aluminum style. Rockport’s proximity to the Circuit of Americas and Texas Motor Speedway will give von Seibert yet another lane to showcase his talents and share his creations with the masses, and he’s excited about these new opportunities.