“When people come to our booth at Art Fairs, they ask about my inspiration. I tell them ‘It’s desperation’.” laughs the bearded, Berkeley-based Argentinian artist, Horacio Tubio.
Seated in his studio just north of the UC-Berkeley campus, surrounded by carpenters’ tools and tubes of glue and hundreds of photographs and sketches, the affable creator explains that “It’s the desperation of surviving. Actually, I think inspiration is over-rated. For me, it’s more trial and error.
“I have a wide variety of influences, going back to my childhood in South America. Media came to me very early, when I was forming my personality. Mostly movies; I was late to TV. I used to sit through three feature films a day.” This has led to many of the three-dimensional mini-sculptures that are among his most popular creations.
“I worked for a while backstage at the Opera House in Buenos Aires, building sets, followed by a short, serious academic sculpture career. But then I got divorced and hitch-hiked up to Bolivia. After that I began creating toys, many with figures suspended between two sticks that would dance when the sticks were squeezed, a traditional folkloric style.”
Turning to his similarly creative American wife, Kitty, he says with certainty, “She is my collaborator, and my work would simply not be possible without her partnership. The materials we use are wood, paint, mirrors, paper, electric lights and found objects. Some of the pieces need observer participation, others have motion to them. I invite the viewer to come in and write the epilogue to my scenes.”
How does he turn his observation into interpretation? “Sometimes,” he smiles, “I have to talk myself into turning the inspiration into something I think people would get.” One of his most highly praised pieces, “Mona Lisa,” uses the framing of a mirror to highlight “six artists who are known by most people. But I felt I had to put some American in there. That’s the commercial part, which I can’t avoid. That part of me is alive and well. And yet, now, I’m trying to fight it and make pieces like my current one (Sept. 2009). I call it ‘Wishing to Fly’ and it’s based on a dream I had where Kitty had bird legs. Our grandson’s name is Gabriel – so what better source to learn to fly from than an angel? And that’s why, in the piece, I’ve given her wings. I also thought to call it ‘Flying Lessons’.”
His pan-Hispanic roots include Mexico as well, with a clever piece utilizing brightly colored imagery of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. “That, too, came in a dream and I had to be careful not to screw it up with intellectuality. I woke up with it in my head.
“Currently I’m working a a 3D Tango piece, featuring a monument of a couple dancing, in the style of Henry Moore, like in a park. There’s an entrance to a tango bar called The Monument, and a couple sitting on upended champagne-glass chairs with two musicians.”
Asked if he accepts commissions, his eyes crinkle with joy. “Oh yes, absolutely. In fact, we did one especially for Emmet Kelly. Groucho Marx’s son got the Marx Brothers’ set with pictures of them on the wall alongside Karl Marx, and posters of their movies in three different languages. Richard Simmons got an acrobat. Madonna has the Frida/Diego piece. Ben Vereen got a boxing kangaroo. The novelist Isabel Allende has collected several pieces.”
At times compared to Magritte in three dimensions, the works of Horacio Tubio take us into the realm of dreams and stretch our imaginations to bridge the worlds of inner and outer consciousness, making us smile at a myriad of connections newly realized. Sophisticated and engagingly child-like, they are works of art designed for the ages.
Roger Steffens, author/archivist and founding editor of The Beat
September 2009, Echo Park, L.A.