Bones to Pick

It was in search of a java jolt at the Willow House that I first came across Los Mestizos and their funky Chicano art. Lots of local artists place their wares in the hippie hangout, a coffee-house conversion of a century-old house downtown. But it was the colorful paintings and crafts that Patrick Murillo and Kathy Cano-Murillo produce that really caught my eye.

Patrick is the founding father of Rastafarmers, a performing fusion of Chicano and reggae music -- imagine Carlos Santana jamming with Bob Marley, and you've got the idea. For more than a decade, this local favorite has cultivated a wide following. Patrick plays keyboards, but I became aware of this talented young Chicano through his haunting and playful paintings and sculptures.

Patrick creates colorful scenes with Día de los Muertos themes, showing skeletons at work and play in a celebration of Mexico's Day of the Dead. Set against bold backgrounds in primary colors, Patrick's cadavers include pachucos, lovers, even pets. Some of it is done to order: Once Patrick knows what someone wants in a picture box, for example, he'll build one with miniature pieces of furniture and the skeletal images of long-lost loved ones!

That theme carries over to the work of Patrick's wife, Kathy, who specializes in crafts. Her glitter Virgin of Guadalupe is fun and breathtaking all at once. Kathy works a creative magic from her workshop at home, making candles, crosses, picture frames, furniture, boxes and books. And she encourages other people to take up the skill themselves. She tells you how to decorate your house with Mexican touches in her books La Casa Loca, Latino Style Comes Home and Making Shadow Boxes and Shrines.

Mexico is known for the artisan handiwork from various regions: hand-painted Talavera pottery from Puebla, black clay pottery from Oaxaca, Amate leather drawings from Jalisco and copperware from Michoacán.

That tradition of Mexican folk art is kept alive in Phoenix by local artists such as Patrick and Kathy. They refer to their art, sold under the name Los Mestizos, as "an atomic collision of tradition and pop culture." I prefer to call it Latino-Funk Fusion art. Using traditional images such as the Virgin de Guadalupe or the bingo-style board game called Loteria to make their eclectic art, both Patrick and Kathy have hit the very pulse of the Mexican-American culture. I'd like to think I have some of that culture running through my veins as well: I have a tattoo of a Day of the Dead calavera (cadaver) wearing a chef's toque and holding a knife! By Silvana Salcido Esparza

The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.

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