Ventura County's Support-Local Program

The Sharpshooter

With the county’s busiest curatorial agenda and the return of Ink For a Cause, Christina Diaz’s Pistol Productions aims for no less than a new (Art) world order.

Despite the rising popularity of the tattoo, the practice is anything but new. Our relationship with ink in the skin predates even our ability to put ink on paper. Some of the earliest known examples of tattooing date from as far back as the fifth millennium, BC. Yet after seven thousand years, the practice of tattooing remains distinctly marginalized in mainstream Western culture, carrying an enduring stigma that speaks more of the bias of the beholder than the proclivities of the tattooed themselves.

By the same token, while with the stereotypical tattoo the uninformed might imagine skulls, flames, tribal bands or even Popeye’s anchors, in fact the imagery is as diverse as the imagination of the bearer, the art as intricate and fine as nearly any canvas.

It’s a point much on the mind – and intention – of Ventura’s Christina Diaz, whose Pistol Productions was recently announced as a finalist for a 2011 Ventura County Art Star Award in the Business Category for helping keep the arts community in VC thriving. With Pistol, Diaz – whose own skin bears numerous tattoos, including stacks of books, feather quills, and reproductions of the work of renowned artists like Dali, Kahlo, Escher and Picasso – is effectively working to blend the world of body art and fine art. Representing a growing stable of some four score artists – the bulk of whom derive from the world of body art and other “alternative” media, she has emerged as one of the county’s most prolific and creative arts curators, mounting a new show for each “First Friday” in Ventura (at Stoneworks Gallery), and another in Oxnard’s Second Saturday (at The Kitchen).

As if that weren’t enough, Pistol’s other agenda item, Ink For a Cause, returns to the Ventura Fairgrounds this weekend for its third annual festival of art, music and ink, all (as the name suggests) to the benefit of a worthy cause. This year’s beneficiary is The Best Day Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping children with special needs build confidence and self-esteem through safe, fun, adventure activities like surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, snow sports, and more.

The 2011 event will include over one hundred world renowned artists, live tattooing & piercing, fine artists, a two hour portrait seminar by Nikko Hurtado, “Using the Neuma with Carson Hill” – a one hour seminar on Neuma Tattoo Machines, a kids arts & crafts corner, burlesque, sideshow entertainment, live bands, dozens of tattoo contests, unique vendors, a silent auction and more. For those still going strong after so much activity, each day’s festivities will give way to an afterparty at Zoey’s Cafe.

With so much going on one might guess there’d be little time left over, but still Pistol’s busy mastermind found a few minutes to chat with Totally Local VC:

TLVC: I don’t mean to blow smoke, but wow – your one/two punch of First Friday/Second Saturday shows are really making an impression.

CD: Yes, that actually just started in June. It’s worked out pretty well. I’ve had other gallery owners like Josh Addison approach me to start working with them, but I’m taking it one step at a time. My shows are on the Stoneworks calendar, themes are complete for the rest of the year.

TLVC: Stoneworks & First Friday / The Kitchen & Second Saturday are splendid successes, and for many people that would seem to be more than enough, but not for you, it would seem.

CD: You know what they say about “idle hands.” I have an idea, and I get really excited, and I try to make it happen. People tell me, “Give yourself a break! You’re going to get burned out!” They don’t understand that my “day job” is me sitting at a computer with the most stressful deadlines. So when I get to come home and design a flyer or type up a “call for art,” or get to collect art for that Friday, to me, it’s fun and relaxing. It’s my creative outlet. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but I love it.

TLVC: Such a kick; we’re talking about this very busy agenda, and then almost as an aside, you reference, “oh and my day job”…

CD: Not only am I the editor of Tattoo Savage magazine, I’m also the copy editor for Rebel Rodz. So I have another hundred and twenty pages to edit from front to back, three times, each page, to make sure the corrections are done. And I work for Easyriders too. We publish fourteen magazines, and I work on three titles full time.

I’m happy to be there; I’m the youngest person in the building, and I’m pretty much the only “tattooed freak.” Whenever they have a new idea about a new ad, or want to try something with the new market, they’re, “Hey! What do you think about that?” Because I’m in the demographic.

TLVC: Speaking of “tattooed freaks,” Ink for a Cause is nearly upon us. With such a busy art agenda, you find the time and inspiration to found this major event?

CD: With my day job I have to attend tons of events. Every year, I’d say I go a dozen, all over the nation, and I see what they do right and what they do wrong. I recently went to a weekend show – “Ink and Iron”. These guys are rock stars, but they treat you like crap. They just want your money.

So I thought, “God I’d love to put on a show for an actual purpose.” I wanted to do something that was about giving back to the community. And me being a parent (my son was a year and a half when I put on my first show), I’ve had a lot of negative reactions to my body art – let’s just say I haven’t exactly been welcomed into the PTA.

People unfortunately stereotype heavily modified people in general, but as a woman it’s even worse because it’s a masculine thing to do. That’s something I’ve had to get used to, and if anything, I want to change the way people are stereotyped, so with Ink For a Cause my mission was to not only give back to great non profits, but also show the body art community in a positive light. We’re not criminals, we’re not drug addicts, we’re not delinquents. We are contributing members of society, we care about others, we’re parents – and if you stop and look at what the actual tattoo on that body is, it’s going to tell you something about that person’s personality.

Obviously, if that tattoo is a swastika, hello! But if you look at mine, for example, and you see books, you think “bookworm.” You’re going to see facets of someone’s identity. That’s my goal, to invite people to stop and just appreciate the art form of tattooing, and what it represents to people who collect, like myself. It’s a lot of time, a lot of money, it’s a part of who we are. I just wanted to put a positive staple on there.

TLVC: Clearly, body art has penetrated our culture more than ever before; it’s more mainstream than ever. My seventy-seven year-old mother has three, and didn’t get her first until after age seventy.

CD: My father got his first when he was fifty-five. At first he was just like, “OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” He’s a retired detective for the Miami PD, so very conservative. Every time I saw him, he had a new complaint about it. Until – the day I got my Masters Degree, he shut up. My education put another spin on it, another context.

TLVC: You’re a high achiever. You inspire people with what you’re accomplishing, you might be talking about what you’re going to do, but unlike many people you then go out and do it.

CD: I want to make a dent while I’m here. I want to make a difference. I’m passionate about art and body art. Despite the negative connotation, if someone comes to my show and sees what someone with ink can do, I’m just hoping it can change the mindset. I want my son to be proud of me. I want to make a difference.

TLVC: You’re pushing buttons and you’re daring to see stereotypes redefined and that’s a splendid thing.

CD: There’s much to be done – magazines like Inked and reality TV shows are glorifying a certain kind of rock star persona and it’s just sad. They’re enforcing it as it’s hip, it’s cool. That’s going to change, if I have anything to do with it.

TLVC I believe you.

CD: That’s what happened with First Fridays: all my friends were tattoo artists, and they all have multiple media under their belt, not just ink. They had oil paintings, 3D sculptures, and masks, and all these things. And I was saying, “Oh my god, you gotta show these things off.” And they were like, “No, who wants to see this?” At the time, in Oxnard, there was nothing, especially for our genre of art, which was regarded as kind of the lowbrow art scene. And I was going to Santa Barbara’s First Fridays, LA’s First Fridays, Las Vegas’s First Fridays; I was going to all these shows, and I said, “Man! All we need to do is get a building.” So I put on this show, and people were there like, “Wow! Something’s going on!” I realized, “We need this. There’s a problem: this isn’t happening here. This was meant to happen.”

It’s working out, so I’m obviously doing something right. I don’t take a commission, I’ve never taken a percentage. All my artists, for a year have been saying, “You’ve got to charge us! Take a percentage!” And I’m like, “No! Just give me a piece of art!” So I started charging five dollars. I just want to make back my printing, that’s all.

TLVC: The approach is off-the-hook creative, each time a new theme, so much fun.

CD: People love the themes. And I love the response of the artists, how they’re challenging themselves because it’s out of their box. I’m truly honored to work with them, they’re like my little family and I love to see them grow and challenge themselves, and I never know what to expect. When I’m hanging a show, which is a three or four hour process, I’m “in the zone” and I get this rush, and when it’s done, labels up, I’m just so pumped up and I want to sell them! I want the Average Joe, whose niece is in the show, to be blown away and just buy a piece or sign up for my newsletter.

TLVC: You know, I haven’t heard you use a certain word, that a lot of people make a big deal about with this stuff. It’s about status – the word is “Curator.”

CD: I think there’s an unfortunate division in art between classes and even cultural boundaries. Many of the galleries that i’ve approached and the people that I’ve met, they wouldn’t even consider my artists as fine artists. But I have people that come to my shows and they spend six hundred, eight hundred dollars on pieces; maybe this isn’t the typical art that’s on some people’s walls, but others seem to get it.

TLVC: Boundaries and bias, yes. In this certain mindset, art belongs in a frame, on the wall, in the right kind of space, and it seems like you’re not about that at all. I’ve had close friends in the art community who seem terribly concerned about their colleagues’ perception — i.e., “you can’t do it this way or you’ll get a bad reputation.” There seems to be a certain pretense in the “establishment” that one flouts only at their peril – or that’s the overriding perception.

CD: Exactly! Excuse me, this isn’t The Great Gatsby, get over it! Certain galleries won’t give me the time of day. It just makes me stop and say, “You know what, you guys are missing out on something amazing.”

You know, from another perspective it’s valid to ask, “how many beaches and waves can you paint?” And technically the way I see it, in the artists that I admire and love, that are tattooed all over me, you put heart and your soul and your body and your sadness, you put it into your paintings. Your paintings should speak to you, you should feel them.

TLVC: That’s describing a great trend in art history, I think; in the evolution of art, it’s always been advanced by edgy characters who had to hack their way out of status quo parameters as other people were trying to box them in.

CD: I’m sorry but for me, painting of a wave isn’t gonna do it for me. Where’s the depth, where’s the substance? There’s a quote, “in the darkest times, all you need is art.” People want to look at a painting and feel and let it really resonate. We are the middle class, the hard working, economical; hence my idea for the “blue collar blow out” show. We are the working folk, and our creative outlet just happens to be done in a different way.

Ink For a Cause at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, September 16-18 – Friday 4-11pm, Saturday 11-11, Sunday 11am – 7pm. Tickets, $10/day, $5 with military ID, $5 kids 12 and under, $25 weekend pass. For more information go to www.inkforacause.com
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Learn more about author James Scolari

James Scolari

About the author

James Scolari is a writer and photographer. Though his seedling sprouted in other soil, after transplanting to the Gold Coast it has flourished and bears fruit in Ventura throughout the seasons. Late of local print journalism, Scolari edits TLVC content for publication and offers odds and ends from his own pen. He's also a staffer and advocate for Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, and teaches his own brand of image-making in the ongoing Mind's Eye photo workshops. Check out his website at www.JamesScolari.com.

 

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One Comment

  1. It was a great show put on by Christina. I was able to see some outstanding artwork. Will have to post the photos on-line soon.

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