Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Name: Justin Favela, artist
Education: UNLV Bachelor of Fine Arts student, emphasis on sculpture
His artwork: Family, culture and television play out heavily in Favela’s art. His father is from Mexico, his mother from Guatemala. He grew up in government housing on the east side of Las Vegas. His neighborhood was razed and replaced with apartment buildings. None of his childhood remains. The park he went to is gone. His home is gone. His grandmother’s home is gone.
The one constant in his life was television, particularly “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” So when asked to create a piece that would represent Nevada in a city exhibit, Favela rebuilt his neighborhood Mr. Rogers-style. He constructed houses, schools, Las Vegas icons and streets from cardboard and papier-mache, then photographed the environment to create the Mr. Rogers effect. The multimedia piece is featured in the National Invitational Postcard Exhibit at the city’s Bridge Gallery, through July 2.
Cultural symbols: Favela uses cultural symbolism to create works that are often humorous — a Frieda Kahlo-style portrait of his cousin’s Chihuahua, prints of regal Chihuahuas and a life-size dead donkey that dangles from the ceiling like a pinata.
His family is influential on his work. “They drive me to create. The way I think and the way I am is because of them. I’ve also realized that people love listening to my family stories, so why not make objects to represent them?”
The tamale project: His mother’s side of the family got together every year around the holidays to make Guatemalan tamales, which are wrapped in banana leaves in Guatemala and foil in the U.S., where the leaves are more expensive. He remembers the Christmas-time assembly line of women chatting, ripping foil, plopping down masa and wrapping tamales. In the end there was a giant pile of tamales, hundreds of them — “tinfoil bricks,” he says with a laugh. Favela plans to recreate that experience with his family using a cement mixture for masa and his chopped-up personal items as the scraps of meat that, like the real meat, would normally be thrown away if it weren’t for the tamales. The resulting tinfoil bricks will be part of the Contemporary Art Center’s exhibit “The Tomorrow People.”
Discovering art: A tuba player for seven years, Favela dabbled in theater and choir through high school, then performed in UNLV’s marching band. In his second year at UNLV he wandered into an art class, followed by a design class, changed his major and threw himself into the art community, showing in group exhibits and participating in various performance art projects, including serving as the host “Favi Favela” on Lustre Flux’s live mock radio show at the Aruba Hotel. He’s been in juried and group shows around town and will be one of four artists featured in “The Tomorrow People.”
Growing up in Vegas: “The only time we went out was going to the casino. The best memories are of the Westward Ho with my grandma. We’d go to Slots-A-Fun, get a half-pound foot-long hot dog and eat it under the umbrellas while feeding the pigeons.
“Not until college did I realize how the city may seem to other people.”
Art and his family: “I gave up on explaining that I’m an artist. They think it’s a waste of time. They say, ‘Why do you go to school for that? You could study to be a doctor.’ So I tell them I’m studying to be a professor.”
Career artist? “I don’t know. I’m wondering if I’ll be motivated to make art after I graduate, especially now with the market out there. My dream is to work for Jim Henson (production company). I grew up with muppets. I always wanted to be on ‘Sesame Street,’ to be part of something like that would be so cool. Right now, I’m just trying to graduate.”
Other interests: Popular culture, particularly television, which he watches online, and karaoke.
Sticking around? “It would be good for me to move out of the city, gain a little real world experience, then come back and be an artist in Las Vegas.”