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No Safe Place to Die



Worship This
Jimmy Pena
In The Mouth Of The Elephant River

Jimmy  Pena

Charcoal,  Wood,  and  other Stuff

The only bits of information I have on you are that you have had no formal training, you’re self-taught and you've been here at K Space Contemporary since about 1998.

Yeah, that's correct. You know I started drawing before I could draw numbers and I thought it was just something that everyone did. I remember once someone telling me that I couldn't have drawn something and that’s when it kind of sunk in that not everybody can draw.

When I was in high school I had taken some art classes, but I was going to be an athlete, football player. And then I blew out my knees and my career was over. I was washed up, I couldn't do that anymore. After high school I didn't really have a plan, so I went into the army as a cryptographer but I also talked my superiors into letting me do a mural. I think I ended up doing three murals for the Army during my time.

When I came back to Corpus Christi I didn't know anybody in the art community but I continued to try and get mural jobs, including one at the Museum of Science & History where I met another artist, Raychelle Schaudies. About 6 years later I got a call from her asking if I wanted to become part of an artist co-op she and her husband were forming, K Space Contemporary. At the time of her call I only had 4 pieces of art to show, because I had all this time but no direction and so I was taking months and months and months to do one piece.


I think this is my favorite piece. How long did it take you to do this?

In The Mouth Of The Elephant River is charcoal on wood and took about 10 months to finish.


Who was your model?

Well, this one is my wife and when I asked her she said, “it’s about time!” Typically I use models from the colleges.


The face is so exquisite; you can almost see her calling for help. What was your inspiration for this piece?

I'd been doing a few charcoal on wood when a friend of mine called and told me he bought me a door. He said he had found it at Home Depot and it had this is really cool pattern in it. So it sat in my studio space for a couple of years as I slowly developed a story behind it. After a while I noticed that these two knots looked like elephant eyes to me and the story developed. “They call it the Elephant River because of two areas where whirlpools are created and look like elephant eyes. So she is looking for someone to help her as she's being swept away.”

Most of the work I do I try to justify with a story; I have to have a reason for doing what I'm doing.


I think what I most admire about your work is that your faces and bodies all appear so clearly and so emotionally connected that you would expect them to come off the canvas.

Thanks for saying that. You know I just try to get my stories and my vision out and I hope that people can connect with them as well.


Tell me about No Safe Place To Die.

I had this piece of wood for about four years before I actually decided what I was doing with it and actually my inspiration came while I was back in the Kiln room here.  I happened to look over and saw an aerosol can that was tipped over, so I just saw the bottom of it, and for some reason it hit me that this could represent the soul. What it was, was the light Direction was coming down hitting the bottom of this orb and adding light to it and I figured if it was a soul that it must have come from someone who had recently passed. And I kind of developed this idea and then it occurred to me that if there was a way for someone to capture a soul and could someone with money hold that soul in lieu of debt? So the piece is called No Safe Place To Die.

There's actually two other pieces that went with this, but they've both sold. One was a woman kneeling at an empty bed, which represented him being gone. And the second piece was his dog with his head lying where the man’s would have been.


I didn't understand the orb and the connection to the name until you explained.

I will always tell someone my idea behind a piece of artwork; however, I like to hear what other people think, what their opinions are, and how they envision it. The orb is the bottom of the aerosol can that inspired my story line.


I thought I saw one of your images when I came in. It's a multicolored woman that hangs out from the wall and when the light shines through you can see different shapes in the shadow including her body.

Yes, that's right. I’ve been working with Plexiglas and cellophane to create an image. I did that with a drawing underneath it, so that I would know what this shape was going to be and how it was going to fit in. Now I have this grand idea to use a large piece of Photography paper that I was given so that I can do a series similar to the cellophane but in life size.


I know that Sabbath Assembly commissioned you to do cover art for them, have you worked on any other albums?

Actually, they contacted me and I'm working on one right now and you can see a small portion of it, you can't see the whole thing until they reveal it. You know something like this doesn't happen very often so I'm kind of excited that I get to do a second cover for this band.


Worship This is a very political statement or at least in my eyes it is. how is it that you came up with this and did you draw all of these $100 bills?

This was inspired by the BP oil spill. Worship This. If you remember in the beginning BP was denying any responsibility and when they finally decided they would accept some they had a small press conference and this guy came out and his statement was, “to all the little people, we're sorry” and I was just outraged. And that is when this vision popped in my head. This is big money, this is the big hand. Worship it.

The background paper came from a store that my wife had worked at when they went out of business, it was for window displays. It's really cool paper that’s tone goes from a deep red on the bottom to an orange on the top. And the green tinting in the dollars was by accident! I used my home printer to make black and white copies of $100 bills, which were cut into thousands of pieces and glued on the red paper. But when I went to seal them the colors bled together and turned it all green.


Do you only do large pieces?

Well I've kind of started getting smaller. I have one called Venus On The Phone and it's on a Plexiglas that's only 2 foot by 3 foot and the Behind the Melting Trees is also about the same size, so I am getting smaller. Also, all of the pieces that I do are super lightweight because I've been the only one who moves them around a majority of the time. So the Elephant River which is on a door is only half of the door so it's actually very light


What I really like about your work is that it has the impression of being 3D, not just 2D; it has a depth to it such as this picture his hand looks like it could fall off the canvas.

I have a friend who is a ceramist and an art teacher. She was explaining to me that in order to do sculpture it helps to do the drawing because it causes you to think in a 3D perspective. While I'm drawing I imagine my pieces, people, objects in a 3D image, so that I can understand the shadows and curves.


Tell me about your sculptures; they’re kinetic sculptures, right?

After I started putting charcoal on wood I did so many of them, I just started getting sick of it and didn't want to see anymore. I needed to do something else, so each one of the Kinetic pieces that I put together was more of a challenge to myself; can I do it, can I make this work? I really enjoyed the problem solving of this type of a sculpture.


Do you have any coming upcoming shows?

Actually, I am done with those. I think I was doing a lot of shows and I was selling just about everything I made. I was feeling that I was in the right place and things were going well and then the economy went sour.


Since you don't do many shows and you don't have a website, how do people go about contacting you for either commission work or just to purchase something you've done?

They can go on my Instagram and my Facebook pages and, of course, I can always be contacted through K Space Contemporary.


I know it's not a secret that you have rheumatoid arthritis, but honestly how do you do this?

No, it's not a secret. I developed it when I was 28, in the late nineties, and it really affected my hands. I asked my doctor if this was going to affect my work, my art. And he said, “you don't draw with your hand, you draw with your mind.” And I thought about it. There are people who are paralyzed and paint with using their mouth, there are people that don't have arms and use their feet. So that's how I do this. I get it. As long as I can hold a tool, I've got it.

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