When I visited Marciano Cruz (nicknamed Chango) last weekend in Pleasure Point it was clear to me that art is an important part of his life. He has a quiver of hand painted boards, and his living room is full of art with paintings and ink drawings on the walls. We took a few quick photos, finding good spots of light, and then some friends came by to look at his art. That was great because it gave me the chance to get some candid shots of Chango interacting with them.
Chango seems to be motivated by three things: people, art, and surfing. The surf was good while we were talking, so I wanted to keep our interview brief. I see Marciano all the time at our local coffee shop, so I was in no particular hurry to get the whole story. Getting to know people through interviewing them is an interesting process and it takes time. The more time you have, the better, because it gives you the ability to be surprised.
This was the case when, after his friends took off, Chango pulled out a folder full of envelopes. These were some of Cruz’s first drawings, rendered in black ballpoint ink, but done while serving time. Incarcerated, Chango had been drawing birds and writing about dreaming as a way of willing himself toward freedom. The progression and consistency in Chango’s work, along with his surfing, are inspiring as expressions of his eventual success.
It was cool to see a lot of the same imagery that appears in his paintings also done in black and white with ink. Cruz’s art is labor-intensive it takes a lot of time to finish a piece. This relation to time, spending hours to make something valuable with inexpensive materials (a piece of paper and a ball point pen), is evidence of the transformative power of art. Using the alchemy of art, Chango turns time into something valuable with lasting power.
I met Chango a few days later at the coffee shop and conducted our interview. It was kind of unconventional, though, because before I could ask him a bunch of questions on my list, he gave me the answer. I guess it’s kind of appropriate considering some of the topics we covered, including: faith, the Mayan calendar, and prophecy.
Chango: The Virgen de Guadelupe is important to me. She always gives to us this time of year. She’s our Mary; she’s our mother and we call her Lupe. A couple of weeks ago, a woman from Mexico City had a daughter who was sick, but she had no money for medicine, so she walked to see the Virgen, where there was a shrine decorating her appearance somewhere in the jungles of Oaxaca. It’s twelve hours by car from the capital to this place. When she got there, though, her daughter miraculously recovered, and in the stroller there had appeared the image of the Virgen.
Jake J. Thomas: What ‘s the subject of your latest work? What are some of symbols that are important to you and why? (Turns out, it’s a black and white drawing of the Virgen, which I already knew, but you didn’t. I was asking the question for you. See how he anticipated my inquiry? That’s not quite where he started, though. Let me go back to the beginning… Chango had received a call, and when he got off the phone he was talking about an event he’s planning.)
Chango: I’m organizing the 20th anniversary Posada for this December 16-23rd, but there’s no budget for it this year, so I’m looking for donors. We’re hoping to have Aztec dancers perform along with drummers to commemorate the last day of the calendar, the 21st of December. We’re also trying to collect toys for single-parent moms. It’s going to be tough to pull it all together, but the reward for helping other people is that you gain knowledge and understanding of others’ struggles, which is necessary in order to understand the world.
We’re waiting for the appearance of Quetzcoatl, a goddess bringing knowledge, in the form of a serpent that will reveal the truth about how we are recycling through time. There’s going to be a lot of chaos and fear if people don’t work to understand each other. It’s all there in the calendar: tsunamis, the wars we’ve had, the ice disappearing. Some people are busy preparing, too. But, we’re trying to help out around the holidays. The Virgen is important to me.
(It’s key, when you have an interesting subject, to get out of the way in order to let their material breathe. At the same time, you need to assert yourself a little bit, or it wouldn’t be much of an interview. So, next, I partly gained control of the interview, for a moment, and asked him a question before he could answer it in advance.)
Jake J. Thomas: Why do you like to work with ballpoint pen and paper? (Ok, it’s not rocket science. Still, I wanted to know. I wanted to share that information with you.)
Chango: I like the fine line. I learned it inside. The best painters in the whole world are inside. I like the hatch, the intense mind-hit. Your mind and hand have to work together perfectly. It takes a lot of time, though, and it’s hard to finish a piece.
Jake J. Thomas: What influence has surfing and the ocean had on your work? (Ok, that was a decent question.)
Chango: I had a view of the ocean from San Quentin. I remember just before 4pm each day a ship coming from Alcatraz would pass by, and I always dreamed about getting out and being out there. The ocean heals and cures you.
The ocean is scary, too, though. You have to treat the waves with respect. I have a great curiosity, and the ocean is a mystery. I think that, the ocean and I, we have something going on together. The sections always seem to be good to me.