Gunslinger – A Western Illustration

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This is an older painting that only a small number of my cohort have correctly identified.
I never had much of an appreciation for the Western genre of film-making. My father was raised in an era in which westerns were incredibly popular, and he tried to share his love for ‘Have Gun, Will Travel,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ and some of the old John Wayne classics like ‘The Cowboys.’

Admittedly, I liked ‘The Cowboys,’ but there was always something about the genre that never really gripped me.
Well, all things in good time, I suppose.

I pretty-much accidentally rented disc one, season one of ‘Deadwood’ from Hollywood Video, back in the day when Hollywood Video and Blockbuster still existed. At the time, rental houses were just starting to feel the strain that Netflix had been putting on the rental industry, and Redbox was just around the corner. I had a cheap-as-dirt membership that allowed me to have any three movies I wanted for any amount of time I desired. Derelict that I was, I would pick up three discs on my way home from work, rip the content, and then swap them out for three more the next day; this was before the whole RealDVD debacle and I was, for that brief window of time, actually ripping the content legally (read about it here).

This unchained freedom to stockpile media led to me watching a lot of content I probably would have passed over otherwise, including almost all Westers. But I devoured the Sergio Leone films, ‘Shane,’ ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘3:10 To Yuma,’ and dozens of others. And when I found ‘Deadwood,’ it was all over. I was astonished by the writing, the set design, the costuming, the music and texture and magnitude of the whole thing.

And I started making illustrations with a western theme, occasionally hybridizing the theme with Dia de los Muertos imagery – skeleton cowboys, sugar skulls, and the like. The illustration above is inspired by a lesser-known Western that captured my attention a few years ago – let me know if you can tell what it’s from in the comments!

Have a great day, everybody!
-joe

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The Spanish Trail – Tucson ‘Eyesore’ Getting A Facelift?

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History isn’t always pretty, but it occasionally gets a second chance.

This historic structure has long been considered a blemish on the face of this otherwise dusty, hideous wasteland of a city. Over the years, dozens of complaints have been filed for The Spanish Trail motel, a deteriorating mid-century hotel held together by cracked paint and inertia. Conveniently hovering over Interstate 10 along the edge of the city of South Tucson, it gives any newcomers from the east a fairly accurate impression of Tucson. I stumbled across an article today, however, indicating that a couple of investors have purchased the property and intend to breathe some new life into it.

In it’s own time, The Spanish Trail was a well-known destination. In the 1960’s and 70’s, live music & theater – and a Hollywood clientele – drew an eclectic crowd. Professional staff lived on-site in a series of duplexes north of the resort and the property boasted luxurious amenities. Today, of course, the housing has been replaced by a steel yard; the golf course, lagoon, running track, and cactus garden are gone.

This is where movie stars like John Wayne and Michael Landon lived (and visited) while working at Old Tucson Studios. The large area that still survives, a space-aged-looking concrete rotunda, was the Dinner Show Lounge. Time, vacancy, and a structure fire have left little to appreciate.

Despite how unkind the past few decades have been, the new owners have expressed an interest in redeveloping the property into permanent affordable housing, with an emphasis on providing homes for veterans.

There’s no set timeline for the forthcoming renovations, but I’ll be curious to see what happens to the old 70-foot sign. As always, other peoples’ eyesore is, to my twisted eye, a fascinating and beautiful relic.

July 23, 2017 – Los Muertos

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I remember overhearing a conversation in a coffee shop some years ago where a gentleman said something like this:
“I always have people ask me why I’m so serious. I often overhear people telling their friends not to take ‘this’ or ‘that’ too seriously. And I got to thinking about it. If we need to learn how to not take life so damn seriously, we ought also to learn to not take death so seriously.”

I’m not sure, but it stuck with me. A simple exchange, maybe a completely spontaneous thought from a total stranger I was eavesdropping on – but it stuck with me. I think about it often, especially after losing several friends, relatives, and acquaintances over the past several years. It’s unusual to me – at least intellectually – to be so incredibly afraid of something that literally every single living thing in the cosmos will eventually have to do, which is to die.

Different cultures treat death differently, but there are always common themes of loss, sadness, tragedy and redemption, rebirth, or some form of ‘life after death.’ I’ve enjoyed photographing various rituals and discovering some of the nuances of life and death celebrations in the American Southwest and Mexico.

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June 07, 2017 – Carlos Arzate

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Living in Tucson for a majority of the past fifteen years, I saw a lot of bands come and go. Many of my college buddies had garage bands and a few of them had it in them to hit the downtown music scene. Most of them have scattered to the wind these past few years as degrees were earned, families begun and careers established. There are some,though, who have had some serious staying power here in Arizona, and Carlos Arzate is one of them.

Carlos Arzate is a singer-songwriter, native to Tucson, whose songs draw inspiration from his personal life growing up in the Sonoran Desert. I believe I read an article in The Tucson Weekly that described his style as “Sonoran Soul.” It’s got a ring to it, but it implies a softness that, while present in many of his songs, doesn’t communicate the dynamism of his work.

Arzate is just as expressive and kind in person as he is on stage, and he’s deeply anchored in the music scene, collaborating with other prominent musicians. I have enjoyed every performance and would absolutely recommend checking out Carlos Arzate & The Kind Souls. The songs tell a story, communicate an emotion and paint atmospheric pictures.

This is one of my favorites, written as a first person narrative of a laborer who chooses to risk the dangerous journey across the desert to the United States in search of a better life.

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May 26, 2017 – Downtown Tucson

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“Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”
~Henri Cartier-Bresson

Originally known as the Willard Hotel, this property on South 6th Avenue – a stone’s throw away from the heart of downtown – was renamed the Pueblo Hotel in 1944. This weathered sign was installed in the 1950s. The hotel and apartments closed in 1984, when I was only one year old, and is currently home to a law office. The sign remains, though, even if it might be a little misleading. It was restored to like-new condition back in 2012 and I’m really pleased that I photographed it before the change.

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May 25, 2017 – Ideal

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“Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.”
~Susan Sontag

There’s little that I could even consider writing about today’s image. Sometimes simplicity and irony speak loudly enough for themselves. This image was made before a greater part of downtown Tucson was renovated. I would have to drive down to South Sixth Avenue to confirm it for myself, but I’m assuming that this business is either something completely new or has been refurbished.

Of course, it’s always possible that nothing has changed at all.

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May 22, 2017 – Glenwood

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Glenwood is a small little hamlet in Catron County, New Mexico, less than an hour north of Silver City. Officially founded in 1878, fewer than two-hundred people live there today; the silver and gold rush had, once upon a time, attracted a healthy number of people looking to carve their way into the riverbeds and canyons to earn their fortune.

As part of the Gila National Forest, there are some pristine landscapes. There’s also a small little area known as ‘The Catwalk,’ a National Recreation Trail, which follows the route of the old pipeline used by mining operations along the side of Whitewater Canyon.

Little else is here save for abandoned houses and defunct businesses slowly being reclaimed by nature. Just my kind of place.

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