by Victoria G. Molinar
Animal Instinct: The Big Name Local Artist You Don’t Know
“I don’t believe in starvation,” said El Pasoan Julio Sanchez de Alba. “I decided that if I’m an artist, I’m gonna be the best artist I can be, and a successful one.” And just like that, an artist was born. Sanchez’ massive wildlife sculptures have only recently garnered attention in the city he calls home, although he’s shown in galleries from New York to Dubai for years.
In 2008 the City of El Paso commissioned him to sculpt a monument honoring the men of Company E, a group of Hispanic soldiers, most of whom were killed, during WWII while attempting to cross the Rapido River in Italy. Many of the soldiers came from El Paso’s Segundo Barrio and Bowie High School. Sanchez’s commemorative piece can be found at the Chalio Acosta Recreation Center in Delta Park.
Originally from Bolivia, Sanchez spent some time on the east coast before finally settling in El Paso nearly 30 years ago. After toiling for over two decades in the garment industry as a mechanical engineer, Sanchez’ curiosity about art—specifically, the sculptures he saw while visiting galleries in South America—got the better of him. “My first sculpture was kind of crude because I used hanger wires, aluminum foil, a little bit of plaster, a little bit of Sculpey, because I didn’t really know what to use,” said Sanchez. “And once I saw the result, then I started to investigate and I wanted to learn how those sculptures were made.”
“It was life changing. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into because I didn’t know anything about art,” said Sanchez. “I just had this burning desire to sculpt and discovered that I liked it so much.”
While art changed his life, it did not take away from his business mindset. Knowing that his work must be impeccable in order to bring in a steady if not ample income, he worked hard to learn every aspect of sculpting and do everything himself from start to finish. His goal was not only to make work that he was proud of, but work that would also sell.
He first gallery show was in New York City and he sold several sculptures within the first two weeks. Featuring sculptures of giraffes, leopards and elephants, his work began to sell all over the U.S. At one time Sanchez was on display in 12 galleries across the country, but after 9/11 things changed. He pulled his works from galleries, especially New York due to the economy. He now prefers to tour in major cities with his work in galleries in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Beijing. Many of his clients still come from New York, Colorado, Las Vegas and Chicago.
When asked why he still resides in El Paso after reaching success, Sanchez said the mountains and people remind him of his home.
“In Bolivia, we have a lot of influence from Mexico, so it was very easy to blend here,” said Sanchez. “We speak the same language here, we laugh at the same jokes, and that made it easy because in New York, none of my Spanish jokes were funny because I had to translate them to English and they didn’t work.”
Sanchez said he also enjoys meeting local aspiring artists and wishes to share his experiences with them in the hopes that they will continue pursuing their dreams. His career in sculpting didn’t begin until he was 46 years old, proving that one can learn and master a new skill at just about any age with the right attitude.
Sanchez is creating a new collection which still resembles nature but in the natural human form. Sanchez says he is having fun with his new sculptures and defining a new subject. “I feel blessed that I am able to explore beyond the animals and try something different. I am glad that I have tried a new subject matter,” stated Sanchez.
“I think that everything is possible as long as you believe in yourself and work hard,” said Sanchez. “People tell me how lucky I am and I promptly correct them and tell them, ‘It’s not about luck. Luck plays a very small part. It’s about determination, focus and never giving up.’”
Photographed by Victoria G. Molinar