Art With A Bark

A new foot-long pizza dog is being unveiled at Southwest University Park, but it’s not a crossbred snack to nosh on as you’re watching the ballgame. It’s a ceramic Chihuahua…wait for it…painted like a pizza.

And that’s just one of 40 Chihuahua statues, the themes ranging from food, Pop Art, robots and beyond, on display this summer at El Paso’s new ballpark.

The concept—which makes reference to Walter Knapp’s Cows on Parade exhibit of the ‘90s and the angel-themed public art installations found in Los Angeles—is intended to highlight the city’s fervor for its year-old Triple-A Chihuahuas, as well as the working relationship between Creative Kids and the stadium. The statues were painted by the Saturday Art Class (aka Project SAC) at Creative Kids (located in the Union Depot District), as well as the organization’s after school program in Fabens, which is sponsored by Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s IGNITE Initiative.

Piece by a student at Creative Kids
Piece by a student at Creative Kids

But this is no arts and crafts project. With an emphasis on theory and process, even the youngest children in the class (which ranges from 8-18) usually worked from 10 a.m. well into the afternoon, with some staying for four to five hours every week. A few even took the statues home to complete the project on their own time.

“The kids really embraced the challenge…they didn’t just do the easy thing,” says Kate Waggoner, one of the SAC art instructors, stating that the conceptualizing moved the kids past the idea of “painting the dog to look like a dog,” eschewing cartoon character concepts and decorative work for more inventive themes. So instead of just handing over the statues for painting, the project kicked off with hours of brainstorming, sketching and refining their ideas. “We did spend one whole day finding sources of inspiration, working out color theory and coming up with a concept,” says Waggoner. “They’re really supposed to draw from art history, modern art—we put out a bunch of images, from Warhol to Pop Art to magazine clippings, everything that could give them inspiration.”

Workshopping helped to further flesh out the concepts. “So long as they worked through the idea, and that it was strong enough that we all agreed as a group it was a really good idea, they could do it,” says Waggoner, whose background is in graphic design. “It’s always about refining it to make it more creative, more original.”

The resultant themes range from food (there are pizza and watermelon dogs) to art references from traditional Mexican folk art to Rauschenberg. Rounding out the mix are robot dogs and dogs painted to look like other animals.

A wall at Olo Gallery displaying the work of its students
A wall at Olo Gallery displaying the work of its students

One of my little ones brought in a picture of a lizard,” says Art Instructor Christin Apodaca, who has volunteered with Creative Kids for the past few years, and before that created art with the non-profit as a teenager. “She liked the scales. It had these crazy little lizard eyeballs.”

Another artistic hurdle was the medium itself, as class projects up to this point had only involved working on paper, posters and other 2-D formats. Part of the project involved teaching the students how to observe the surface design of a 3-D object as opposed to something flat. “Most of these kids hadn’t painted on a 3-D object before, so you have to take a couple steps back and really plan how you can see the object,” says Apodaca. “To throw a 3-D piece in the mix made it more difficult.”

A student at Creative Kids working on her chihuahua piece
A student at Creative Kids working on her chihuahua piece

Even with all the planning, many students found painting the 12-inch ceramic Chihuahua a continual challenge, revisiting and revising their concepts throughout the project. “As they started painting I’d go around the room and flip the dog over and say, ‘What do you see?’ And I’d see white. They had to decide how to paint the underneath of the dog as well,” says Apodaca.

The Chihuahuas are on display now at Southwest University Park. Harmonizing the canine-theme of the project, the statues will be presented to the team as part of Bark in the Park, one of three dates this year when fans are encouraged to bring their dogs to the ballgame, on August 2. The team will wear Creative Kids-designed jerseys, which will be auctioned off later that evening, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Creative Kids.

Both instructors are eager to show off their students’ hard work. “They put their heart and soul into making it as creative and artistic as possible. They really opened up to the process,” says Waggoner, “and I think that speaks to the viewer in a fantastic way.” [themify_icon icon=”fa-circle” icon_color=”#ec008b” ]

Photos by Kate Waggoner