STEVE ESQUERRÉ consorts with
She's an original "one-namer", way before it was en vogue, make that faux en vogue: CaSSandra.. One is taken-aback when she appears. A Vargas Girl if ever there was one! Wisconsin born, California bred, New Orleans fed.
Why do you paint what you do?
Necessity! Experience! Inspiration! Until I made a Magic Table called "Spirit World", and then my entire world changed: Divine Intervention Rules.
I discovered I could paint when my father needed help with a deadline. He was painting billboard-size classic cars on a carry truck going to auction. He said my usual hand shaking would not show large scale. Enlightenment! A painter was freed from within, and not surprisingly, my original canvases were large-scale antique cars or corvettes. They had a distorted perspective or the fish-eye lens effect with artistic backgrounds.
During a four-year self-imposed exile into the Enchanted Minikin Museum (my studio/gallery) paintings reflected subjects of the rooms or topics of juried shows.
While building a Magic Tableand six spirit figures for the Louisiana Arts and Sciences Center competition, my first Voodoo doll appeared. I sat on the table meditating and asking for a sign. Do I have any talent? I need a product to support my painting habit! But what?
Tell us about the Minikins?
It was second request of the Magic Table? A product, a gimmick, an idea? Whether imagined, dreamed, hallucinated or conjured they appeared as if on bleachers, in a massive round room made of shinny black onyx in the belly of a floating ship. No words, just visuals, like a snapshot in 3D around you.
Aliens coming to Mardi Gras unnoticed. All Hell broke loose. The dolls took off out of my control. My fingers would not stop sewing for 17 years and the dolls kept coming. Be careful what you ask for comes to mind. A tortured artist caught between the Ying and yang of dolls versus painting. The more popular a particular doll became the more I hated each one. I called them, Little __'s, I won't say. They are like my babies and I love them. But it took infringement of my dolls and death to release me from the commercial hold.
The Mother of the Enchanted Minikins is a Mystic Alien called ISO. Original Mardi Gras Minikins mated with locals creating humor with attire, but havoc with the species.
Other Minikin aliens who stayed and hid in the swamps became meshed with the Folklore or the Louisiana Bayou Country. They are known as Apple Pie Ridge Rascals, Mystical! Mischievous! Animal or Plant Charm Dolls with Cajun heritage.
The third generation, Plantimals, is the most bizarre in appearance. They are the combination of plant and animal.
Making a doll out of anything loses its "reality". However only visuals can describe the dolls. Only painting of the Minikins would restore their life-likeness. Your love of the night.
What is that about?
Since birth my artist parents traveled back and forth across country from Wisconsin to New Mexico, Arizona, and California. That was unconventional at the time. It was a ritual in itself over and over again throughout our life. I remember the convertibles and night travel. The floor was my bed and the drive shaft kept me warm, yet it was like living in the sky. You are watching the stars move, and just a touch of cool brushes your face with the smell of fresh air. A real tranquil feeling … so quiet. I called it my "Fix of Night".
Today my Fix of Night chases that feeling. The best I do is strap a light on my head and walk, bike or roller blade after 10:30. Except for rituals. Some people are night people, the lights are always on and we are always up creating in silence and without interruption.
Your full moon rituals, your altar, your special room…, how did they come about?
The "Full Moon Rituals" are another quest for the Fix of Night, but under a full moon celebration for good luck. The full moon recharges both man and a crystal ball. Yes I have one!
ALTAR OF CANDLES This room contains the Magic Table. I wear ritual attire, ancient Indian pawn jewelry, and painted face. Luck comes to moss blessed or ingredients mixed or strung under a full moon ritual. I am famous for my Lucky Voodoos, however many dolls carry the lucky bag and garlic pendant from this altar room. ALTAR OF LIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE is upstairs. There, the Book of Knowledge, Mystic Rights, Healing Arts, and the LightKNIGHT of The Brazen Serpent is kept. Two Nommo are Protectors of The Magic Door. The aroma of fresh herbs, incense, and baskets of seeds, herbs, roots and mushrooms will draw you inside. All scripts, words, poetry and doll stories are told and written here. The room's purpose is a healthy body, spirit and mind, for creating. Light- is both darkness and light, and man, the ultimate energy..
PSYCHOMANTIUM ROOM It is a walk-in closet painted black. Everything inside is black. Black velvet curtains come down to cover anything un-black. One wall is a mirror. Water drips setting the mood for total meditation or something spiritual. Stark black … total peace, silence or hypnotic trance! You have to try it to understand. It was something I read about. It stops headaches, clears a mind, or brings new insight. Some communicate with the after life. I prepare items for rituals, and review my works in progress here also. The purpose is a trip inside your soul or self-understanding.
The rooms were made because I wanted answers, luck, direction, energy, or peace of mind. Something you can't buy! So you create it yourself.
Tell us about you. How did you become an artist?
Literally I was born into art. Dad was torn between art and his football career as a Packer and Cleveland Brown. He went to art school with my mother and another school with Walt Disney, later working for him. My parents had a school/studio out west. I watched painting from my crib. I could make "brown" and paint the wall with my diaper. That is until the icebox offered up a lot of new colors. The floor was my canvas. It is a gut desire that stays with you always. My parents inspired me as a baby, then punished me for the mess. My painting would be a long time off, as chaos reigned. Artists have a tug of war between survival and art, family and art, work and art and relationships. You try and you stop…over and over again.
One day you just walk out on life as it is and QUIT! I'm going to paint and nothing will stop me. How selfish! And it is. You are resented. Artists are not respected until they are successful. What is success? Great art or great Money?
One husband said the level of success is determined by the amount you earn. He was a retired Rear-Admiral. Is that hourly, weekly, or monthly? I asked. Then I put 800 dolls on QVC and sold $28,000 worth in three minutes. Top that! Do I have respect as an artist so I can quit and go paint? It is the age old money argument in relationships between artists and their partners. Ironically, the Admiral gave me freedom to work. I exercised my right to be an artist. I always was one.
Inspiration is life. For me it comes from walking on the edge of the ring-of- fire. Sometimes you go up in flames, or you bail out. Hopefully, you bring something back from the experience and call it ART.
Those formative years: who/what made the greatest impact on you?
The negative: Going hungry a lot- knowing your Aunt and Uncle own a large grocery store chain. My father and his sister did not speak after she refused to lend him $10. He said her response was they would not have what they have if they loaned money. They never spoke for the rest of his life. Let's see how much is $10 from millions?
My father was born with severe asthma and eczema, sometimes weeping eczema. It did play a part in his leaving for the West when the weather changed.
My migraines controlled my life. Since I had awful pain, the shakes, threw up, couldn't see, passed out often in school- I don't remember school. Lots of missing time.
Wisconsin: Solid people, too cold; especially if you're poor! It takes 3 seasons of different clothing for your entire family. Wisconsin is Vanilla!
Impact on my art? Lots of classic car paintings.
California- Smells great. Cost too much. Saw everything to see young. Good life-education by Dad on every trip. Too many people.
However, my son was born in Oakland, my sister in Palo Alto. I did go to school there and spent much time. Can't remember much of my past probably because of the migraines and CHAOS. Maybe that's how I became somewhat of a Split Personality.
OHH…MY WEST! Arizona and New Mexico. Sunset and night skies can't be beat. Magic is there. It influenced my art from birth since I lived there the second month after I was born in Milwaukee. The Indian influence, weather- you don't need shoes! Only one season of clothing. Easy cost to live. And my favorite- not a lot of people. All the space you need so an artist can do what they want in their own yard- The West is like many flavors. It's mystical and magic and earthy
I like the desert- hate subdivisions.
Louisiana has its points. (Flavor) Unfortunately its downfall is people. The best place to be is in the swamp. You'll have to read my book to find out what I take from here. Don't bring your art here! They don't respect copyright...
Positive Influences: Dad taught us to go forward strong at the lowest levels. Mom had a photographic memory and had a new basket of books every night. Made knowledge important. She was family bound at the cost of her art and in the shadow of Dad's art.
Are you political, religious?
I am not political because I know unseen forces control the government. Religious no, I can't do anything religiously, even believe. Spiritually I am a Rosicrucian where an open mind and knowledge of all beliefs is encouraged. We believe man exists for the sole purpose of gaining knowledge.
What started you painting again?
The Dracula 2000 movie purchased my dolls as props. When it was discovered I painted, 3 paintings were used as props. Before the experience was over, I was told my dolls are great, unique; but, the paintings are awesome and powerful and I should be painting!
A script came into my possession at the same time. Reading it, I ended up painting in the Magic Room. Everything, script and all, went on the Magic Table for luck. One character I painted kept haunting me. The scriptwriter said his father was an artist. My unfinished painting, Golden Minotaur, kept saying find the artist with each stroke of the brush. It drove me crazy. I had to know him and what his art looked like. The search became that bizarre walk on the edge of the ring-of-fire. It was literally a search for a not-real character: Johnny, who actually existed. When I found Johnny and his paintings, my art became a study of the strange artist drowning in chaos. I knew from his artwork, he was not the same man who made those paintings long ago. Yet, somewhere inside that talented artist existed. First we cleared his living room, painted it white, cleaned up his paintings and hung them like it was a studio. Each of us was inspired. After a long year and a half of forced silence that meeting became my future. Today we work together. It is a relationship with an artist found through a real movie, an unknown script, and an unfinished painting. It is an example of Divine Intervention and paintings with soul.
Another writer, more scripts, and inspiration. It was also a time where my subject was scars (mental and physical) and I needed to write in preparation for my books. Painters see scars as beautiful works of art.
Your "Sandra" years in Wisconsin?
I was born in Milwaukee, but lived everywhere between moves out west. Sometimes dad went alone leaving us with relatives. He was raised wealthy until the age of 11 when his father died. Things changed over time. His story is in some Milwaukee paper. My grandmother disowned my dad for marrying my mother; he sued his mother for his missing inheritance. We knew one world but lived in the other: that of the starving artist.
The family rift was unbearable. To name a few, cities we lived in Wisconsin included Milwaukee, Elm Grove, Waukesha, Appleton, Madison, Mc Farland, Brookfield, and many I forgot. Sometimes we lived in Ohio. Often we returned to the same cities over and over again years later. School was a flash of buildings in various places. One school year my brother made 7 or 9 schools and flunked.
My grandparents had the Edge of Woods Motel on the main highway outside Milwaukee, in Brookfield, which is now a huge rest home. It had an impact on me growing up. We spent lots of time there. Probably Grandma's punishment! It was the only thing stable in our life. We were not. It would always be there when we returned from chaos. You can't go barefoot in Wisconsin! Before you turned around Dad disappeared into the west or somewhere? My father could not stay away from California. And my mother could not stay away from Dad. Eventually, we went west to meet up with him. We lived many places there too. Palo Alto, Danville, Oakland, Redwood City, Covington, Walnut Creek and so on. It was all so confusing. When you hand paint billboards and signs across America you eventually loose your fine art perspective. Your eyesight goes and there is no time left to paint before life is over.
Life comes full circle. I am compiling books of my art and planning a tour/trip out West, where I can look for land to build a private home and studio near an art community. I wished for my father's talent in the spirit world. When you have no training, sometimes you look at your work and wonder. Is it DNA or me?
You can't catch up to her to do that!
Remember nothing could exist without dark where all things are created and given birth. Dark is only a shade of Light! Once creation takes place then the other shade of Light shines on what has come to exist so everyone else can see.
To find peace on earth we must "live" above the chaos. There will always be chaos. We should contribute what good we can to leave behind when we are gone. That is our only purpose here and in the "flash of light" our spirits have left the building forever! So we must leave behind a good script, book, painting or something to live on that says something about what purpose we served in the time we were given. Who were we? What did we have to say?
Well, one person, as you well know, can rekindle the flame of artistic endeavor. I need two: one for my writing, one my painting.
CaSSandra is accessible at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2004 Steve Esquerré
Steve Esquerré is a writer, playwright
and a contributing writer to Scene4.
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