From collages to puppets, for Charles Aguilar, art is magic — or “magik,” as he spells it in his artist’s statement for his new show at Grace Ridge Brewery.
Art “comes from a place deep within our dreams and subconscious,” he writes in the description of his show.
“I’m a firm believer in the world of magic and the world of art and how it works,” Aguilar said in a phone interview on Monday. “… This whole idea of what art does — it’s the power you put into it. That’s what I’m trying to tap into with the art that I do.”
Born and raised in San Fernando, California — “Bing Crosby’s backyard,” he said — Aguilar is from the Acjaehemen tribe in the San Capistrano area. Mostly self-taught, he attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, studying theater. He credits relatives and mentors who gave him a background in the arts by taking him to museums and teaching him about literature and art. Recently turned 50, Aguilar first came to Homer to visit Nancy Johnson, a friend from California. They fell in love and he settled here and married Johnson eight years ago. Known for her dot painting technique, Johnson also is an artist and had a show at Grace Ridge in January.
For a show he did at Bunnell Street Arts Center in December 2020 and at his new show at Grace Ridge, Aguilar primarily works in collages, assemblages of found art and graphics from places like old pulp comic books.
“A lot of his collage pieces that I like are so carefully cut and simple, but the images he says he’s been carrying around for years,” said Brianna Allen, executive director at Bunnell. “As artists, that’s what we do: We collect and collect until one moment we put them together and show them.”
Aguilar said he takes inspiration from several artists, but is most influenced in collage by the work of Winston Smith, a collage artist who did the album art for the punk rock band Dead Kennedys. A musician as well, Aguilar plays guitar, ukulele and harmonica, and in California was in a punk band, Car Crash Girl Friend.
The art of Smith “just blew me away,” Aguilar said.
“That whole idea of how he is able to take these images and put them together with other and create a subtext … I found that very powerful,” he said.
Aguilar finds the images for his collages mostly from old books. Locally, the bookstore An Observance of Hermits has been a treasure trove for him.
“I love to find old bookstores. I love to go to yard sales and find books,” he said. “… I love to find things that have been used a tear apart.”
The 1960s Time-Life book series that covered everything from science to the Old West has proven to be particularly valuable, Aguilar said.
“They’re just cluttered with images,” he said. “It’s great stuff. I just really dig it.”
He said he remembered as a kid going to an uncle’s house where he found a pile of old comics in the corner, the kind of comics that had advertisements for things like X-ray spectacles.
“What’s going to pop out? What’s going to call me?” Aguilar said of the images he finds. “I put things together. In my world, it does it itself. They’re going to go where they need to go. … Out of all the chaos, the order comes out, the image.”
Aguilar also creates large, wearable puppets. Some are political, like a Donald Trump puppet he wore at a protest last month against the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots. For the March for Women after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, Aguilar made and wore a giant puppet holding the earth in her hands that he called “Inez” and said represented all women.
“She’s very much a symbol of my own mother in the sense she works very, very hard,” Aguilar said.
Other puppets have been apolitical, like that of a sandhill crane Aguilar made for the Bunnell Street Arts Center’s Dinner in the Street fundraiser. He also has worn his puppets at Salmonfest.
Allen said she and Bunnell found it great to work with Aguilar.
“He was just ready to do something together,” Allen said. “… He’s just a ‘yes’ kind of guy. That’s so great to have in a collaborative project.”
In wearing his puppets, Aguilar said he draws on his theater background.
“With the puppets, with the performance, you become that thing,” he said. “You’re able to step out of yourself and become this thing and explore it.”
Elsewhere in the Homer art scene, Aguilar also has worked with artist Mavis Muller on her Burning Basket projects. Muller took him under her wing, he said.
“In conjunction with working with her, it just pulled that punch and gets you right there,” he said. “That’s powerful. I think that kind of energy, that kind of magic she has is amazing. I’m glad she shares it with me.”
Aguilar said he wanted to thank Allen and Bunnell Street Arts Center artistic director Asia Freeman for encouraging him in his art. One of his first pieces shown in Homer was at Bunnell’s 10-by-10 show.
“They’re fully instrumental in assisting me and inspiring me to do things,” he said. “… I do have to thank them for giving me that opportunity to do my art. They also were inspirational to me. They kicked me in the butt and said I had to do something.”