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Tigre Bailando: Sacred Sculptures Inspired by Ancient Archetypes


Meredith Winner | October 3, 2017
From performance to interactive sculptures, this creator works at the intersection of the mythic and the contemporary.

Tigre Bailando’s Oakland loft sits in a fenced-in row of live/work studios near the Fruitvale neighborhood. His impeccable style could be described as “tribal hip-hop,” and he wears it well. After he welcomed me into his home, we took off our shoes and sat across from each other on couches beneath several of his pieces. His beautiful Maine Coon sauntered around, and sun poured through the windows while we talked.

A visual artist and performer, Tigre recently returned from Burning Man, where he created an interactive sculpture that doubled as a sacred space in the form of a 20-foot mysterious being called The Solacii. Tigre has developed his large-scale, sacred — there’s really no better word for them — sculptures over many years, ensuring that each fosters a relationship between the viewer and the work. His pieces, which have been shown at events and festivals since 2012, always evoke a powerful emotional response. His full body of work can be found here.

When did you start creating art?

As soon as I could hold a pencil.

Who have been some of your major influences?

Basquiat, Shrine (aka Brent Allen Spears), Joshua Mays, Anastazia Aranaga, Alfons Mucha, Hung Liu, Keith Haring, my mom… Carl Gustav Jung, Hayao Miyazaki, Brian Froud, Jim Henson. Also George Barrick, my pre-school teacher, my first art teacher, and an amazing artist.

How has your personal history informed your journey and progression as an artist?

I was raised in an incredibly artistic environment. I was always immersed in and surround by the arts — galleries, museums — and raised in a city, Philadelphia, that was covered by murals and [full of] people breakdancing and exploring hip-hop. My family was very supportive of my being an artist. That foundation was key. Building on that, my world travels and the people I’ve met have really led me on this path.

There’s a clear thematic thread throughout your work. How did this come about?

I was always interested in mythology and folktales, and from a young age, I was exposed not just to contemporary or to Western historical art, but to folk art and art from around the world. The ideas of these old stories, these archetypes, mythologies, and spiritualities of non-Western cultures were always really present, and they definitely infuse my work. My work comes from the intersection of contemporary art — in terms of street art — and these ancient, indigenous folk themes from around the world.

You are both a performer and a visual artist. How do these forms of expression work together?

The most obvious way is through my mask work, but I would also say that the sensitivities I’ve developed as a performer and the relationship to improvisation are definitely tools I bring into my creative process. On the flip side, my sense of visual composition, especially with sculpture, comes to play into my performances. I think of myself as a living sculpture.

What memorable interactions have you had as a result of your work?

The most gratifying thing about making installation work, especially in the context of festivals, is that I get to witness people engaging with my work. It’s hard to talk about… To watch somebody in a space that you built crying — literally brought to tears. Seeing that enlivened…

“Creating art is what drives me. It’s why I’m alive.”

Can you share a specific moment or moments?

At The Solacii at Burning Man, there was a woman who donated a significant amount of money to make the project a reality. She had just lost a member of her community, and she and her community used The Solacii as an instrument for their healing, to connect to this person they’d lost and to find peace.

My work is so much about connecting to the dead, having a relationship with the cycles of life and death, and creating spaces where you can be joyful and sad. A space where you can have that whole range of emotion and experience while feeling safe and held. Getting to witness that firsthand is why I keep doing this.

How do you typically land on an idea? Tell us about your creative process.

Often ideas just come to me. Some of them I pursue, some I write down, some I forget. The initial idea will come to me as a vision, and then there’s the process of drawing, sketching, refining… and mainly talking to people about it to let it evolve.

When a vision comes to you, is it in its final form?

No. The drawings and a lot of my two-dimensional work are often not premeditated, but no matter what I’m doing, there’s always a conversation, working through what both the muse and material are. If something were to come out exactly as it was in my head… That wasn’t the point and I did it wrong. It should evolve as the conversations happen.

What is your dream project?

Just one dream project? That’s tricky. It would be to create something that is engaged with communities that are processing collective trauma, [something that] is integral to that healing process.

What is the biggest driving factor behind why you create?

Because I have no choice. It’s what drives me. It’s why I’m alive.

For other creative people, join the Fernet-Branca Family

Photos by Sari Blum, unless noted

Meredith Winner is an art-enthusiast and advocate living in San Francisco. She is the co-founder of Building 180, an emerging artist representation and consulting company that focuses on public art placement, creation, and curation.


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