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El Campo artist's metal sculptures sparking oil spill conversations


Aug. 3, 2010 at 3:03 a.m.

Frank Aguilar, of El Campo, poses for a portrait at Koenig Welding Services. Aguilar is a welder and sculptor whose work is displayed at Hasting Hardback Café. The work was inspired by the Gulf oil spill.

The tangle of wires suspended on the wall of Hastings Hardback Cafe tells a story of tragedy.

But there is only a vague darkness to the metal sculptures until you look closely at them.

"You can't explain to somebody your inner emotions, whether it's grief, love or whatever life brings to you," said artist Frank Aguilar. "My outlet is ... my immediate feelings for tragedies."

"Crude Shrimp," "Crude Beach People," "Crude Squid" and "Crude Wind" comprise Aguilar's welded renderings inspired by the Gulf oil spill. The pieces are on sale for as much as $65.

Tragedies figure frequently into Aguilar's work. In fact, his first metal sculptures were crafted in light of Sept. 11.

Since then, his work has been inspired by tragedies such as 2004's tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the human smuggling attempt that killed 19 immigrants in Victoria and now the BP oil spill.

Aguilar sees himself as the antithesis of BP, which he said has compromised the ecosystem in its deepwater search for oil off the shores of Louisiana.

"I'm not looking for riches," he said. "I'm looking to enlighten myself and enlighten others."

Since he was 20, Aguilar has been plying his trade in welding. He dropped out of high school because of his heavy involvement in the migrant worker system.

Aguilar was born in Hallettsville to Mexican immigrants. His father died when Aguilar was a child.

Aguilar's artwork is also deeply informed by his spirituality. The 50-year old El Campo man has become increasingly devoted to his Catholic faith over the years. The Bible is a frequent source of inspiration for him, he said.

Although religious symbols often show up as motifs in his sculptures, he prefers to build abstract figures in his art. Abstract pieces tend to evoke deep thinking, he said, and one of his main goals as an artist is to get viewers to study themselves, not just the art.

Keenly aware of the oil and gas tradition in Texas and the area, the welder-artist, whose cell phone number is listed on the placards that accompany the pieces, has not received any complaints, yet.

But, in general, the criticism he receives includes people who take exception to his constantly dark themes. Even his wife tells him that instead of depicting tragedies, he should carve out rainbows, he said.

"When you hide the negative part, it's like being in an abusive family," he said. "The victim always clings to the abuser."

Rather than cover up abuse, Aguilar hopes to shine a light on it.

"Humanity, from day one, has been trying to cover things up - whether it's a story, whether it's a facelift whether it's a severed arm with a prosthesis," he said.

Stephanie Zapata, manager of the cafe, said reactions from customers have run the gamut from not getting it to having it spark a conversation about the oil spill. She said many of the cafe's customers who took notice of Aguilar's sculptures are coming back and bringing their friends to look at them.

Zapata said Aguilar's work is having the effect that he set out to achieve: bringing the oil spill to the forefront of people's minds.

"(People) hear about (the oil spill) in the news, and they just continue their lives," she said. "He likes to make things so that people will still remember about it."

Aguilar cracked open a fortune cookie and read the soothsaying script aloud:

"Keep your face to the sun, and you will never see the shadows."

But Aguilar will inevitably see the shadows, he said, because he makes them.



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