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Pop culture to social activism: Joe De La Cruz and his t-shirt art!

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Last night, Style Lush TV attended the highly anticipated Artists Looking at Art event at the McNay Museum featuring interviewee, Joe De La Cruz. Known for his exquisite drawings of isolated objects, Joe De La Cruz began with the infancy of his work and took us on a time line ride of how his work has evolved over the years.

Recently, he has launched a collection of graphite drawings featuring tools, shoes, inflatables, clothing, prayer candles and other objects that, in his words, “were things he could not afford as a kid”. The unbelievable drawings are created by using a single pencil, different pressures on the paper as well as other artistic techniques. While the entire collection is captivating to look at, it’s his series of t-shirts that caught Style Lush TV’s attention for more reasons than just the inarguable talent. His series is both light hearted and controversial, starting with the fun nostalgic meaning behind 90’s band tees and leading to the more sensitive issues of social activism.

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There is no question about it, in the 90’s, band t-shirts meant more than just easy breezy casual attire. They were apparel armor that communicated who you were, what you stood for, and yes, even what kind of people you wished to attract. Granted De La Cruz is mid thirties like yours truly, so we were both teenagers at the time, but a lot of what he said made absolute sense to me. “At that age, I think you look at people in a room, be it music venue, party… and you look for the ones that you might have things in common with. T-shirts were a way of communicating. If you saw something you could identified with, you know, you’d flock to that.” said De La Cruz. “I don’t wear t-shirts with bands or messages on them anymore but, I personally find it to be a really nice and profound way that we connect to one another.”

His series of tees goes from nostalgic pop culture to artistic expressions of social activism. “This is where things got a little strange for me” De La Cruz admits. “I was doing these tees based off of important issues of the time yes, but also, exploring different artistic techniques at the same time. Somehow though, they seemed to upset certain people. I’m still not sure why.” De La Cruz squirms in his seat a bit. It is quite obvious that he in no way meant to upset anyone with his art.

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He goes on to list some of the fun he had perfecting his techniques: exploring more rendering, seeing how he could bring the hanging cord of a hoodie to life, playing with black on white and grey on white. Still, there is no denying that the power of these perfectly executed pieces stems from the messages across the chest. One reads, “Silence = Death”, another “Black Lives Matter” and finally, “Su Voto Es Su Voz” (Your Vote Is Your Voice). These t-shirts were not designed by De La Cruz; they merely served as the reference for his drawings. Still, when the online launch of these pieces were first made, they ignited some very strong opinions (and a list facebook comment threads) from the viewers. But isn’t that what good art is supposed to do? Make you feel something? Inspire conversation? These have become some of De La Cruz’s most recognizable works and for good reason. Not only are the unbelievable to look at, they have managed to time capsule some very important issues of our generation.

You can now go see some of his extraordinary pieces in person. For the next two months the McNay Museum will have them on display among works in the “Mi McNay es Su McNay” exhibition located in their Frost Gallery. The McNay is located at 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave., San Antonio, TX 78209. See their website for exhibit hours.

Follow artist Joe De La Cruz on INSTAGRAM at @SilkwormProject

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Next: It's fashion-centric film season at Alamo Drafthouse!