Masked for your pleasure, by Johnny Otto
Sometimes you are focused on work that is outside the realm of the art world, but then you meet someone from that special place where only a few dare to tread. I met Bryan Lopez (Aka: Mayan Mask) one fateful night while working at a bar in West Hollywood and began to chat with him and discovered that we both had an attraction to MASKS and the mysterious power that they possess. I’ve been wanting to interview him for a long time and finally got the chance recently. So, read it…
Let’s start in the beginning. When and where did you first say to yourself, “I am an artist and this is my art?”
My father was an oppressed artist from Guatemala, he was a Calligrapher. my parents crossed the border to escape a vicious civil war in Guatemala that murdered thousands of people, they crossed to give their children a fighting chance, to give us an opportunity at a better life in Los Angeles. I remember sometimes waking up early to catch my dad before he went to work, he settled for a truck driving job to put food on the table. We would sit around the kitchen table, I would be there enjoying a cup of milk with “pan dulce,”(sweet bread)from our local bakery and he would be there with his cup of coffee, it became our ritual, our routine, our chance to connect. That kitchen table meant a lot to us. That was one of my first memories of creating something I was proud of, my dad would take out some play-doh, we would really enjoy getting lost in sculpting together. I loved it, he encouraged my artistic side at a young age, I felt like I was an artist, and my sculptures were my art. He passed away shortly after that. One of my final memories I have is waiting at the kitchen table, eventually going underneath it and curling up under the sun rays shining through our window, I waited there for a long time, so long that I remember slipping into my first real meditation by accident. He never came back home, but his creativity still lives on and I honor his spirit through my art.
What is so fascinating about a mask and why are you in particular drawn to it?
Masks are inherently sacred. They grant a transformation to occur. Wearers go through a radical change into mythical beings, Jaguars, saints, serpents, warriors, archetypal personae, conquerors, conquered, freedom fighters, or modern heroes. Flesh made pure. Channeling a spirit, a power to support or subvert energy. My father’s funeral was conducted in Guatemala, My mom did her best to respect his wishes, his body was shipped there from LA, he wanted to be buried in his village. His concrete grave stood out amongst the tombstones. We would visit Guatemala often to pay our respects. That’s when I really started to get exposed to my roots and culture. Those trips to Guatemala are invaluable/ unforgettable, I would not be the artist I am today without the influence from local Guatemalan painters, elaborate tapestry makers, and poor wood carving mask makers. Mask making is my way of staying connected and sharing my culture with you. Every mask has a story, every mask captures and can bring out a wearers mood or energy. It’s liberating to wear a mask, especially when it comes to performing. To hide a face is to ignite an inner/ outer freedom and have a chance at channeling some spirit greater than yourself.
Tell me about your greatest influences, as far as other Artists?
Besides my father, mother, brother, and sisters, I found the Anonymous LA street graffiti artist very influential. Along with the street art, I was fortunate enough to come across several famous artists, mostly by accident, but once I got a taste, I couldn’t get enough: some of my greatest influences are : Bansky, Salvador Dali, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, Bob Ross, Stan Winston, Walt Disney, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Tom Savini, Roy Lichtenstein, David Choe, Shepard Fairey, Blek Le Rat, Retna, Invader, Vhils, mayahayuk, Hueman, and Yayoi Kusama just to scratch the surface. They made it, If they can, we can too.
Who would you most like to collaborate with, living artist?
Shepard fairey’s art is international, his wheatpastes/ stickers have a global reach. I respect his DIY spirit and his rebellious attitude towards art in the city with no bounds. Our job as artists is to question authority, break borders, inspire, and overcome oppression/ censorship. Shepard taught me that it is possible to make it as a street artist one wheatpaste poster, one sticker, one stencil, one step at a time. I would love to collaborate with him and create a worldwide campaign celebrating Freedom of the artistic spirit. We need art now more than ever, we need art leaders now more than ever. Only through art can we unite as one to defeat the corporate forces of evil decimating the land, distorting our minds, and corrupting the human spirit. It is up to us to be the light in the dark.
What is the collective that you are part of and how did it form?
Crewnative is an art collective founded by my brother, sister, friends, and myself. We were all just very frustrated with the lack of support and closed off gallery opportunities, so we decided to do something about it. We flipped the system on its head and started hosting our own art shows, all have been free for the community. Crewnative has grown and matured into a growing family offering, what I like to call “Community art therapy sessions” through our (21+) underground art events and (All Age) community art nights. Our purpose is to create climates in which individual creativity grows and flourishes through the exposure & practice of the arts. We have worked in underprivileged areas in Los Angeles. Every event re-assures me that we are doing something right, we are giving back to our community, improving it wherever we pop-up. Art belongs to everybody, everyone should have an opportunity to express themselves and share their stories. We are here to make a positive impact, we are here to give people a chance to use their voice. I am honored to be a member of Crewnative. Americans are less creative today than they were 25 years ago, a trend that is being coined the “creativity crisis.” We are the antidote to this crisis, since 2016, Crewnative has hosted 9 pop up galleries, over 20 Crewnative art night parties, and coordinated over 35 community art nights in underprivileged communities. This is only the beginning, the sky’s the limit, One day we dream of legalizing street art in Los Angeles in order to positively impact our local economy, practice freedom of expression, and decrease gang violence. The brush is mightier than the gun. Just paint, unite, and have some fun.
Any upcoming shows for you or what are you focusing on now?
I am currently focused on finding spaces to host more art events for Crewnative in Los Angeles. I’m also working on several canvases and live fire painting anywhere I can. Crewnative is aiming for a mini-show on November 1st, 2019. We are currently fundraising for our big art event on January 11th, 2020. Let us know if you are interested in participating or helping us in anyway you can. We are open to collaborating and have an open call for sponsors. It was a privilege to share my story with you, Thank you for reading this. Together we will be victorious. Follow your dreams. Art is the way. Spread love, end hate, just create.