Many artists claim that their work is multidisciplinary. But Eduardo Sarabia’s (BFA Fine Arts '99) varied practice includes painting, sculpture, mezcal making and even treasure hunting. “There’s a lot of fantasy and imagination involved in my work,” he says, seated in his studio on the first floor of a 1950s industrial building in the Zapopan district of Guadalajara, Mexico. He shows me the handcrafted, blue-and-white Talavera-style ceramic tiles he’s produced for an upcoming solo exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium. In place of the typical Talavera motifs of flora and fauna, one piece is adorned with crossed swords and floating pills, the other reads “Mas Oro” (“More Gold”). “Everything comes from a real place,” he says. “That’s why I love what I do. I get to share these stories — my stories.”
Sarabia, 42, grew up in East Los Angeles, at the time a hub for the Chicano art movement. Both of his parents had migrated to California from the Mexican state of Sinaloa in the early 1970s: His father, the eldest of 14, was promised a job at a Safeway warehouse; his mother joined soon after, crossing the border in Tijuana. (Both are now American citizens.) “As marginalized, low-income, project kids, you had to dream,” Sarabia remembers. “It was such a big part of succeeding in the American life.” Making art was what got Sarabia “out of the neighborhood and gangs and that kind of world,” he says. When a primary-school teacher noticed his unusual drawing abilities, she encouraged his parents to take him to the Saturday conservatory art course at California State University in Los Angeles. There, he met another prodigy: a young Kehinde Wiley. “We were the inner-city kids paraded around, doing contests and having our photo taken with the mayor,” Sarabia jokes. After graduating from Otis College of Art and Design, and a stint in film production, Sarabia caught the attention of the New York art dealer Paul Judelson. His now-defunct I-20 Gallery gave Sarabia his first solo exhibition in 2001.
Image: The artist Eduardo Sarabia in front of a work in progress at his studio in Guadalajara. Credit: Ricardo Ramos.