About Larry Yáñez's
The Monthter What Ate the Thity

INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK

SUBJECT MATTER: What subject matter (people, places, or things) can I find in the artwork?

The Monthter What Ate the Thity depicts a monthter (monster) with hands, feet, spiky hair, eyes, nose and a gaping mouth with upper teeth. Seven figures stand on the extended tongue of the monthter. In the back of the monster's mouth stand two high rise building before a twilight sky complete with moon and stars.

Larry Yáñez provides the following text to accompany The Monthter What Ate the Thity:

Late at night
When the moon
Is bright,
When everyone
Should be asleep.
The monthter
Comes to eat
The thity.
Little by little
It creeps up,
Devouring...
No one can escape
When it comes
To reclaim
What was its
In the first place.

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?)

Larry Yáñez constructed The Monthter What Ate the Thity from flat pieces of wood and metal flashing. He transformed the shape of boards by sawing lines, sawing and removing pieces around the edges, and sawing holes into the board (eyes and mouth). He carved faces on the small figures. He used tin snips to cut metal flashing. He pierced and bent the metal. He joined parts with glue, nails, and screws. Finally be painted the wooden parts of the construction, sometimes painting in layers, one color upon another. Yáñez spray painted the metal sky and its moon.

Yáñez states "I work in mixed media because sometimes the media at hand is the easiest to deal with at that time."

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see in the artwork? (line, color, shape, light and dark, texture, mass, and space)

The Monthter What Ate the Thity is free standing. The back is not finished. The figures are freestanding and placed at various angles. The buildings, pupils of the monthter's eyes, and nose are in relief, that is, they are attached to a background surface. The mass of the monthter is formed by vertical and horizontal planes. Space intrudes into the sculpture in the mouth and eyes. The sculpture extends into the surrounding space with its limbs and spikes, and especially with its cantilevered tongue.

Colors are wide ranging and mostly bright. The sculpture incorporates both angular and curvilinear shapes.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together? (For example, are parts repeated, balanced, emphasized, contrasted?)

A series of devices create a deep sense of space in the mouth of the monthter. The space in the mouth begins at the back with the painted illusion of infinite sky space. The relief (attached) buildings occupy real space, but are restricted by their attachment to a surface. The freestanding figures move forward from the interior to the exterior space of the sculpture. The illusion of depth is accentuated by the contrast of the warm colors of the monthter with the receding deep blue of the painted sky.

Right angles are repeated throughout the sculpture in the relationships of parts making up the figures, as well as in the construction of the monthter. The repeated spiky shape of eye pupils, teeth, and the outside edge of the head also unify the sculpture. In stark contrast to all these angles are a simple circle in the center of the sculpture and a multitude of dots decorating the surface of much of the piece. In addition to dots covering the front and sides of the monthter and its tongue, the dots extend back on the top surface of the tongue, are repeated on the shirts of a couple of the figures, and in slightly different form, are repeated in the windows of the buildings and the stars scattered across the sky.

REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction (digitized or printed image) is different from the original artwork? (size, angle of view, surface texture, etc.)

No single photograph can do justice to The Monthter What Ate the Thity. Its extensions out into space and its major interior hollow space make it appear very different when viewed from different angles.

The sculpture is difficult to light evenly because of its complex masses and interior spaces. The largest image reproduces the range of colors, though they are a bit darker than the original work. The somewhat bumpy surface created by layered paint is visible in the largest reproduction. Although the color is washed out in some views of the QuickTime Virtual Reality reproduction, this version most effectively captures the exciting transformation the sculpture undergoes as one views from different directions as well as from high and low viewpoints.

An exhibitor is likely to display The Monthter What Ate the Thity on a pedestal or table surface because it is only about two feet high. He or she would likely place the sculpture against a wall because the back is unfinished.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition (broken, restored, dirty) of the artwork? How did it look when it was new?

The Monthter What Ate the Thity is in excellent condition.


INFORMATION ABOUT THE ART MAKER

ART MAKER'S LIFE: Who made the artwork? What are the circumstances of the art maker's life?

Larry Yáñez grew up and still lives Arizona. He attended a Catholic elementary school and public high school in Yuma. He began his university education studying music and art at Arizona Western College, and, in 1979, completed his Bachelors of Fine Arts from Arizona State University in sculpture.

Yáñez' work has been included in many exhibitions across Arizona, as well as in Colorado, New Mexico, California, Washington, DC, Texas, New York, Mexico, Spain, Germany, and France. His works are in the collections of the National Museum of American Art, the Wight Art Gallery and Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles, the Denver Art Museum, the Albuquerque Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Fresno Art Museum, the Tucson Art Museum, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Bronx Museum of Art, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, and the Galeria Sin Fronteras in Austin, Texas. He is currently the Traveling Exhibitions Coordinator of the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

In addition to being an active, exhibiting artist, Yáñez is also a practicing musician. He is a member of three performing groups, including "Jacalope," which has produced four albums.

Rudy Turk, Director Emeritus of the Arizona State University's Art Museum, described Yáñez this way: "I've known this happy paragon of artistic virtue for more than 20 years, ever since he was a student gallery assistant at the ASU Art Museum. He has changed very little in looks or nature over the years. His luxurious black hair and ferocious mustache are threaded with silver, but his large brown eyes and bright teeth still are used to great effect for dramatic scowls, sneers, and smiles. His distinctive laugh--ranging from a robust heartiness to a silly tee-hee--is contagious, And he still laughs a helluva lot." (Rudy Turk, "Valley Notebook," Fall 1995, Valley Guide Quarterly, p. 27.)


CONTEXTUAL INFORMATION

NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where the artwork was made? (for example, climate, landforms, natural resources)

Southern Arizona, where Larry Yáñez grew up and lives today, is part of the Sonoran Desert. The climate is arid and hot. Temperatures rise over 100 degree for several summer months and seldom reach below freezing in winter. When irrigated the land is fertile. In its natural state many desert animals (such as jack rabbits, quail, rattlesnakes, lizards, and wild pigs) and plants (many varieties of cacti, palo verde and mesquite trees, and other desert vegetation) thrive in the severe climate. The often flat landscape is broken by several mountain ranges and isolated buttes.

FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

Larry Yáñez had children in mind as viewers when he made The Monthter What Ate the Thity. Yáñez depiction of a brightly colored, cartoon-like monthter, as well as his lisping title, is consistent with his aim to amuse children (as well as adults).

A friend reports "When I asked Larry if he aspired to make it big as an artist, he responded. 'If it happens, OK, but I only want to do it if it is fun.'" (Rudy Turk, "Valley Notebook," in the Fall 1995 issue of Valley Guide Quarterly, p. 28)

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Larry Yáñez speaks to a southwestern culture, primarily but not always urban, which lives out on a daily basis the contradictions between and synthesis of various cultures, including the Anglo, the Latino, and the American Indian. Yáñez invariably "resolves" contradictions or tensions through humor, often on the basis of verbal or visual play. In the Monthter, the ominous unidentified forces that might "eat" the city are given a cartoon quality and a lisp that makes them less forbidding, more manageable. As in Gibert Luján's Hot Dog Meets La Fufú con Su Poochie, parody through humor, and the use of cartoon-like figures is a way for the underdog to subimpose itself. In Hispanic culture there is as concept known as "las tretas del débil," the strategies of the weak, a concept popular in some Latina feminist quarters, that is also used by Yáñez and Luján to overcome adversity.

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs about art , and art activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

While a student at Arizona State University, Larry Yáñez studied with sculptors in the School of Art and worked in the university's art museum. He is active in both the diverse Arizona artworlds, and, more specifically in the Chicano artworld. As traveling exhibitions coordinator of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, he is well versed in the multiple, overlapping artworlds represented in the state, including Native American artworlds, the contemporary mainstream artworld, and tradition folk artworlds. His continuing commitment to the Chicano artworld is evident in his exhibition record. In the Phoenix area he has exhibited at the MARS ArtSpace (Movimiento Artístico Río Salado), and the Xicanindio Community Arts Organization. Elsewhere he has exhibited in such prominent Chicano galleries, art organizations, and museums as Self-Help Graphics and La Plaza de la Raza in Los Angeles, Centro Cultural de la Raza in San Diego, and Arte Hispano in Tucson.

Yáñez believes that art should be participatory and community-based. Shelley Cohn, director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, refers to Larry Yáñez as " 'our ombudsman to the community.' Larry takes exhibitions throughout the state, teaches people how to handle art and install and maintain exhibitions. He puts on silkscreen workshops to teach the medium's practical as well as artistic potential, Most importantly, he engages students of all ages in dialogues about art and life in which he is at once teacher, gamester, and friend." (Rudy Turk, "Valley Notebook," Fall 1995, Valley Guide Quarterly, p. 28)


VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION

MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

Larry Yáñez says that his "work is a reflection of growing up Mexican and American. I describe the humor, fears, strange beliefs, and general misunderstandings of everyday things most Americans take for granted. Through my work, I try to interpret those things that still capture my imagination even though they still arrive in misinterpreted context."

When asked about his general perspective on art Larry Yáñez responded: "My goal as an artist is to move on to the next project, whatever it is. I don't stifle myself with plans. I enjoy taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. The challenge is to work with what you've got, fake it, make it happen, improvise. That is my discipline, the big surprise, deal with the unknown."

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the person(s) for whom the artwork was made (for example, a patron, user, or other viewer of the time) understand it?

Connie Cone Sexton wrote of Yáñez in the Arizona Republic (September 10, 1998) "Larry Yáñez takes the silliness of his art work very seriously. The casual observer might survey one of his pictures [or sculptures] and come away with a smile. Yáñez hopes they'll also have made a stronger connection to life. His art takes on many forms, from sculpture to silk screen, the pictures often reflecting his Hispanic heritage. Among the most popular are those that offer a pun, a gift Yáñez got from listening to his grandfather's humor. But it's humor that won't hit you over the head; you might even need someone to explain it to you."

Rudy Turk writes of Yáñez, " Larry's art interprets the world with a humor that cannot be denied. .... Larry's art always has had elements of humor--sometimes bitter, most often bittersweet." (Rudy Turk, "Valley Notebook," Fall 1995, Valley Guide Quarterly,p. 27)

CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within the culture in which it was made?

Chicano, bilingual and other Southwestern viewers will appreciate the tensions that are evoked between superordinate and subordinate creatures in Yáñez's work, and the triumph of the subordinate ones through their rasquache tretas del débil (strategies for the weak). Chicano art that is rasquache usually expresses an underdog, have-not sensibility that is also resourceful and adaptable and makes use of simple materials including found ones, such as Yáñez' wood and metal flashing. What otherwise would be a very grave topic is converted into a cartoon, subverted through the creation of an artifact that freezes it in time, and rendered harmless through the use of rasquache materials.

In the Larry Yáñez' The Monthter What Ate the Thity the "Monthter" can be seen as about to destroy the reality of that city. However, the art itself will endure forever as the humorous artifact that defangs the monster and renders it impotent. The "Monthter" is always poised at the cusp of destruction but never engages in it. The art reigns supreme as an eternal snapshot of the penultimate moment.


CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS

STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

Larry Yáñez does not see his work as belonging to any style or art movement. Yáñez has stated "I am inspired by folk art. My work is not folk art. Folk artists are usually anonymous. Their work discovered long after they have passed on." The stippling of painted wood used in The Monthter What Ate the Thity is characteristic of folk art currently being made in villages around Oaxaca, Mexico. The work also shares a box-like quality used in other traditional Mexican nicho sculpture. Click here to view Nicho with Adam and Eve, constructed quite similarly to The Monthter What Ate the Thity.

The whimsical humor of pieces like The Monthter What Ate the Thity can be compared to other Chicano artworks made in a similar spirit, for example, by Gilbert Lújan and Frank Romero.

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

Larry Yáñez has said that he is influenced by no artists and all artists. He has also said that he learns from their mistakes and chooses the best and worst of each. Some people from the art and music worlds who have influenced Yáñez include Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Posada , Dürer, Pollack, Beethoven and Hendrix, He also credits unknown ethnic musicians and artists as influencing his work.

THEMES: What general ideas help connect this artwork to other artworks?

Fantasy is a theme in The Monthter What Ate the Thity and in artworks made in many other cultures. For example, in a light-hearted spirit, similar to Larry Yáñez', Gilbert Lújan creates dogs with human characteristics in Me and My Compadre and Hot Dog meets La FuFú con su Poochie. In a much darker spirit, in nineteenth century Spain, Francisco Goya painted huge monsters devouring people. Long before him, the sixteenth century Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch filled landscapes with gaping mouths and monsters. In the Middle Ages stone carvers decorating the doorways of great European churches often chose the mouth of Hell and tortures of the damned as their subject matter.

America urban life has been a theme of American art throughout the twentieth century. Early in the century George Bellows and John Sloan captured neighborhood life in the city. John Biggers depicted the shotgun houses of the third and fourth wards of New Orleans. Michael Cummings choose Springtime in Memphis as his theme. Alexander Maldonado's San Francisco to New York in One Hour takes a look at urban transportation.


© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.