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L.A. artist who painted rafa spanza for Art Basel Miami

Mario Ayala at his studio

(Star Montana / For The Times).

This story is part of “Corpo RanfLA: Terra Cruiser,” a special collaboration between rafa esparza, Image magazine and Commonwealth and Council. Learn how the entire project came about here.

A lot of my work is autobiographical, alludes to some of my family’s history. I’m very close to my father — he’s a truck driver, and a car fan himself, of older cars specifically. Through him, those have become my interests. It was the time spent with my father, and him showing some respect for cars, almost like sculptures. I’m similarly interested in cars through painting, form, color and imagery — all the components that come through customization.

Guadalupe Rosales, a friend of mine, introduced me to rafa esparza. I was really intrigued by how rafa’s performances are somewhat sculptural, powerfully cleansing. I grew up with grandparents from Cuba who practiced Santeria. Traditions and celebrations were always interesting to me. I’d been a fan of rafa’s work when, in 2018, he asked me to collaborate on the first version of the “Corpo Ranfla” project. He knew that I airbrushed and was also thinking about how the mechanics of a car machine resemble parts of the human body — are kind of extensions of them in some ways. He decided that he wanted me to paint him as a car and elaborate on his project. Through this project, we became more friends. We connected over our fathers, our interests in customization, and how we create a common language using the same set of ideas.

The day I painted his body was a really intense day of having to basically make this project possible — imagining that there’d be this one day where we painted his entire body. We used a highlighter pink base coat. The Gypsy Rose is an iconic lowrider with bright pink base buttons. Two murals were created for his chest, and his back. It was a tedious process. It was the first time that I had ever painted a human body. I’m stoked that rafa asked me to be a part of his work again for Art Basel. It’s going to be a really iconic moment.

I have cars, but I also have lowriders. I have friends who I cruise with. It’s nothing complicated — the enjoyment of cruising or being around other cars transcends as a feeling of enjoyment of doing something outside of the studio. Although I am in love with the Baroque style of some of the vehicles, the hang sometimes comes out of a basic need to hang out. It’s almost simple, in comparison with how heavy and technical the rest of other things in life can be.

Mario Ayala in his studio with his dog, both looking intently at the camera

Like rafa esparza, Mario Ayala is interested in “how the mechanics of a car machine resemble parts of the human body.”

(Star Montana / For The Times).

I feel that my family, friends, and community outweigh any motif I have in a painting. It is also evident in my work. I was the curator of this group show at Public Access in New York. It was more about showing a group of friends, including rafa — I wanted them to have a conversation with one another. I didn’t really think too much about making something; it was more about this communal hang, if you will, that I wanted to construct and coordinate. Sometimes I feel like those are the stronger pieces — the ones that I’m responsible for, like some type of glue.

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