Roberto Benavidez is a contemporary artist from southern Texas. An artist’s eye looks for beauty in unusual and unlikely places, and his sculptures are a perfect example of this. His art is a fusion of both his own roots and images from the distant past. He creates colorful piñatas inspired by monsters from centuries old medieval works of art. He describes himself as “half-breed, South Texan, queer, figurative sculptor specializing in the piñata form; playing on themes of race, sexuality, art, sin, humor, and beauty.”
Benavidez draws out monsters from religious surreal imagery that is full of bizarre, grotesque, and often beautiful creatures. For example, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch– a tale of morality which shows a man’s progression from an initial state of purity and grace, to gaining knowledge of the sensual and earthly, and ultimately, to moral decay and damnation. He found himself captivated by the strangeness of the creatures and people and the odd perspective.
Hieronymus Bosch’s oil painting containing a phantasmagoria of naked people and mythical animals is not the artist’s only source for medieval monsters. He’s also taken inspiration from the Luttrell Psalter, which is full of stories of the lives of saints, and the Medieval Bestiary. He was instantly drawn to finding a way to turn all these flat images of grotesque beauty into 3D sculptures. He wanted to bring the creatures back to life but in a new way.
“I could spend probably my whole life making everything I would like to from that painting. There’s so much detail.” – Benavidez
Ironically, piñatas also have a religious history. Supposedly, the Spanish missionaries used piñatas to convert indigenous people to Christianity. “I kind of like that there is that slight parallel,” says Benavidez, “but that’s not what drove it.” For him, it was really just all about the creatures – their “soft and hard qualities.”
His artwork is built on a fairly large-scale, with the largest of his pieces being over six feet tall. Most of the pieces are designed to hang from the ceiling. They are covered in the traditional paper fringing which is the hallmark of the piñata form. Every piñata he makes contain thousands of pieces of these hand-cut paper fringes and each one can take months to complete.
Benavidez explains why he chose the medium:
“When I decided to pursue the piñata technique it really was to pursue a medium that was limitless to me. There was no financial limitation. It’s just like glue and paper. You can really make anything with paper.”
Benavidez’s beasts are at equally and simultaneously ominous and friendly. They are a memoir to something old while at the same time possessing an air of feeling fresh and new. His fusion of two seemingly contrasting art forms truly creates a compelling, nearly dream-like, and very complex form of art with deep historical roots. The result is a seamless blend of cultures, and history in a way that sparks people’s’ imagination of what’s possible. Which is his intention precisely.