The City of West Hollywood recently awarded three WeHo resident artists with a $5,000 grant each, through its 2021 WeHo Artist Grant Program. The grant aims to nurture and support the long-term development of an artist’s ideas by providing funds that increase the capacity for artists to realize work, advance the conditions of creation, and navigate the complexities of both making art while making a career. The recipients for this year’s grants are Tristan Kilmer, Samantha Lavin, and Antonio Rael.
WEHO TIMES ran into longtime WeHo artist Antonio Rael, while he was walking his two dogs, Bella (a grey Chihuahua) and Rocky (Chihuahua and miniature pincher mix) on Santa Monica Boulevard. In an on-the-spot interview, Rael discusses what it was like to be honored with the 2021 WeHo Artist Grant, what he plans to do with the award, and how he hopes to inspire healing through an upcoming virtual exhibit as we continue to navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.
Where are you from originally?
I’ve been a resident of West Hollywood for 30 years. I grew up in Pasadena, California.
What kind of history do you have with the City of West Hollywood?
I used to own Latino Pop Shop, which was located inside of the French Market Place back when it was open. It was between 2002-2003. I represented over 80 artists. It is now being studied in art history books across the nation as the place where the Latino Pop Art movement was founded.
What was your reaction when you found out you were awarded the 2021 WeHo Artist Grant?
I was so excited. I was crying. I actually found out through Facebook. Somebody tagged me and then I checked my emails and that’s when I read the announcement. It made me feel so proud to be part of the city and to be selected. I was so happy.
How do you plan to use the grant?
I’m going to be doing pieces on healing during the pandemic. I also want to do some pieces that are LGBTQ related to be part of inclusion and diversity. Now that we have a new president, it’s time for all of us to heal. I’m a member of this community and I like giving back. The artwork that I’m going to be doing for them will be a virtual show. I created some stuff over the holidays. I just want to keep it in the community. I would like to enhance the community and hopefully bring back money to the businesses during the pandemic. I want to give back because I feel like this community has given me so much.
What kind of timeline does the city give you to show your artwork?
I have to do it between now, and the end of the year. I already started on my sketches. It will be announced on weho.org.
How long have you been a professional artist?
I’ve been doing this professionally for 25 years.
What kind of paintings do you do?
I do acrylic paintings.
Where else has your art been featured?
I did art for the Wall of Memorias Project. I did the cover for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Day of the Dead. I did a big cover for Mariachi USA at the Hollywood Bowl. The Wall of Memories, I did their cover three years in a row. That was for World AIDS Day.
I also taught children for 20 years. I used to teach children through Bienestar and through various other AIDS organizations. I did it for free and donated my time. I’ve been really involved with the community and I feel like there is so much work to be done, especially after the last administration. It was horrible. So now we can start healing. One piece I did was actually the first LGBT piece for Day of the Dead before gay marriage was approved. It was 2001. It was called Espico Lola–Amor Prohibido and that’s become a signature piece. That was our first lesbian Day of the Dead to go into our history books, so I was proud of that. Now it’s not a big deal because marriage equality is legal. I like to create pieces that are positive imagery whenever I can, even if it pisses people off. I’m an artists, so…
Does your Latino background play a huge part in your work?
Yes. It’s very Latin. If I’m not using Latin imagery, I like to use bold colors. Some people would call it Folk Art, but I see it more as fine art. Because of the bright colors, they put me in that category.
What else can the City expect from the 2021 WeHo Artist Grant?
The $5,000 grant will fund a virtual gallery show from now until the end of the year. As you know they hire a lot of artists to enhance the city, so I’m very proud of this city. I feel like if I have to make a statement with the pieces, it will be about healing. I’m very grateful to be part of this community. I will make them proud.
Antonio Rael can be found on Instagram under the handle: @uncletonyshouseofart and on TikTok at @uncle_toe_knee. To purchase some Rael swag, visit his Etsy store at: www.Etsy.com/shop/artisticgiftgiving/.
Contact him to request being on his mailing list at [email protected] and get updates on his upcoming exhibit.