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Carrying on a Tradition in Papier-Mache : Art: Mexico's Linares family gains international attention for its life-sized calavera sculptures. In a rare local exhibition--the artists' first commercial gallery show--works by three family members are on view in Santa Monica.


But Linares, whose works have been exhibited in museums including Los Angeles' Craft and Folk Art Museum, Washington's Smithsonian Institution, the San Diego Museum of Man and the Indianapolis Childrens Museum, remembers that he at first had problems with the alebrijes:

"They were very ugly. They weren't like the calaveras. Calaveras are familiar--we are all calaveras underneath, so they sold very well. . . . But people didn't want to buy the alebrijes. They were too ugly. So I began to change them and make them more colorful. But I wouldn't stop (making them) just because people thought they were ugly."

The Linares make each of their sculptures during a five- or six-day process that begins with standard plaster molds that are covered with brown craft paper and left to dry. They then cut open the works, remove the molds and sculpt additions and modifications such as extended fingers and cigars. Various body parts are joined together, and after another drying, the figures are elaborately painted and adorned.

But while the Linareses work together closely and may collaborate on a series of figures, each works on his own specific sculptures, creating "our own style, which is similar enough to maintain the family style, but may contain different ideas or messages," explains Ricardo Linares, who began to help his grandfather and father as a boy of 7 or 8 years.

The two elder Linareses specifically declined to make comparisons among themselves or describe differences in their styles (which usually hinge on the degree of detail or seriousness of themes). But Ricardo hinted that as the youngest Linares, he would focus more on content and theme than tradition and appearance.

"I've tried to make my work more distinctive and more ambitious. I want people to see the difference, to know which one of us did (a specific sculpture). We all do surrealist (work), but I am very much influenced by other ideas, things that I see, or read, or imagine. I imagine things that could happen in the afterlife, for example, and work with that."

While Pedro Linares stressed the importance of carrying on the family work, the future after young Ricardo's generation remains unclear. Although Miguel's two older brothers also work as cartoneros, it is Miguel and Ricardo with whom Pedro most closely aligns himself.

Both Miguel and Ricardo, however, say they were not really encouraged to join the cartonero tradition, and Ricardo, who has also taken to the mainstream and now teaches a cartonero course at Mexico's San Carlos Art College, says he will encourage his future sons "only to do what they want to do."

* "Linares: Three Generations of Master Folk Artists From Mexico." New Gallery, 1438 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 459-2227. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Through Dec. 31. * "Pedro Linares: Papier-Mache Artist" (1978, 23 minutes). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 857-6000. Dec. 21 at 3 p.m. * Works by the Linareses are also included in "Day of the Dead: A Consequence of Life," at the Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-3124, through Jan. 5. Miguel and Ricardo Linares will give demonstrations at the museum this Thursday through Sunday.

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