If you think boxing and painting have nothing in common, Che Lopez would say otherwise.
“You’re always ebbing and flowing, always moving around. To me boxing is just like art,” said Lopez. “You’re always pushing and pulling, you’re trying to figure out what’s going to work, what’s not going to work.”
During a match, a boxer stealthily moves around the ring sizing up their opponent, but Lopez’ relationship with brush and paper is collaborative rather than adversarial. The former boxing gym owner and coach incorporates all of his life experiences into his art.
His Mujers de las Flores paintings are Día de los Muertos-inspired portraits of women. Each showing a range of emotion, particularly through their eyes. “Priestess de las Espinas no. 1” gives the viewer a piercing look while another evokes fury. All of their faces are framed by an immense halo of flowers. The works are bold, colorful and expressive — in line with his aesthetic.
Lopez is a figurative painter, but depicting women took some time to perfect. Once he found his stride, he found joy in capturing their form.
“Women give life, so to me that’s very important,” said Lopez. “As a father of a young little girl, I want to empower her.”
Lopez also uses watercolors to recreate landscapes, from the tulip fields of Skagit Valley to a Snohomish County slough, using a plein-air method. Each changing season presents a new opportunity. In the summer, it’s shadows as an unobstructed sun illuminates the area. Even when heavy smoke from nearby wildfire blanketed the area for a few weeks in August, Lopez seized the moment. He recognized it was tough on some people’s breathing but he also saw beauty in the change.
“We were at the Kirkland waterfront and it was just hazy. Very, very hazy,” said Lopez. “The colors you see. You can stare at the sun and it’s a little dim bulb in the sky.”
Growing up, Lopez liked to draw superheroes. At Decatur High School in Federal Way, his art teacher helped him hone his skills.
After taking all of the art classes offered there, he moved on to a bigger project: painting a mural in the school’s cafeteria. It’s still there more than two decades later. After high school, Lopez studied illustration at Cornish College of the Arts.
After graduation, he worked for a multimedia company producing drawings and animation. His next career move involved owning and operating Team Eastside FC, a boxing gym in Redmond, for 10 years. About five years after opening, he began incorporating art back into his life.
He began working part-time at Daniel Smith, an art manufacturer and supply store. Lopez would often paint at work to showcase their products and to engage with customers. The store also brought in artists for formal demonstrations. One day an artist wasn’t able to make it, so Lopez filled in.
“I get up there and it was terrible. People still talk about that first demo. They just know how uncomfortable I was. I didn’t know what to say,” said Lopez. “When you’re painting you’re going from right to left brain and vice versa. You’ve gotta switch pretty quickly. I was kind of confused. I was saying things in circles, but I got used to it.”
Despite the rough beginning Lopez’s demo technique greatly improved. So much so that he was given the opportunity to fill in for a watercolor instructor at Kirkland Arts Center.
Teaching one class evolved into a permanent position. He’s taught there for more than 10 years. He also teaches acrylics at Pratt Fine Arts Center and Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell.
Lopez’s teaching style is anything but boring. He believes in being entertaining and engaging. He infuses his enthusiasm for art into his instruction.
Lopez teaches techniques and the students do a lot of painting. The payoff is watching their growth.
“You’re not going to know until you actually get into that painting what you can do and what you can’t do,” said Lopez. “I say something at the beginning of the quarter, then by the end of the quarter they’re, ‘Oh, that’s what you meant.’”
Lopez also doesn’t shy away from talking to his students about an aspect of a painting he might be struggling with. Being open makes him relatable. He’s also learned how to balance encouragement with constructive criticism.
Painting also isn’t a solitary endeavor for Lopez. Because he’s been teaching for so long, he prefers to paint in a group. While he’s a professional artist, he recognizes there’s something he can learn from others.
Lopez has exhibited at a number of shows in the Seattle area. His work is currently on display in the group exhibition “Apparitions” at Kirkland Arts Center. Previous shows include “Making Our Mark” at Bellevue Arts Museum and “Emergencia Artistica” at A/NT gallery. His Instagram page (@artofche) is full of posts showing what he’s working on.
Lopez’s Chicano culture influences his work. His parents were activists, and named him after Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna.
He’s proud of his Mexican roots and doesn’t limit his work to fit into someone else’s definition of what his art should look like.
“In school someone said, ‘you should look up Chicano artists and see what they are doing,’ and I said, ‘I’m a Chicano artist,’” said Lopez. “Whatever I do is Chicano art. There’s no reason to put me or anybody in a little cubby hole.”
When he’s not teaching and painting Lopez is spending time with his wife and their two children.
In the coming years, Lopez hopes to do painting workshops in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Given his affable nature and expertise, he’ll likely be a popular instructor for those future students as well.
For Lopez, each painting is an organic process that he’s completely engaged in. His favorite thing to paint is whatever he’s working on at the moment.
“If you don’t love it, you’re going to make crap. Plain and simple,” said Lopez. “You have to give 100 percent and really give yourself to the painting.”
WHAT: “Apparitions” at Kirkland Arts Center
WHEN: Runs until Nov. 30
WHERE: 620 Market Street, Kirkland
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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Check out the full Oct. 31 - Nov. 6 issue.
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