Raul De Lara is an artist focusing on wood sculpture. De Lara has exhibited work nationally as well as in Mexico City, and was has worked as a studio assistant for the artist, Nick Cave. Currently, De Lara is a resident in the Chicago Artists Coalition’s HATCH Projects. He is also co-founder of the artist commune Fat City Arts in Bridgeport.
Prior to moving to Chicago, De Lara received a BFA from the University of Texas, Austin. Though, before embarking on his artistic career De Lara was a professional bike stunt man.
De Lara sat down with CAR to discuss his path, what drew him to sculpture, and the parallels of being an athlete and an artist.
CAR: Before we talk about art, I want to ask about your previous life as a bike stunt man.
Raul De Lara: Yes, so, I was sponsored to do BMX tricks in high school. I broke many bones. I have a fake ankle. I've knocked out teeth.
Then, when I got to UT Austin, I [received] an offer letter to move to France not for BMX but for base jumping. It was a weird thing but with my legal situation here in the US — since I came here as an immigrant 12 years ago — I would not have been able to come back. So, I stayed and finished college and [decided] I wanted to do something in my life besides sports.
CAR: What is it about the medium of sculpture that is most appealing to you?
Raul: [With Sculpture] I saw all of my interests come together. I wanted to physically get tired while working, I wanted to get intimate with the material, and I wanted to stand and move and get cut up, lift things up, and shape the material.
CAR: Similar to the bike riding.
Raul: Exactly. I'm actually writing an essay right now about the parallels between being an athlete and a sculptor.
Yes, so the physicality was there. And the spatial element was there. A lot of my work is about touch and the push and pull between the piece and the viewer. That is, how much do you get out of the piece and how much does the piece get from you?
So it clicked when I made replicas out of my arms from a big beam of wood. This was the first time I attempted carving. When I thought I did it really well, and thought “this is it.”
CAR: When was this?
Raul: I was in art school. I discovered the medium there. I also discovered that I had the abilities to carve wood. I then became attuned to the possibilities of working with wood. I thought of all the epic artists who work with marble, but, [because wood decays], there is no record of wood art of that quality until about the 17th century. To me, if the great artists were carving great works out of stone, I wondered what I could do with wood.
CAR: One thing I wonder about is if wood art is often seen more as folk art rather than capital "A" Art.
Raul: Yes, and that's one thing I try to be conscious of, since my medium can be looked at as a hobby or a pastime—like an old guy in a cabin whittling.
And once I learned that I could carve, I wanted to push the medium even further, to a place where it hasn't been yet—or processing a common material in a way that isn't so common. I see wood as mass with potential. It can be a leaf, it can be this floor, it can be my weapon, it can be my table, it can also be the skeleton of this building. Though, none of my work is functional physically.
I’m working on ideas right now [not about] what I'm trying to say with my work but [what I am] trying to make it do. For me, with my work, the less I have to explain or give a backstory for you to care, the better.
CAR: What have you gained from working with Nick Cave?
Raul: I grew up loving Nick's work, so [I knew if I moved to Chicago I would try to find a way to work with him.] I would say I've learned a lot from Nick not from what [he does] but from seeing how he thinks.
CAR: You mentioned how certain spaces have worked better for you than others. What do you look for in a workspace?
Raul: I want headphones, since I like listening to music while I work. I also like to feel like nobody's watching me, to work alone.
CAR: Why is that?
Raul: I get distracted by seeing things move. I like spacious areas. I like to see my available tools near me so I can think and imagine what the tool will do and how I will use it, since my work requires many steps.
I like to have a lot of steps in my head since it keeps me calm and puts me in a trance. It sounds like an oxymoron [but] by keeping busy I stay calm!
And I probably won't work if it only will be an hour. I like to work for five, six, or even eight hours at a time.
CAR: Lastly, what do you enjoy the most out of your residency at HATCH?
Raul: I appreciate the exposure to other people. I appreciate being in a group with other people who care about their own practice. It's been easier to meet other people who care about their work. Because, in art, what you make is what matters.
This article has been condensed and edited for clarity.