Local artist Beatriz Vasquez showcases papel picado in La Casa Azul 

click to enlarge "The Elephant and the Dove" from La Casa Azul - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • "The Elephant and the Dove" from La Casa Azul
  • Submitted photo

Gregory Hancock's new musical La Casa Azul shows the wildly creative life of artist Frida Kahlo and is sparing no detail, especially when it comes to the set.

The traditional Mexican folk art of papel picado by Indianapolis artist Beatriz Vasquez will be a key feature in the production. "Viva Frida" and "The Elephant and the Dove," two of Vasquez's scenic backgrounds for the musical, entice audiences with colorful and intricate designs. The production will also feature original music, lyrics, costumes and choreography. Jessica Crum Hawkins will play the lead role as Kahlo.

Papel picado is a decorative craft made from paper cut into elaborate designs. Vasquez describes the history and process of her art as "an ancient craft designed to celebrate life and beauty. My creative process starts with a memory and a nostalgic sense or feeling. I focus on the image I want to bring to life and very quickly sketch a rough drawing onto the paper. My sketches are never precise because I improvise each cut where my hand leads me. Once I am finished with the initial cut, I began filling each negative space or the areas that were cut off, with colorful tissue paper."

One of her challenges is to find a way to connect the sturdier paper with the traditional tissue paper or "papel chino." Vasquez's dynamic work expresses the fluidity of the delicate cuts. She also connects traditional craft to modern tools. Her techniques are similar to the original paper cutters of South America, but unlike the original Papel Picado crafters she uses a razor-sharp craft knife for her designs.

In La Casa Azul Vasquez the spirit of Kahlo's art is brought to the stage. Like Kahlo, Vasquez once called Mexico her home. "I was privileged to grow up in two cultures," says Vasquez. "Crossing the border to Mexico every weekend was a way of life." Vasquez, who is a first generation Mexican-American, grew up in South Texas.

Her dynamic artwork will add a rich layer of staging to the upcoming musical, which is named after Kahlo's home in Mexico City. Vasquez says she hopes to portray the feelings that Kahlo experienced during difficult times in her work.

As part of the musical's production team, Vasquez will share her culture's art. "Each piece is created through the inspiration of a childhood memory, my passion of sharing my culture and a sense of creating for a community," says Vasquez. Her bold and passionate designs help tell the story of Frida Kahlo, who overcame numerous challenges through her art and creativity during her lifetime. "I tried to comprehend her pain in a tortured body, and her passion as an artist, and as woman in love." Vasquez hopes the audience will connect to Kahlo's story, including "her need to create art to survive the pain and passion that she felt."

Vasquez wants the audience to understand the deeper meaning and significance behind her work and the story it tells in La Casa Azul. Kahlo's work greatly influences Vasquez's style of artwork. Vasquez's work simultaneously encompasses a traditional and contemporary viewpoint of Kahlo's life, and she hopes audiences will understand and appreciate Mexican culture.

"When I see my audience looking, commenting and appreciating my work, I am simply amazed of their interest in my work," says Vasquez. "I hope they see much more than just beauty and passion; I hope they see a culture that contributes so much to the community. I hope to represent and bring awareness of my beautiful cultures. I have learned that the work I create is not just for me anymore but for a community that is ignored and that strives to have its voice heard."

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