Snake carving by noted South Texas artist on loan to Natural Toxins Research Center
KINGSVILLE - September 07, 2006
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A distinctive, realistic piece by artist Jose Luis Rivera-Barrera is on display at Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s Natural Toxins Research Center (NTRC). Not typically a place to showcase art, the NTRC provides global research, training and resources in a mission to discover medically important toxins found in snake venoms. One look at Rivera-Barrera’s piece, though, reveals why the two are perfect matches.
Titled “La Comeviboras,” or “The Viper Eater,” it is a 13-foot, 4-inch mesquite carving of a snake, completed in 2005. The piece is on loan to the NTRC from owners Pat and George W. Gardiner of Padre Island, who were happy to store the carving at a location they feel is safer during hurricane season than a barrier island. What’s more, the owners and the artist are in support of the NTRC’s mission.
The center’s director, Dr. John C. Pérez, said he had been looking for display art for the halls of the NTRC’s new facilities in Kleberg Hall on the A&M-Kingsville campus. Rivera-Barrera learned of the NTRC from fellow artist and A&M-Kingsville professor of art Santa Barraza. She also knew the Gardiners and had been helping them find locations for the Rivera-Barrera pieces they own. From there, “La Comeviboras” found its way to the campus.
Rivera-Barrera created the piece from his own deep-seated fear of snakes. He grew up on the King Ranch in Kingsville, where a love of the outdoors was always in conflict with a fear of the slithering reptiles that were there. Through the carving, the artist said he wanted to be close to what he was so scared of, in the hope of overcoming his phobia. The work served its purpose, as Rivera-Barrera sees “La Comeviboras” as a symbol of not surrendering to fear. It also represents strength to the artist—the strength of the snake and of his Mexican heritage.
Rivera-Barrera earned his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1970. He taught first-grade bilingual classes before becoming a full-time artist based in San Antonio. His works are included in the permanent collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art, and have been shown in museums and galleries in California, New Mexico and the Midwest. The art of Rivera-Barrera also is currently traveling throughout the country on the ¡Arte Caliente! tour, organized by the South Texas Institute for the Arts and featuring the collection of Joe A. Diaz.
Barraza said she has been familiar with the art of Rivera-Barrera since high school and was a student at A&M-Kingsville at the same time as the artist. “We all used to look up to him, and aspired to become him,” said Barraza. She mentioned that both she and the Gardiners are pleased that the work of a hometown artist is available for the public to see.
Pat Gardiner added, “She (Barraza) shares our enthusiasm for Jose’s wonderful work, and our goal of inspiring local students to see their own artistic potential and em brace the richness of inspiration that is found in our austere landscape and vi brant South Texas culture.”
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