Rocket scientist's son shapes art students' minds


Associated Press

Posted on December 28, 2012 at 3:02 PM

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — When a student walks into sculpture studio at the UTB-TSC campus, they can expect to be challenged — critically and artistically — by Professor Angel Cabrales.

That's because Cabrales wants students to think while creating art.

In any given semester, he expects to have 45 to 50 students who are assigned projects that require them to incorporate in their pieces an assortment of unexpected materials, including objects like rocks and palm trees. In one assignment, he sets the parameters so students can raise awareness for an issue they think is important.

Cabrales, in the Visual Art Department at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, said he wants his students to begin thinking about art in three dimensions, while at the same time using their creativity to apply different materials in their final pieces.

"Anything and everything is sculpture material," Cabrales said. "They can make art with anything."

For Cabrales, 39, an art career wasn't always something he envisioned for himself.

As a college student at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, he looked upon a future as a geochemist.

"My dad is literally a rocket scientist," said Cabrales, who keeps a picture of a Patriot missile in his office. "I ended up being a geochemistry major and after two years of taking that, I decided I was always happiest when I was drawing or making artwork."

He decided to changed courses, lost his science scholarship and transferred to Arizona State University, where he studied sculpture.

Back home, his scientist father was upset, Cabrales said. But later, the artist remembers, his father paid him a compliment upon seeing his artwork. "I can see the math in it," his father said, according to Cabrales.

"After that, he was really supportive," the artist said.

Today, he's a teacher who knows the importance of technical expertise. Beginning sculptors — artistic sorts — might not realize math and science are needed to carve or create a design they've had in their head, Cabrales said. In fact, some students say they became artists because they were not good at math, he added.

"Well, you use a lot of it, and there's a lot of critical thinking," the teacher said.

On a recent afternoon, Cabrales' current students worked on projects in the Rusteberg sculpture studio, while listening to the music of rock band The Doors. Sculpting is a time-consuming process, and the teacher encourages his students to use the studio outside of class hours.

The allotted six hours of week reserved for classes is simply not enough, he said.

"They have access to come in here and work, and that's one thing that I've really liked," Cabrales said. "They've kind of formed their own community."

Art in the class isn't a solitary experience. The students even exhibit their artwork together.

Recently, students have been elated with the result of their exhibition, "All the Light Moves," which was unveiled the night before at the Medusa Lounge and Patio Bar.

Bianca Camarillo, a junior in the Sculpture I class, was surprised by the encouraging responses from those who attended the art showing.

"I didn't expect that many people to be amazed," the 21-year-old said.

Cabrales can relate to the students' feelings.

Although the path to an art career can be arduous, Cabrales wants his students to know the effort is worth all the hard work and sacrifices it takes to complete an undergraduate art degree. After all, when he was an undergraduate art student, Cabrales had bought materials for his projects with the money his mother sent him for food.

"My mom would tell me, 'Well, now you have to eat the steel because I'm not sending you any more money,'" Cabrales said.

Cabrales pushes students to think critically about the way art can shape society. One of his assignments is for the young artists to create a social commentary.

The students' responses to the challenge vary. Student Karina Melendez used that project to create art that addresses hormone-filled food.

Melendez, who creates sculpts with yarn, prefers organic food because it's healthier.

"To me, (my sculpture) says starvation is happening in other countries or even here in the United States," the 25-year-old said.

In his lessons, Cabrales doesn't share his political views with his students. He only tries to plant seeds of thought so they can realize that art is an effective way of spreading ideas to others.

Because our society is so visual, Cabrales said, an artist can use their work to bring awareness to a cause.

"It's very important to have them involved in the community and really knowing what's going on in the world," Cabrales said.

For Cabrales, shows are meant to be interactive. His art is only complete when someone views it — and partakes in the message. After all, Cabrales practices what he teaches in his own art.

Having grown up in El Paso, he often traveled to Juarez. But now, whenever he goes back, he knows traveling into Mexico is no longer an option for him because of drug-war violence.

Therefore, in April at his Dallas show, "El Pan Dulce Vida," Cabrales made large cookie-cutter shapes of guns and used them to shape sweet bread into assault rifles. In order for audience to eat the pan dulce, they had to stick the rifle into their mouth, crafting a scene using the crowd that Cabrales said was symbolic.

"In itself, we have a lot of people who are poor and getting involved in the drug war because they're promised the sweet life," Cabrales said. "But, in order to take that sweet life, you're kind of eating the gun."


Information from: The Brownsville Herald,