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Raymond Olais combines sci-fi and cultural heritage in his art

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Torin Andersen

Retired Newton High School art teacher Raymond Olais will show new and older works at the Workroom this month. Olais is originally from California. All of his works represent a piece of his cultural heritage … and his personal history, too. Torin Andersen talked with Olais in his home studio about his upcoming show.

"I gave it the title of Spaced Out because of the space pieces that I do, the robot paintings. With a little bit of a touch of some Hispanic, uh, flavor to it," says Olais. "I was influenced growing up by the Chicano art movement and that basically meant that you took elements from your culture and, and used that as a basis for your imagery that went on your canvas or on your drawings. A movement out of the sixties and the seventies in California."

Olais has small and large collections of robot figurines and popular hispanic cultural references throughout his house. He points to a drawing he did that’s across from where we’re sitting to give an idea of how a sketch comes about. He relates it to a larger painting down the hall. "I'm drawing something out like a, a good example would be like that drawing across the, the, on the wall over there," he says. "That's the painting, that's in the living room. I just was sitting on my couch. This robot, he was in here in the display case someplace. So that's how that ended up as the starting point."

Other figures in the drawing are found in the stuff he collects and surrounds himself with: "The Mexican sleeping lady in a sombrero. And then I just started envisioning other things. There's a Chac Mool. The Chac Mool is the ancient Mayan figure. He's kind of turned sideways. And then there's a loteria card. La mano de dos. Uh, it's the number two. It's kind of a play on La Mano De Dios, which means the hand of God, but there's really no God intent in, it's just a play. And then in the background, it's just some, you know, once again that, uh, cultural imagery, some Aztec stone."

Olais explains the ah-ha moment when he realized this could be more than a drawing in a sketch book: "And then from that I said, man, you know what, this could be a painting. Then it's just a matter of how do I give it color? You know, filler after I've drawn that what should I put here? What do I put there? Um, you know, just that whole creative process."

Olais grew up with sci-fi movies and is a big fan of Forbidden Planet. The movie poster features a robot very similar to many in his collection. His new work focuses more on the robots and he ruses some of his collected things to make the robots. "This is one of my, uh, robots built from like recycled parts," he explains. "You look on the backside, he's a speaker that I found at a garage sale. And I say, you know what? I think this can work as a body. This is an old chair, the arms. This is actually from when we lived in San Francisco. I had it all this time, just stacked away."

Olais' art works represent what has moved him over the years and a bit of what he has moved over the years, too. You can see a little bit of both at Spaced Out.

Olais’ 2D and 3D work will be on display for the month of October at The Workroom, 150 North Cleveland.

He has more than 20 years of experience shaping and documenting the arts in Wichita.