Obviously Covid has been a wrecking ball for Hollywood, retail, Broadway (the arts in general), and of course restaurants. But Covid has actually had a silver lining for a whole lot of other people and businesses like Peloton (online workouts), private food service deliveries, and hairdressers and nail techs willing to do private at-home visits.
Service essentials must carry on, but many creative people have found a whole new life being locked down or “bunkerized” for the last 10 months. For instance, there’s been an explosion of DIY tie-dye. The counterculture uniform of the ‘60s and ‘70s has made a giant rainbow return. DIY Tie–dye kit sales have skyrocketed online. Many people don’t want to pay $85 – $125 for a Ralph Lauren tie dye t-shirt or $1,500 on a tie-dyed cashmere sweater at Net-a-Porter when they can have fun doing it themselves … and they certainly have the time.
The tie-dye process is stress relieving, and it brings back memories of happier times. In many ways it is a form of “cooking.” Hello Grateful Dead! There’s even a popular book out called Dead Style all about the “strange long trip” into tie-dye.
There is that magical aspect where each item is a piece of unique and truly wearable art. Remember, no two designs are the same.
Jonathan Spagat, the creative director of RIT dye said when Covid hit, he worried the demand for dyes would plunge. Instead, the brand is enjoying the highest volumes of sales it has seen in years.
41-year-old Phoenician Roy Andrade decided to amuse himself last July 4th when it hit 112 degrees and tried tie-dying his old t-shirts in his garage — just to see what the tie-dye buzz was all about. He taught himself via YouTube and he got hooked, mastering all the different patterns: shibori, crumple, sunburst, swirl, pleats and the heart (now his trademark). It started as a way to kill time, the heat, and most of all depression.
Within two months, Roy had a brand called “Chuy’s Ink” and everyone wanted to contact the “Tie-Dye Guy.” He began doing makeshift trunk shows out of his car in driveways and parking lots but has since expanded. He can even do “virtual trunk shows” online. His line includes t-shirts (child and adults — $45), leggings ($45-$75), dog bandanas ($15), masks ($10), headbands ($20), pants ($50), and banners ($75). He sells out as fast as he hangs them. Recently people have begged me for his number like the old drug dealer connection!
Though his business has tripled (and his mom is now his partner), he is mindful that each piece is one of a kind which is not as easy to sell online. You see it in person — you want it — you gotta have it. And his styles are not the old Jerry Garcia rumpled Crayola-colored shirts of Maui Wowie. He has mastered all different types of pattering — some deeply subtle, others classically firecracker.
“It’s a surprise for me to have started this as a joke and now I am continuing to grow and expand in different dying techniques.” He doesn’t take personal requests other than color choices because “I just don’t know what the unravelling will reveal — I have no control. It is all a surprise which is what keeps me hooked,” says Roy (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
So far everyone I have gifted a Chuy’s Ink shirt wants more. It’s like CANDY. Even the dogs get into the act with dog foot printed bandanas. The truth is the pandemic has brought most people’s color palette down to dour — blacks, greys, and browns. Wearing tie-dye gives people an instant lift, energy and joy. And you don’t need a great body to wear it.
Recently I read where the Queen of England has turned radical in her colored wardrobe — electric blues, lime neon green, Big Bird yellow, dazzling fuchsia. Now come on … if the Big Liz can do it … so can everyone! The other theory is that as women and men age, they are meant to disappear and blend into the background. Not the 94-year-old Queen. “I have to be seen to be believed,” when asked about her choice of wearing high colors. Send this woman a Chuy’s Ink design ASAP!
By the way, I now have an entire closet rack of Chuy’s Ink. If I’m going to be in the Covid outfit of yoga pants and tee, I want a little happiness and color. And I don’t feel like I look like a Disney character or a desperate aging hippie (aging yes; hippie, no).
Two years ago, I was struggling with a difficult recovery from cataract surgery and a pal gave me a custom made piñata in the shape of a giant eye. Symbolically, breaking the piñata would begin the healing. But I was healed the moment I hung it on my tree and refused to destroy it. It stayed on my tree for six months and I thought it was one of the best pieces of art I have owned.
I soon decided I wanted a piñata for every season. But honestly, I only wanted the Mundo Piñata created by artist José David Chavarria Jimenez (the original eye piñata designer) since his designs were more than the festive party favors.
Supposedly traditional piñatas have seven points symbolizing the seven deadly sins: envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, anger, wrath, and pride. Ten-pointed piñatas symbolize the sins from breaking the Ten Commandments, and the stick which is used to break the piñata represents love.
But never mind the traditional meaning of piñatas, I just want Jimenez’s giant papier mâché colored pieces twisting around on my terrace tree. Always a reminder of something meaningful. Since the eye, I got a giant heart (spring), a replica of my dog Sunshine (not on a tree but used as sculpture in my living room), and now a rainbow fish (the hope for water/rain in the desert this winter).
You send Jimenez the image you want and leave the interpretation to him. He never fails to overwhelm. He is now considered “The Piñata King” of Phoenix. He fills 75 orders a week working with his wife out of a tiny downtown storage unit. He speaks very little English and in his former life was a mechanic, a butcher and a truckdriver. He got into piñatas ten years ago when a friend asked him to make one for a party — a giant cartoon character — and “from there I went on to making 12-foot-high structures for private parties and corporate events. I made a 7-foot-high dinosaur for a child’s party, but no one wanted to destroy it. Everyone seems to love my piñatas as sculpture.”
Jimenez has had no formal art training and takes all his cues from his customer’s requests; he had one lady request a golden toilet bowl full of ramen noodles. He did and she loved it and decided to not use it as a piñata but a centerpiece for her private party. I wonder what that party theme was!
Jimenez is clearly not making pinatas for kids’ parties exclusively, and 80% of his business is non-Hispanic. Though he has been in business for 10 years, it was just this last year with the pandemic and the election that his business went wild.
His various Trump piñatas flew out of his studio (no Biden requests yet) and suddenly Mundo Piñata had a HIT. It was a popular bi-partisan item since you could either bash it completely or keep it as a relic. There have been no requests to do a giant Covid virus sphere yet. But what a great piñata to destroy in 2021 by a giant vaccine needle. Stay tuned!
Jimenez can be contacted through his Facebook page Mundo Piñata or via text (480-322-4040; his creations cost $30 – $350). I told him I have a collection of six of his pieces and can’t get rid of any of them. I let the desert heat and dust destroy them instead of me. The Piñata King said, “I look at my piñatas as a connection to my spirituality and a blessing from me to the customer. Everyone comes away so happy when they get their figures — even with the Trump faces — people love it.”
And lastly — speaking of creating a small business and a spiritual connection in the time of Corona — there is 52-year-old Colombian John Lopez, who went from being a social worker and part-time hospice aid to becoming a mural artist in the last 10 months. Lopez had dabbled in art as a hobby but last August his yoga teacher Harumi Maejima asked him to create a giant wall mural of her favorite Hindu goddess of compassion, The White Tara, on her empty yoga studio wall. She felt the goddess would help her Covid-failing business. He had never done anything like giant wall art but decided to try; as virus cases were climbing along with the Arizona heat of 118 degrees. Harumi was close to having to close her popular studio, which she had just opened a month before Covid.
It took Lopez one month of nonstop night and day sessions to get it right. He even used jewelry bling in the form of butterflies and hummingbirds to represent The White Tara’s message of transformation. “I cried a lot painting her and I had no idea what her history really was, but she got to my heart.” In the end, he used just the right amount of bright colors and gave it a holy POP ART feel.
The result is a giant wall-to-wall altar, and “magically” Harumi’s classes have returned in the form of privates and small semi-privates (all safely spaced and masked, of course). Currently she is the only yoga studio operating in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. Students are blown away doing their meditative moves under the compassionate eight-eyed gaze of The White Tara. She has saved John and the studio. “I was totally changed by this experience,” confessed Lopez. He is now doing more commissioned walls and canvas art. “Imagine … at a time like this.”
So, let’s start talking about fresh creative endeavors and not just deadly contagions. Covid has definitely taught us all some harsh lessons and it may have taken down some important jobs or kicked those pre-Covid troubled businesses under the bus faster. But we can also look at the creativity it has begun to inspire; it has ushered people to come up with something new within themselves.
Just watch what can happen. Creativity doesn’t have to wait for a vaccine!