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Day of the Dead Lives On in Pilsen

By Chloe Riley | November 30, 2012 9:19am

PILSEN — Day of the Dead may have ended on Nov. 2, but for several Pilsen stores, the holiday lives on.

Several businesses in the heavily Mexican community have kept the spirit alive by leaving up Day of the Dead paintings by Antonio Rangel, an artist and musician whose skeleton acrylics refuse to die.

At Lucky’s Barber Shop on 18th Street, owner Carlos Lopez asked Rangel to do a calaca (skeleton) with “a big bottle and a bunch of bullets across his chest.”

The calaca is still boozing it up on Lucky’s front window. Asked why he left the art up after Day of the Dead, Lopez said, “No. 1, it’s Pilsen. And, I’ll be honest with you, I like his art.”

A “tattoo party that got out of hand” is the second reason the skeleton still stands. The night of the party, the window pane containing the "C" and "K" of “Lucky’s” was broken. Now the front window reads "Lu-y’s" and the skeleton fills in the rest.

Simone’s Bar on 18th Street just recently asked Rangel to retouch one of his paintings on the outside of the bar. It features a pink flower and cactus arms reaching up around two skulls. Joshe Fuentes, a manager at Simone's who coordinated the paintings, said he wants the cactus skulls to last through the winter.

“It really fits the neighborhood,” he said of Rangel’s art. “There’s definitely a vibrant street art movement here and a nice symmetry between small business and independent artists.”

Fuentes, 34, grew up in Pilsen and said Rangel’s art reminds him of turn of the century Mexican art.

“He’s from the community and he’s a very interesting character. We’re happy to support him,” Fuentes said.

Over on Halsted Street, Rangel has paintings that have spent three years on the glass storefront at David’s Grill.

In the front window of David’s, a smiling skeleton gnome greets customers looking for a hot taco or sandwich. A painting of “Cantinflas,” a comic actor often called the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico, has become a fixture at David’s along with several other Rangel window paintings.

Rangel, 35, has been painting since he was in Mexico as a 10-year-old who couldn’t sit still in church. Later, in his 20s, he discovered acrylics and charcoals. Because he didn’t have money for materials, Rangel said he would sometimes burn sticks of oak to make charcoal.

He said shops in Pilsen have different reasons for keeping his Day of the Dead artwork up.

“In here, [Simone’s] they like the way it looks. Other people, they believe in the creation of the dead after life. They leave it there like their own altar in the glass,” he said.

Rangel said that six years ago, when he went door to door persuading Pilsen shops to let him put a skeleton in their window, he stuck to more traditional Day of the Dead designs such as the ones by José Guadalupe Posada, a famous Mexican cartoonist from the same town as Rangel.

But now, the Pilsen artist said he likes to keep the people on their toes.

“They like the classics, but sometimes you gotta do something different. I try to make the drawings talk. They are saying something to the people,” he said. 

Rangel said he wants his skeletons to tell the people that Day of the Dead culture is alive and well in Pilsen.

“This is a really good opportunity to show them how we are, what we celebrate in our community. I know by now, many, many people all over the world know about this day."