Pale Horse Lucha: The Art of Lucha Libre
Tues., May 5, 7-11 p.m.; opening match at 8 p.m.; main event at 9 p.m. at NOVA 535, 535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-6682, nova535.com, palehorselucha.com.
If there’s such a thing as a stereotypical wrestling fan, it probably doesn’t look like Chris Parks, a slim 30-something with a prodigious beard who, by virtue of his work as an inventor and illustrator of otherworldly, myth-based characters, is one of St. Pete’s finest artistic assets. In a chapel-like office inside his downtown studio, Pale Horse Design, Parks is in his element, flanked by samples of his illustrations, design books and art toys. But a while back he found himself drawn to another haunt — the ringside of indie wrestling matches like those held at the Orpheum in Ybor City — at the urging of his friend Michael Thomas, a graphic designer and writer who sits next to Parks as we chat.
The problem, the guys explain, has been that their two worlds of interest — art and wrestling — don’t mix.
“We just can’t get any of our friends to come, even though every time they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that sounds great,’” Parks says. “So I guess what happened is — All right, we’re going to bring wrestling into an art gallery so they’ll show up.”
On Tuesday, aka Cinco de Mayo, the duo unveils Pale Horse Lucha, a project that promises to be the most meticulously aestheticized wrestling match ever unleashed on Tampa Bay, and at the same time, one hell of a sick art show. At the center of it all are four fictive wrestler characters — Oráculo, Serpentico, Balam and Renata — dreamed up by Parks and Thomas (who goes by “Monster”) and brought to life with help from a bevy of collaborators including Michelle Tannu and Casey Paquet. For one night, they’ll turn NOVA 535 into a combination gallery and wrestling ring, staging an exhibition of eight large-scale illustrations by Parks, photographs by Todd Bates (CL’s former creative director), a pair of live wrestling matches featuring Central Florida pro wrestlers, costume displays, videos, a DJ and ring announcer, event merchandise including t-shirts and food trucks.
Parks and Thomas found their initial interest sparked after an invitation to meet some of the wrestlers they’d seen performing at the Orpheum. To Parks’s surprise, some knew his artwork — specifically, a 2011 illustration called “The Last Fiesta,” which reconstructs da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” as a mock-solemn gathering of lucha libre wrestlers who cluster around a taco-wielding Christ. (The inspiration, Parks recalls, was a 2009 visit to Tijuana with Tannu, his wife. There he observed kitsch votives of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Mexican-American wrestler Rey Mysterio.) When one of the Orpheum wrestlers asked Parks to design graphics for his tights, Parks agreed, even though there was no money in the prospect. When the tights turned out well, Parks and Thomas, who grew up watching wrestling at Fort Hesterly Armory in Tampa and did a stint as a performer for Kaiju Big Battel, started to wonder what might be next.
The collaboration mushroomed when they met Lince Dorado, an Orlando-based wrestler who had trained in handcrafting traditional lucha libre masks in Mexico City. Parks and Thomas began to imagine characters for the ring, fusing the tradition of masked Mexican wrestling with mythological themes and supernatural powers, sketching out backstories (Thomas) and signature costumes and masks (Parks), and sending the designs to Dorado for fabrication. Soon Parks had recruited Bates to photograph live wrestlers wearing the costumes while doing aerial flips and other moves. The photos became reference points for illustrations, which Parks posted on Instagram to gauge their appeal to his art followers. Along the way, the improbable happened: Wrestler Jay Rios, also based in Orlando, approached Pale Horse about inventing a new professional identity for him. Oráculo — an archetypal hero in silver, black and gold whose mask bears a stylized third eye of otherworldly insight — was born.
After Rios’s debut as Oráculo last November (defeating opponent Oliver Cain), New Port Richey-based Uproar Pro Wrestling named the wrestler its rookie of the year. Then Masked Republic, an American company that promotes Mexican wrestling in the U.S., called and asked Parks to redesign their logo and merchandise. Parks and Thomas’s open-ended adventure had officially merged with entrepreneurship.
“I see it as an opportunity to take something that most people in the U.S. know about, but they don’t know a lot about it, and in doing my own show and making these wrestlers, be sort of positioned as the guy with a good amount of credibility to make this stuff,” Parks says.
Oráculo will be the protagonist of Tuesday’s spectacle, which introduces villainous Serpentico, blue-skinned Balam and Renata, a butt-kicking lady warrior with a skeletal mask. (A project blog, palehorselucha.com, details the extensive history of each character.) Fictions up till now, they’ll come off the page and into the ring, embodied by a cast of regional pro wrestlers, thanks to the space between art and wrestling created by Parks and Thomas.
“That’s a big part of the show — really altering people’s perceptions of what wrestling is and what art is,” Thomas says. “Maybe we’re confusing them a little and having them go, wait, is this wrestling or is this art?”