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Dawn of the Dead

ae_zombie_thumbIt’s all about the zombie at Caffe Pergolesi’s tattoo art bonanza

Here are a few things you should know about zombies:

the way to kill them is via blunt trauma to the head, or destroy their brain; they don’t talk; they don’t have a consciousness; and I Am Legend was a really crappy zombie movie. This is all, of course, coming from zombie aficionados Robert Klem and Edu Cerro, two thirty-something tattoo artists who work at Samuel O’Reilly’s Tattoo Parlour on the Westside of Santa Cruz. The two men, plus their other tattoo artist

colleagues at O’Reilly’s, Jason Anderson, Adam Barton and Dan Wysup, are all hosting a huge zombie-themed art show during the month of March at Caffe Pergolesi. The show is an enormous group project that features the work of more than 85 artists and includes about 100 different works of art that are all influenced by the idea of zombies. Every medium is covered: oil, acrylics, watercolors, leather, stained glass digital photography, collage, shadow boxes and metal sculptures.

It’s quite an undertaking, but this isn’t the first time the staff at O’Reilly’s have taken it upon themselves to launch an art show. (A while back they did a similarly styled show but with the theme of ‘monkeys.’)

This time around, Klem and the other men came up with the idea during one of their weekly ‘critique nights,’ where the tattoo artists from O’Reilly’s gather to challenge and critique one another’s artistic and tattoo work in order to become better artists.

“We’ve all been kind of eating up a lot of zombie stuff lately,” Cerro says. “Books coming out, a few movies we’re excited about.” Well, that is everyone except Barton. Notably not much of a zombie fan, Barton’s along for the artistic ride, having created a beautiful and gruesome oil painting of a hand that’s dripping in blood. As for Cerro and Klem, though, the zombie theme is vastly inspiring for creating artwork, and the pair appear to be full-on zombie scholars easily rattling off movie titles of their favorite zombie flicks, and zombie trivia.

“We grew up in ’80s punk rock … [zombies were something] that formed our aesthetic,” Klem says. “The beauty of the theme show is there are no rules.”

As a result, there are myriad interpretations of zombies reflected in the show. In addition, according to Cerro, the show has been hung in a sort of excess stimulation way with massive quantities of art on each wall. “We’re visually going for over-saturation, in every corner, and ever part of every wall. It goes with the theme—every wall is visually striking.” And you’re also literally surrounded by depictions of zombies, which you can’t get away from, which, of course, is what you’ll experience in any good zombie flick.

The show includes the aforementioned painting that Barton created, a painting by Klem that references an old WWII movie poster, a trio of images by Anderson, and a few pieces by Cerro including a gruesome and violent oil painting of a family, that’s visually an absolute piece of art. The action in the painting was staged by Cerro’s own family members who acted out the fictional scenario: A woman is on the ground, dead, her daughter is eating her guts as the girl’s older brother looks on. The clincher is that the father is about to shoot the little girl in the head and destroy her brain—the best way to kill a zombie. (Apparently, as Klem explains, once someone’s a zombie, they may resemble their old self but there’s no way that’s your mom or sister anymore.)

The men admit that part of the compelling nature of zombies is their ability to improvise and survive, and as the poster for this show, “Organize Before They Rise!” says, this is “An apocalyptic vision of the zombie uprising. A group art show featuring the last remaining artists on earth.”

OK, so these tattoo artists have a great sense of humor; they tattoo all day, then create other forms of visual arts in their off time; they send out a call for artists—and more than 85 people from Santa Cruz and beyond respond to participate. If you ever had a stereotype that a bunch of tattoo artists were not good businessmen, think again. “Tattoo artists are some of the most proficient draftsmen working today,” Klem says.

The show is also an outreach of sorts, drawing attention to a group of perhaps overlooked visual artists in Santa Cruz. What you’ll find in Caffe Pergolesi may surprise you—there you’ll see the work of many talented artists of all mediums who are “trying to give back to the community,” Cerro says. But beware of zombies crossing in downtown Santa Cruz and remember that if you run into one, kill it with blunt trauma to the head.


“Organize Before They Rise!” a zombie-themed art show hosted by the artists of Samuel O’Reilly’s Tattoo Parlour is up through the end of March at Caffe Pergolesi, 418 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.

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