In 1988, famous photorealist Chuck Close suffered a collapsed spinal artery and became partially paralyzed. The New York artist was determined to keep working, but was suddenly in need of an assistant.
Two thousand miles away, Andrew Ramiro Tirado was helping out at an art foundation at Colorado College. When the foundation's executive director, who had connections with Close, handpicked the 19-year-old to go to New York, he couldn't say yes quickly enough.
Before long, Tirado was driving Close around and helping with painting prep. And in his off time, "Chuck graciously allowed me to paint in his studio," Tirado remembers.
With the arrangement lasting 18 months, the young artist seemingly had a fairy-tale setup. But his story would be more complex.
"I felt the need to prove myself, but realized as time went on, I didn't have anything unique to say and was searching in vain," he says. Feeling his art lacked "inherent necessity," Tirado searched for his own creative voice. Stumbling across a book on how to build wood-strip canoes, something within him ignited. He set to work on a 16-foot canoe in Close's studio, learning how to use the shop tools and machines.
Eventually finding his way back to Colorado, he worked on and off for a set builder for various commercials and videos, meanwhile playing Mr. Mom for his family of five kids and his wife, Nan. Tiring of the "externally driven forces" steering his work, Tirado started his own custom prop fabrication shop, Artworks, out of a garage in Colorado Springs.
Now, 44, and in his eighth year as 3D arts shop supervisor at Colorado College, he has returned to his own craft and love of art-making. Tirado has been "birthed" into the local scene, says Laura BenAmots, curator of Industrial Gods & Monsters, which opened earlier this month, showcasing his work along with that of three other local artists.
In February 2012, after a 23-year-long hiatus, he began using refurbished wood from CC with no premeditated plan. His first piece, "Lacuna," a 13-foot-long arm and hand tediously garnished by a "myriad of tiny little holes," wound up displayed at the Ivywild School through early fall of this year. His second piece, hanging in the Industrial show, is "All Colors Bleed to Red," a "mammoth, Hand of God in scale — [a] reference to industry and how God makes us all reflect on things around," as BenAmots puts it. His upcoming man-one show, 'hol, a phonetic word referencing the "negative space" of his art-making hiatus and the resulting satisfaction of an unexpected return, will showcase "Lacuna" and three newer sculptures.
As he writes on his blog, "It's a big tent, the modern art world is, and it's nice that there's still room, if just barely, for the work I've found myself creating, which, being both head, heart and handmade and calling attention to the marvelous, manipulative instrument of the hand itself, runs cross-grain to no-hands art. Quite literally, at times."