Daniel Martin Diaz was born here, went to school here, learned his art here, married and raised his son here, and became an internationally known artist while living here.
Now it’s time for him to move on, he says.
Diaz and his wife and collaborator Paula Catherine Valencia are set to close their downtown gallery, Sacred Machine Museum, at the end of May. After trips to Copenhagen and Luxembourg for exhibits of Diaz’s works, the couple will make Los Angeles their new home.
“Tucson has been fantastic, so supportive,” says Diaz as he and his wife were manning the gallery earlier this week. They are the only employees, save for two interns who work there.
“But we’re ready to move to a different location, and L.A. seems the right place to be.”
The new location may well give his art, which can go for as much as $30,000, more exposure, but that isn’t the key reason they are heading west.
It’s the music.
Diaz and Valencia have long had a band, Blind Divine, which has 10 albums to its credit, plays regular club dates, and has music licensed to such organizations as A&E and MTV networks.
They have formed a new band, Crystal Radio, with just the two of them and are hoping L.A., with its vast music industry, will give their music a higher profile.
“Musically, we definitely need to be in L.A.,” says Diaz.
But it is his art, which seems to have stepped out of the Byzantine era into the Old Pueblo and picked up a bit of surrealism and scientific-illustration techniques along the way, for which most Tucsonans know the self-taught artist.
His “Desert Splendor,” an installation high in a corner of the Plaza Centro Garage, is one of the first things one notices coming out of the North Fourth Avenue underpass into downtown. The sun shines through it during the day and it is backlit at night, which means the stylized desert scene glows 24/7.
An oversized painting of a madonna greets those headed toward the restrooms at Cafe Poca Cosa.
His arch incorporating a metalwork facade sits over the stage at Club Congress.
In many ways, his work, which burst onto the scene in 1997 when Etherton Gallery and Tucson Museum of Art both showed his work, has come to define Tucson.
Diaz remembers when he was at an opening of his art at a New York gallery. A man walked up, looked at his art and casually said, “It reminds me of Tucson.”
“That’s when I realized how much Tucson had influenced me,” says Diaz.
Andy Polk, an art professor at the University of Arizona, realized Diaz’s influence on Tucson last year when he was teaching an advanced printing class.
“One of the things we do is invite accomplished artists in,” says Polk. Those artists are generally from out of town, and they come in to create a drawing that the students and Polk then use to make a lithograph.
“I asked the class who they would like to work with, and a student said that one of her favorite artists anywhere lives right here.” That was Diaz.
The invitation was extended and accepted. He worked with the students for about three days, drawing an image on the lithography stone, a massive slab of limestone.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had working with an artist,” says Polk. “It was an inspiration to watch him work. And he was so nice and generous with his time and his comments to the students.”
His move to L.A., says Polk, is “Our loss. I’m sad for the community. On the other hand, I’m happy for him.”
Mary Ellen Wooten, the Tucson Pima Arts Council’s public art program manager, has worked with Diaz on public arts projects, which he often does in collaboration with his wife.
“He’s an extremely hard-working artist who comes with the full package in terms of talent and commitment and organization skills and aesthetics,” says Wooten.
“Hopefully, he’ll continue to work here. I imagine a large part of his heart will remain here.”
It will, say Diaz and Valencia.
“Tucson is who we are,” says Valencia, who graduated from Catalina High School. “It’s been a blessing that people have embraced what we do.”
“I will miss the desert, which has been such a huge part of our lives,” says Diaz, an alum of Sunnyside High School. “I think that’s where I’ve drawn my inspiration — from the mysticisim of the desert.”
Which may be why the two aren’t making a clean break from the Old Pueblo.
“We hopefully will be able to keep our home here,” says Valencia. “This is where we’ll come to decompress.”