If These Covers Could Talk #3
In If These Covers Could Talk, poets interview the visual artists whose works grace their book covers. The result is an engaging discussion of process, vision, and projects. This series is a celebration of collaboration—here, we champion the fruitful conversations taking place both on and behind the cover.
This month, poet Antonio de Jesús López spoke to artist Anthony Solorzano about the cover of Gentefication (Four Way Books, 2021).
A Conversation Between Antonio López and Anthony Solorzano
Antonio López: Que hubo, Anthony! Let me preface our discussion by stating something I feel you and I both share. Mas que nada, I think it’s hella important that we as fellow artists, especially us being both Latino creatives, help build each other up. So, as we share this platform, could you take a moment to tell the virtual world who Anthony Solorzano is? Fsho mention all the good shit on a C.V., but also what are your passions, your reasons for doing what you do. Your ethic, politic, favorite pair of shoes, lo que sea.
Anthony Solorzano: Well, I guess primarily I’m a filmmaker, but like with many independent artists, storytelling can definitely take many shapes and forms. Sometimes I’m called upon to direct a music video, or create promo for social media, and recently, I worked on a short documentary for some local history professors. At the end of the day, I’m merging images with a story to make a bigger statement. Visual storyteller would be an accurate title, haha.
AL: Yeah I like that way you phrased it, and this idea of being “called upon.” I figure that on a given day, Anthony, you have a whole Rolodex worth of requests. And you, being just one man, have to decide who to support. Makes me think about how so much of our work isn’t even really about us, but about meeting the moment. It’s like a duty, an obligation. Would you say that?
AS: I just mean that as an artist you have to be flexible, be able to adapt. We don’t take jobs in a traditional sense and apply the same techniques every time. Each project is unique and requires me to tap into different sensibilities.
AL: People still ask me this, and la neta I still be blanking on what answer(s) to give. But to you, what the heck does “Gentefication” mean?
AS: For me, it’s a slang version of gentrification, a G’d up version, tu sabes? I feel like gentrification is a word that has been so overused in political, academic, and woke circles, that it feels good to have a new spin on it. To change up the convo, you know?
AL: Absolutely, I feel like so much of art is about taking the structures and concepts we inherited and transforming them to our advantage. Have you found that in your work?
AS: Oh yeah, that’s the fun in creating anything. That you can put your personal touch on it – give ‘em a taste of your experiences, culture, style.
AL: Couldn’t agree more. And speaking of taste, I just gotta say, the cover is insane! I am so grateful our paths crossed and you were able and willing to distill my poems into an image that’s provocative, violent, unapologetically Latino. I know we spent mad conversations going back and forth about your initial impressions of Gentefication, but for the good readers of Palette Poetry, could you remind us what was going through your head as you popped open that photoshop and started to ‘gentefy’ a poetry collection’s cover?
AS: Dude, I’m so happy you like it! Thank you for trusting me with this project. So, right from the start, I approached this task like I do other art or video projects: I try to find a very personal connection to it. It’s the only way I’m gonna give you the best version of myself and create something authentic. As I read your poems, I let the body of work really sink in, the words, your style, the tone, the visuals, so as to awaken certain emotions and memories. I do the same thing as a fiction writer when searching for inspiration.
So, the things that initially stuck with me were the warm family memories and the details about your parents’ immigrant struggles, but more importantly, I was inspired by the bravado by which you shared very personal and intimate experiences and presented them in a way that forces the reader to learn about your culture. It’s unapologetically “hood” although meant for academia, and I dig that.
As for the design, I couldn’t get the image of a tongue out of my mind. You do mention it a lot, by the way—tongue, mouth, words, language. I came to realize that as a poet, your words are your weapons; in this case, words are also your peace offering. So I ran with this symbolic idea to highlight the emotional connection between author and reader.
AL: Digging a bit deeper into the aspects of the cover itself, in my humble poeta view, man, there’s definitely a cartoonish feel to the cover. And that’s not a diss by any means. In fact, it’s honoring and reflecting the speaker and his experience, attitudes viz. going to college as his city’s struggling. You got this fist holding a pencil-turned-shank that’s impaled a tongue. I wanna call it a sketch artist aesthetic. How would you describe it?
AS: You’re right, that was the goal. I was hoping to capture a sense of brutality, but without making it too graphic or realistic; that would have been off-putting. I think it needed to be friendly enough to engage people to open the book. I was hoping the fun details (pencil shank, hand tattoos, notebook aesthetic) would give it some youthful scholarly flavor.
AL: Believe me, those fun details animate and give life to the book in ways even the poems can’t do, so again, gracias!
Tocayo, you’re a foo who, like me, wears a lotta hats, and I certainly want to take a moment to highlight them. You’ve made films that range from music videos for artists on both sides of the border, to full-length features–including your very own movie Varsity Punks (2019). You’re also a tax preparer, a woefully underappreciated profession in our community. So in a way, your day job is just like mine, helping the government get its money (puras bromas of course). How would you say that your eclectic background informs your art and art-making, as shown in this cover?
AS: Haha, more like helping the people get their money. La gente that I serve is more likely to get refunds than to owe. But I tell you what, even in jobs like that I get to meet and socialize with people of so many different backgrounds and professions– it’s sociology research. Learning what makes people tick and what they value is important in creating engaging characters and stories.
AL: As you can tell from reading my book bro, I place a lotta emphasis on place (and race, and the relationship between the two). In particular, Gentefication thinks about how, and under what terms, we decide to make a place home. Now, you grew up in El Monte, a.k.a., Big Bad Monte. My padrinos live out there, as well as some uncles on my mom’s side, so I definitely have some sense of the ‘vibe,’ but not as a born and bred boy. For those who aren’t as familiar with the San Gabriel Valley area, how would you describe being a Mexican-American kid there? How would you say the environment shaped you and in part informed your decisions in terms of your career as an artist?
AS: I’m very fond of my hometown and try to represent that culture as much as I can in my stories because the mainstream media needs more perspective. You see LA stories, and even East LA stories, but almost nothing else of the region east of there. The culture is different from places like Boyle Heights, and I just like to showcase it when I can. After all, it’s the place where most of my best memories live.
AL: What is some shit you’re working on that we should know about?
AS: After directing a movie and some music videos, and producing other video projects, I’m going back to writing. Back to my roots. I feel like I have to re-learn it again, haha. I’m currently writing a TV series about some friends who form a ranchera band in high school. They’re 2nd gen Mex-American teens and this is a band origin story about trying to reconnect to your roots through music. I also have some other feature film stories in the works, but we’ll save that pitch for later.
AL: Love it, love it! Can’t wait to see what you’ll create man!
Before we sign off I just want to take a moment to thank ‘our sponsors,’ Gustavo Barahona Lopez, Sarah Ali, and everyone over at Palette Poetry who gave this conversation a home. Otra vez mil gracias for your sharing your vision and gracing mi poesia with it.
AL: Gracias a ti, homie!
Anthony Solorzano is an independent filmmaker whose debut film Varsity Punks was a homegrown project shot in El Monte, CA. Recently, he has expanded his visual storytelling skills by directing music videos, commercials, and short documentaries. His style likes to push on cultural boundaries by celebrating the