Angela and Mark Walley had only just opened up their independent film studio in 2010 when artist Chuck Ramirez died suddenly at the age of 48. The pair had met Ramirez in 2009, and were in the beginnings of a collaborative project with him.
In the years since, Angela and Mark’s work has grown. Their short documentaries beautifully illustrate art and the physical space it inhabits, allowing the viewer to interact with the work, while learning first-hand from the artist him/herself.
A year after his passing, Angela Walley says she and Mark knew they needed to stretch their creative limits to tell Chuck Ramirez’s story.
“In order for you to follow his work you really had to go all the way back to his childhood… and to things that he dealt with before he became an artist in order for you to really, fully appreciate why he made the work he made,” explained Angela Walley. The decision was made to produce a feature-length documentary, using archive footage, contemporary interviews, and the Walley’s signature video portraiture of an artist’s work. “Tía Chuck” premiered in May, 2018 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and will screen at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 2 at the Tobin Center’s Alvarez Theatre as part of this year’s San Antonio Film Festival.
Angela Walley stopped by the TPR studios to talk about her filmmaking career, and “Tía Chuck.” You can read an edited transcript of the interview below.
Nathan Cone: When did you first start getting interested in filmmaking and storytelling as a medium in and of itself?
Angela Walley: I grew up with friends that were interested in making videos. I had a couple of friends and we would make silly home movies or music videos and things like that but I never really thought of it as anything more than play. But there were so many other things I was doing with them, writing or making music, or these kinds of things that were creative outlets but I wasn't really thinking of them as something I could imagine myself doing. I always had an interest in art. I always had an interest in music and film and video. But it wasn't until I met Mark Walley, my husband, in high school that that solidified for me.
And where'd y'all go to high school?
Mark and I met at Warren, and it was actually interesting because we were both going to separate high schools. And Warren opened up in 2003 so we were pooled from different schools and that's how we met.
All right, so you got interested in it when you were in high school and you met Mark. So what was the catalyst to work together?
The first time we ever interacted a mutual friend and him were working on a video for our class. And they got me to be an extra in the video like very briefly like 15 minutes at lunch. But that was the first time I met Mark and he was behind a camera, which I think is also kind of interesting. And it wasn't until the next semester that we had a class together that we became friends and started dating right away. All the things he was interested in I really shared. He was interested in music he was interested in making videos. So we started kind of collaborating without even really thinking about it right away. His brother had a bass guitar so when I'd go to his house he started teaching me bass. And he was taking video classes so when he had assignments I would help him out either be an extra I would do a voiceover or something. He had a video class, and his teacher—I think even without him knowing—entered one of his videos into the Northwest Vista College video contest.
He won, and got a scholarship to Northwest Vista. And that was the school both of our siblings had gone to, and honestly we were so in love in junior year, we had zero interest in school and we just kind of floated through! So college, or what we were going to do next, wasn't really something that was even on our radar. And so when he got that scholarship it just made perfect sense that we would go there. After the festival, Bill Colangelo, who was there at the time, gave us a tour of what they were doing in the multimedia department and we were really impressed, and thought it really fit us.
Video is something that made so much sense to us. It was something we could do collaboratively, it was something we could do with friends, it was something [Mark] could write music for. And it was something that we could also really grow in. So yeah, we were doing that during college, taking video classes, making videos for contests, and then we started getting work doing video production for hire during the summers. So we started getting a little more client, real-world video experience as well.
So how did you narrow down your diverse experience into that kind of niche you found yourselves and of documentary filmmaking and specifically documentary filmmaking about artists?
I remember getting an e-mail, I want to say we were still in college, from David Rubin [then the Contemporary Art Curator at the San Antonio Museum of Art]. At the same time we were taking all these video classes we were also taking art classes… and so I got an email about, I think he had forwarded it from Glasstire.com, which is an online arts magazine. They were looking for people to make videos about art and artists in San Antonio. And so it got just got forwarded to me and we looked at it and it really fit us, and so we made a video about our art teacher at the time, Stacy Berlfein. I think that was like one of the first videos we made. We'd also previously made a video about our friend Karl Frey, who is an artist. So that was kind of something we were sneaking into. It started as a news format, like the assignment was like, do a news story. And we're like, "Can we do a news story on our art professor?" So we'd already kind of started becoming interested in making videos about artists. And then we got that email and so we're like, "Well let's produce one that's more documentary style, less news-story style and then we'll submit it and see if we can start doing videos for them. They really liked it, and then that really kicked off a whole series of films. We ended up making I believe nine films for Glasstire, all following San Antonio artists.
You have these great visual aesthetic I like in your documentary films too that really showcases the art itself. Was this just born of experimentation, or did you watch other films? How did you develop your style?
I think our visual style is very much influenced by documentaries that we loved and enjoyed but also just you know cinematography as a whole. Mark is our cinematographer and he really has an amazing eye. And he has been very much informed by films from the '60s, the '70s and different kinds of filmmaking that aren't specifically just documentary style. It really varies depending on the artist. I mean I think so much of our visual style is really picked up from the visual aesthetic of the artists that we're working with. So if we're working with an artist who's a performance artist then Mark's in the street you know hand-held following him and it's all kind of you know it's just the energy of that performance art. Or if the artist is a Vincent Valdez, in his studio, and his work is these giant cinematic paintings, then that's the aesthetic that we want the film to have. And so we really kind of are trying to be in tune with the aesthetic of the artist we're following and kind of pull that into the style of the cinematography and the music and and even the storytelling.
So you mentioned that Mark does the cinematography. What’s the ratio then? What each of you all do on the on the pictures?
Well I think we really balance each other out well. I work mainly as the storyteller. I do the interviews and I kind of cut them together and shape but the backbone of the film is going to be and work with him to plan with the artist what we want to cover visually, what aspects of their process we want to follow, or how much time we want to spend with them in their studio versus you know looking at their work out in the real world.
I mentioned Vincent Valdez and the film we did with him... We have been fortunate enough to work with him a couple of times and the film that we worked on him about following a painting he did about his friend John, "Excerpts from John," we had the opportunity to kind of think a little bit differently about we wanted to do with that film. And I had the idea of us kind of doing a recreation of him with his friend John who had passed away. And so that's one of the first scenes in any of our documentaries where we do a recreation where we take you back to a time in the artist's life that was pivotal to the work that they made. And so when I'm thinking about the documentary about Chuck Ramirez I feel like those kinds of experiments in or shorter films were really just like kind of stepping stones to get to do something about it an artist who'd already passed away that we had all these different ways of storytelling. We didn't just have to be with the artists in the studio. We could you know tell their story in different visual ways as well.
Had you met Chuck at all before he passed away?
We met Chuck in 2009 and we were doing... It was actually called the Colloquium, and it was a series of presentations by artists about their work. We had a handful of films made and we presented alongside Chuck and a handful of other local artists, and after the presentation he came up to us and was extremely enthusiastic, and really liked what we were doing, and really wanted to collaborate in some way. And I always equate that to, like, kind of the warm embrace of the San Antonio art community.
He invited us to his home, [and] we tried kind of collaborating on this photography-video idea where he wanted thousands of photographs to stream by in seconds. And we have a little experiment of it and we gave it to him, but it didn't quite get there because like, literally our computer couldn't handle it! But that was kind of interesting to us because he really opened up to us quickly. He gave us thousands of his photographs, personal photographs of friends and weddings and parties and everything. Just gave them all to us to try to do this video project. That to me was really interesting because he was so open, but that I think is reflected in his work throughout his entire career. How open he was about things that had happened to him, and how personal in a way a lot of his work was, and he wasn't shy about it. And so then we told him you know we were doing the series for Glasstire. He was on the short list of artists that they wanted us to feature, so I started emailing him and saying "well you know this video project didn't work out but let's work together on maybe making a documentary about your work." And at the time he was doing a public commission and so he said he was busy with that, but after that we could work together, on the new series he was working on. And then he passed away suddenly. So we didn't really get that chance.
Most of your films are shorter documentaries meant for online watching. How did you decide Chuck's life, and his work, and his influence deserves the feature-length treatment the longform?
After he passed away we learned so much more about him that we didn't know. I mean, we knew him as an artist, we knew him as someone who was significant to the community, and where he lived was next to Sala Diaz, so we would hang out in his backyard and we're meeting all the artists and he was definitely kind of this central figure. But after he passed away and the memorial happened at Blue Star we really realized how much of an impact it had on the community and also how much work he had really made. Even at the colloquium, he didn't show his past series of works he showed like iPhone photographs that he was taking at the time like a new series... he was going in a different direction. And so I wasn't even that aware of his past work until after he had died. They had an impromptu exhibition inside of Sala Diaz, and you got to see his work and hearing all these stories about his life.
We knew we wanted to make a film. And I think we knew it wasn't going to be three to five minutes. But it wasn't until, maybe a year into thinking about it that we started to realize that there really was the opportunity to make something longer length, because in order for you to follow his work you really had to go all the way back to his childhood and to his growing up, and to things that he dealt with before he became an artist in order for you to really fully appreciate why he made the work he made. And, we have a lot of influences with documentaries that cover kind of the lifetime of an artist, either towards the end of their life, or after they've passed away. And so you know this was the opportunity to make a film about not just an artist making one piece of work or one installation but you know the life of an artist and kind of the impact that they made on the community they are a part of.
Has it changed your relationship to him, even in death, to study him and go back and look at his life and work like this?
In the documentary there's a scene where we cover "Casa Chuck" which is the residency program that kind of happened after he passed away, thanks to his family, and Sala Diaz and Mike Casey. And there is an artist, a writer who comes in and she talks a little bit about how present Chuck feels, and that's how I feel. I feel that he's still very present in our community not only because his home is still here, his work is still exhibited, but because I felt so close to him through the making of the film, getting to watch footage of him or listen to his voice, I just felt like he never was really gone. And I feel very fortunate that I got to spend the last several years listening to his voice and watching footage, so much more footage than we could ever use in the film. You know having access to tapes that his friends had filmed and parties and openings or openings, and it wasn't until we presented the film and then people started saying how they hadn't heard his voice in years that I was like "Oh, you're right."
Now I'm so excited to kind of bring that to audiences so people can hear his voice from, you know, the '70s. There's like, cassette tapes, and there's footage of him from the '90s, and there's all this material that so many people hadn't ever even seen before. So I really love the opportunity to dig through archives. That was something through this project I really learned that I loved. And so this project wasn't only our own footage or new interviews with people but it was really a deep dive into what the community had to offer us in terms of photography and video and audio. And so it was a great collaborative effort to really put the whole story together.
Where do you see him as fitting in terms of the history of the art scene in San Antonio given your all the stuff that you've looked at with other artists too?
In the making of this film we really focused on say about a 40-year time span in terms of the art community, a 30 to 40-year time span. We started like that early '80s up until today. And so I'm not in any way an expert in terms of the history of the San Antonio art scene. But in the context of what I know of the art scene, or what I know of San Antonio, I know that Chuck was part of a very special and kind of magical time. And I heard that from a lot of different people not only people who were part of it, but people who have written about it or have come to San Antonio at a later point. That the early '80s and mid-to-late '80s was a shift where there was a whole new generation of artists who were making a whole new kind of work, and very much putting San Antonio on the map. And there was a lot of people who helped do that. Linda Pace with art pace and everyone who helped make Blue Star happen, and then all the DIY spaces that were happening that were artist-run were all part of this growing community that was very much a part of supporting and taking contemporary art outside of San Antonio and bringing it into San Antonio. I really think that a lot of people don't know about what happened around that time, and I'm glad that the film covers it so people have a better appreciation for what San Antonio was like at that time and how grateful we can all be that those institutions still exist and they have the histories they have.
So you've had a few showings of the film. One at the Tobin, your big premiere. And then CineFestival...
We're very fortunate. I mean, we've had so many great screenings. We started out having kind of a little VIP screening at ArtPace for the donors and his family. And that was a really beautiful small screening and it was very emotional for us to show it to people for the first time. We had a screening at the McNay Art Museum. Kind of a special screening the last day of his exhibition. He had the retrospective All This and Heaven Too curated by the McNay. And we got to show the film the last night it was open, so people could see his work and then go in and see the documentary, which is very special. The premiere at the Tobin, and then it was in Houston. In Houston we have a great partnership there with the Contemporary Museum of Houston and Aurora Picture Show and we got to do a screening in Houston which is kind of our second home in a way, we do a lot of work with art and the art scene in Houston and now it's going to be coming up at the San Antonio Film Festival August 2nd.
Well congratulations. And I just love what you guys do. Your films are really beautiful to look at and very enlightening as well. So I'm looking forward to this.
Thank you so much!