Shorts on Sundays: Diablo Rojo

Catching a Last Ride With Panama’s Mobile Art Movement

In a city as wild with light, noise and chaos as Panama City, you had better look twice before braving a zebra crossing. At any moment, a vehicle best described as a carnival on wheels, complete with reggaeton blaring out of its speakers, will come careering down the street, screeching to a halt only to squeeze another passenger onto its already crammed decks. Known as the ‘Diablo Rojo’ (the Red Devils), these are Panama’s notorious public buses––the intensity of their sound and speed matched only by the electric montage of colors and cartoons decorating their exterior. Ever since the post-war years, Diablo Rojo drivers have hired local artists to turn these old American school buses into moving business cards: the louder the music and the bolder the visuals, the more passengers you pick up. “Nothing is subtle in Panama,” says Eoin Mclaughlin, who directed today’s Short on Sunday on one of the most prolific Diablo Rojo artists, Andrés Salazar. “Everything's in your face: sex, violence, drugs and color. Moderation is pointless. If you want your bus painted, then you really want it painted.” Constantly changing the designs to reflect the sounds and styles of the time, the Diablo Rojo artists covered their yellow-painted steel canvases with a jumble of tropical landscapes, religious iconography and portraits of Latin America’s most-loved artists, actors and athletes. Encapsulating the shared and personal experiences of contemporary Panamanian life, these mobile artworks have become, as Salazar puts it, an essential part of the country’s folklore. Today, the Diablo Rojo are being discarded in favor of more pallid, air-conditioned metro buses, and these unique pieces of history are quickly disappearing. “Andrés speaks with the passion of a man who has spent his whole life creating a body of work, a whole movement, only to see it scrapped as his time draws to an end,” Mclaughlin adds. “That he maintains the importance of his work, and yet accepts the end as he does, is something quite powerful.”—Hanne Christiansen

Hanne Christiansen is a freelance journalist and broadcaster who has contributed to Dazed & Confused and Vice, among others.

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Conversations (4)

  • Eoin McLaughlin
    I'm on Speak soon. Eoin
  • Rotulacion a mano
    Any chance to contact Eoin Mclaughlin to show this film in a festival in UK in september?
  • Richie Hendo
    A great short film and insight in an art movement that is slowly fading away and being replaced by the air conditioned comforts of modern people movers.
  • ThomasGlover
    What a fantastic film.
    • Posted By ThomasGlover
    • July 14, 2014 at 4:08AM
    • Share Comment:

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    Larry Clark: Doing it for the Kids

    Leo Fitzpatrick Reflects On the Archive of the Provocative Chronicler of Teenage Nihilism

    “This is one of Larry Clark’s most personal shows,” says actor and artist Leo Fitzpatrick, who was immortalized as the nihilistic protagonist Telly in the cult filmmaker’s 1995 debut, Kids. “It has less to do with the buying of the photos, rather to be able to sit with an artist’s archive, handle each photo as if your own and to see the outtakes and everyday photos that could be on a roll of film in any of our cameras.” Los Angeles skate punks, topless teens and the cast of Clark’s 20-year filmography feature at London’s Simon Lee Gallery—the director’s vast archive collection of unseen snapshots arrived in a wooden crate, following a similar sale at his Home Alone 2 gallery in New York earlier this year. “Of course, there’s some nostalgia for me,” says Fitzpatrick, who launched his career with Kids, alongside co-stars Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson and scriptwriter Harmony Korine. “A few friends have passed away, which always makes you bummed, but what I miss the most when looking at the photos is the innocence. We were young, naive, and stupid. Those days sure were fun.” Captured between 1992 and 2010, Clark’s series curated by NOWNESS features a portrait of Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser on the set of the director's 1998 feature Another Day in Paradise alongside behind-the-scenes from a nude 2005 calendar shoot for Supreme. Known for his filmic portraits of America’s self-destructive youth, the sale comes as a thank you to the skate rats and teenagers central to the artist’s provocative oeuvre, allowing them to take home their own piece of his otherwise inaccessible archive.

    Images are available to purchase for £100 each at London’s Simon Lee Gallery through July 6.

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    Shorts on Sundays: Principles of a Protagonist

    The Multi-Talented Chicago Musician Willis Earl Beal Reveals an Introspective Animation

    Avatars of Lionel Richie and President Barack Obama pop up in Willis Earl Beal’s animated exploration of everyday human values, trials and mediations, Principles of a Protagonist. Chicago-born Beal’s past lives include those of an army recruit and a night-shift security guard before he began recording music, promoting his work by leaving CD-Rs in public spaces around town, accompanied by hand-illustrated flyers. The autobiography-meets-fantasy concept behind Principles of a Protagonist originated in the form of a novella Beals wrote in 2010 while heartbroken and unemployed, and distributed as a photocopied 'zine. He has since hooked up with Hot Charity/XL Recordings, who put out his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery, last year, and are planning a sophomore release for late 2013. Beal continues to integrate his writing and drawing into his recording work, however, and today’s new installment of our Shorts on Sundays series is a testament to his many talents—visual, musical, and philosophical. "The Protagonist does what we cannot," Beal revealed to us in a brief artist's statement. "He embraces an inevitable destruction that is all inclusive. He knowingly constructs a set of principles that ultimately must dissolve within a meaningless void like the perceived order of life into the uncertainty of death."

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