Welcome to “Boiseland,” a place that exists out of time and space and in the imagination of Basque artist Judas Arrieta.
For many Basques, Boise holds a special place in their history.
“Boise is like this legendary place, like Atlantis or something, a place you must visit before you die,” Arrieta says. “I never thought I would be here.”
In his colorful vision, Idaho’s capital is part mythic Promised Land of the American West, part international touchstone for Basques around the world, especially during Jaialdi.
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“That’s why I call it ‘Boiseland.’ I want to make a kind of parallel reality of Boise,” Arrieta says. “The legend and the reality, my paintings will talk about this. You see Boise and it’s real, but not real. You only know what you experience. So I play with what I know and what I don’t know, (and) with what I’m feeling.”
His “Boiseland” installation of posters, painted skateboard decks and large paintings will fill Ming Studios, an international artist residency in Downtown Boise, starting July 24. The exhibit opens in time for Jaialdi as thousands of Basques come to Boise to celebrate their culture.
The show runs through Aug. 22.
Ming also will screen a mini-Basque film festival, produced by the Modern Hotel and Bar, at 9 p.m. July 30-Aug. 1. The shorts by Basque filmmakers run the gamut of documentary, animation, narrative and experimental.
The film part happened after Arrieta’s show was planned, but serendipitously he knows many of the filmmakers and will introduce the lineup.
Ming Studios’ Jason Morales brought Arrieta to Boise to be a part of the Jaialdi spirit and possibly offer a more modern take on Basque culture than sheep wagons and dancing.
“What that is, isn’t for me to say,” Morales says. “It’s for Judas to discover.”
Many people in the United States imagine the Basque Country as a pastoral place. But its cities today are bustling financial centers and are progressive in areas such as technology, and fine and culinary arts.
For Americans, Basques were immigrants. For Arrieta, they were pioneers — like those who came over the Oregon Trail to settle in the West. Bold and hopeful, they came here to find a new life. Perhaps that’s why Basque people love Westerns so much, he muses.
“In Basque Country, we love these movies,” he says. “I don’t know why, but everyone knows someone who has family who came to Boise, or who stayed here and who made their fortune and a new life here.”
That subtext fascinates Arrieta, who blends his Basque-ness with a wider international view. Arrieta, one of the Basque region’s best-known artists, grew up and studied fine art there, but found his chief influences in the Asian-style comics, cartoons and kung fu films he watched in his youth.
“I always tried to be an Oriental artist,” he says. “I went to Asia to find out why I like this culture so much. I think artists give back what people give to them. So I wanted to go there and give back to them what they gave me. I’m talking about comics and animation, cinema and history.”
Arrieta spent a year in Japan and eight years at a residency in Beijing, where he met his wife, Vivian Tao.
After seeking his creative soul in the Far East, the couple eventually returned to the Basque Country. They now live in San Sebastian with their 4-year-old daughter.
“I think art has the character of Greek tragedy,” Arrieta says. “You always are trying to find the way to come back home — like Odysseus — but you never do. It’s the travel that makes you much more than you were when you started the journey.”
In this show, he uses irony and humor to juxtapose American and Basque iconography in ways that explore the connection between these two cultures. The imagery includes a mix of invented figures, such as “The Mighty Basque,” a superhero figure who chops wood and lifts stones of amazing weight. He also uses familiar pop-culture figures — Porky Pig, Hong Kong Phooey, Spuddy Buddy, John Wayne and former Idaho Secretary of State and Basque-American Pete Cenarrusa, who passed away in 2013.
“Pete Cenarrusa is a very important person to us,” he says. “He worked to help the Basque people, and I wanted to do a homage to him. He could be the mayor of ‘Boiseland.’ ”