Of all the startlingly strange and surreal drawings hung on the walls at the Out Here art space in Tijuana, "Puente" (or "Bridge") is without a doubt the most terrifying. In it, the bloated and naked bodies of men and women hang from nooses. Above the graffiti-ed bridge where the bodies hang, a banner relays a message to the people below: Nuestra ley es la ley. To hear it translated would rattle any sensible human being: Our law is the law.
"It doesn't happen too much anymore, but you used to see it a lot here in TJ," says artist Toni Larios, who drew the picture in 2014. "The narcos used to hang people from the bridges so that people driving by would see it. It doesn't happen much anymore, but it used to happen a lot."
While most of Larios' work doesn't directly reference Tijuana's drug violence, it does, collectively, tell tales of a gritty city whose inhabitants are just as colorful as the drawings themselves. On the surface, it appears as if Larios has reoccurring characters in the work displayed at Espejos, which opened on July 22 and will have a closing reception on Aug. 19. However, Larios says his subjects are more "archetypes" of the people and characters of the city he lives in.
"It's a mix of the stereotypical people you see on the streets here. This one is based on the alley where I live," says Larios, pointing out a piece called, "Casa Azul." "There's always been a lot of cholos and stuff where I live. Sometimes I go out of my house and I'll see a guy on the ground with a needle or something."
Larios was born and raised in Tijuana. When he was a kid he was a bit of an introvert, preferring to create comic books and play his own made-up games. He says he started to get serious about his work in 2007. He sold it on the streets of Tijuana and had a few shows in local cafes. It was enough to garner some attention stateside, and he landed a solo show in 2013 at the Disclosed unLocation gallery and another in 2014 at Low Gallery.
As shocking as Larios' work can sometimes be (which readers can see at historiaincorrecta.tumblr.com, as well as on Instagram and Facebook), the drawings come across not as indictments, but almost as love letters to Tijuana. One distinctive feature is that almost all of his characters appear nude.
"I don't know, I guess I've always thought that when you see a character that's naked, you see them as they actually are," Larios says. "No defense or anything. Vulnerable."