In a light and sunny space over on Guadalupe Street, one you've driven and walked by a million times but maybe never noticed, mixed media artist Alberto Elias Zalma has just knocked out a useless closet and erected a single wall.
"Can you do that here?" I ask him, concerned about his landlords.
"I mean, I did it," he answers, smiling broadly.
Zalma has been in the space known as the Zalma Lofton Gallery just under two years. That anniversary goes down next month, but the concept itself stretches back much farther to Zalma's friend James Lofton, an artist's artist who died in 2012.
"He's the one who really pushed me to get with art, to push it farther," Zalma explains. "He was always a mentor, he always gave me ideas, and a lot of times, those ended up being really cool pieces."
Close since elementary school, Zalma and Lofton first conceived of a gallery in high school. Zalma says they passed in and out of each other's lives for years, becoming roommates, renting studio space together and always friends. But in 2007, fate would take Zalma to Wisconsin—where he'd also meet his wife—and to Maui, Hawaii, where he'd work in tile and become a professional, paid artist for the first time ever. While he was selling work on the street, a representative from the Wyland Galleries chain noticed and immediately brought Zalma on.
"I was killing it there for a minute," he recalls. "I was just making art and collecting checks in the mail. It was surreal."
The good times only lasted til 2010, however, when the gallery closed and Zalma wound up back in Santa Fe. He and his then-girlfriend would split briefly (don't sweat, though, they're together now and have kids and everything), and he describes the subsequent time as one of his darkest. But then things started changing. Zalma joined with the rock/reggae act Boom Roots Collective and cemented his signature style of visual art—a mix of acrylic, collage, ink and graphite that can most easily be called Posada-like skeletons meets Catholicism. For his part, Zalma is not personally religious, though he did grow up Jewish; his grandmother on his mother's side was a devout Catholic, and the iconography and artistry he'd observe in church from time to time always stuck with him.
"It's creepy," he says, "but powerful."
By 2017, Zalma had a strong and distinct style and portfolio, he was back with his wife and had children and he finally realized the vision he'd shared with his friend those many years ago. The space on Guadalupe was the first he visited, and it's since become a bit of betting on himself and a sort of temple to the spirit he shared with Lofton.
"Even that logo," he says, motioning to the image on the window, "is the one we designed."
Sign of the Times Group Show:
5 pm Friday September 6. Free.
Zalma Lofton Gallery,
407 S Guadalupe St.,