Meet the Mastermind Behind Las Catrinas at Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s DDLM Celebration
Nayarit, Mexico-born artist Ricardo Soltero makes Hollywood Forever Cemetery come to life (or death) every year for Día de los Muertos.
Soltero is the scenery director and stage-set designer for the cemetery‘s annual celebration, which is the largest outside of Mexico. The prolific artist’s intricate creations pay tribute to La Catrina, which today, he describes to mitú as a “beautiful accident.”
The artist uses a variety of materials including paper mâché, wood, and styrofoam to create his trademark La Catrina statues. He also makes colorful set designs and costumes honoring Día de los Muertos.
And while Soltero might be especially known for his Hollywood Forever Cemetery installations, his work has also been featured at Bésame Mucho Festival, UNICEF’s Annual Gala, and Metropolitan Fashion Week. He also exhibits his art in botanical gardens throughout the United States, and more recently, at the “Catrinas En Mi Ciudad” exhibit at Denver Performing Arts Complex.
When speaking about weaving his heritage into his creative work, the artist told mitú: “My inspiration comes from the popular art in México.”
“I try to emulate the colors of Mexican embroidery from different states and regions of Mexico,” he explained.
The artist draws inspiration from early memories of his abuela’s flower crown creations
The artist shared with us a bit about his background growing up in Mexicali. “I am from the state of Nayarit, but grew up in Mexicali, Baja California. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 years old.”
Looking back at his childhood in Mexico, Soltero sees how his early memories contributed to his future career. “My interest for the Day of the Dead celebration comes since I was a child.”
In fact, he first became inspired by the day of ofrendas and remembrance by learning from his abuela’s traditions. “My grandmother was a very creative woman,” Soltero described. “She would start making paper flower crowns early in May, to take my grandpa’s tombstone.” The artist’s grandmother also had clients who supported her art.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s difficult for Soltero to choose a favorite project thus far. Last year, Soltero created art that was exhibited all over Bésame Mucho Festival’s grounds, including 14-foot La Catrina sculptures. Still, his long-running work with Hollywood Forever Cemetery holds a big place in his heart.
“I don’t have any special project, but I would say, Hollywood Forever’s Celebration is my every year special project,” Soltero shared. And while Bésame Mucho Fest and the cemetery’s Día de los Muertos celebration are tied as his most “memorable” experiences, decorating “botanical gardens throughout the United States” is another great memory for him.
mitú also asked Soltero about the significance of La Catrina to his art, and how he gravitated to the character. A symbol of Mexican tradition, La Catrina is of course an emblem of Días de los Muertos — and in many ways pays homage to Mictēcacihuātl, the Aztec god of the dead.
“I think it was a beautiful accident,” Soltero replied, describing how happy he is to be “involved in Catrina projects the whole year.”
Soltero says that each of his Catrina statues “have a different personality”
Soltero makes his Catrina statues and art installations in his own backyard with his team. You can see the intricate process in many videos he posts to TikTok:
Describing his artistic process, the sculptor told mitú that he also loves to use “recycled materials” in his Catrinas. Once he achieve his base, though, the process becomes even more intricate, layering at least “five coats of paper” and materials on his sculptures.
Interestingly, Soltero feels that each one of his Catrinas have a different personality— an aspect that shines through in his art. “The best part is when I paint their faces. Even though I use a same mold, when I am painting the face, each one takes their own personality.”
Just look at one of his gorgeous recent tributes to La Catrina:
Of course, we also had to ask the Nayarit-born artist about his own traditions for Día de los Muertos, which include honoring family members and his dog. “I put an ofrenda in my house to honor my grandparents, and little chihuahua, she passed away two years ago,” Soltero explained.
And if you’re curious about this year’s upcoming Día de los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Soltero just shared that it will include Xochimilco-style boats:
We can’t wait!
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