Art in Translation: Art in a Nutshell

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Ismael Mauricio Cavazos’ carving of Original Old Man in the Peanut. Photo courtesy of Isamel Mauricio Cavazos.
Ismael Mauricio Cavazos’ carving of Original Old Man in the Peanut. Photo courtesy of Isamel Mauricio Cavazos.

It’s not often that art truly baffles me. Impresses, yes — baffles, no. Well, today I am baffled.

I went to the South First Street novelty museum, Art in a Nutshell. Owned and operated by Ismael Mauricio Cavazos, it features the world’s only peanut carvings. Yes, you read correctly. The man carves peanuts.

It gets a little deeper, I assure you — The Daily Texan even did a multimedia piece on Cavazos’ work last year. But I wanted to make that clear and allow the George Washington Carver jokes to begin. In fact, he uses the man behind the peanut butter as inspiration as he sets out to carve 300 different designs out of the small snack.

The carvings are based around a concept UT graduate Cavazos, 38, refers to as Extractionism, the art of creating and inventing new images based upon replicas of images seen all around us. Essentially, it means that you can find inadvertent images in everything from a cliff bar wrapper (there is a face in the cliff) to say, a peanut, and create a new context by extracting that image.

Inside every peanut, there is the germ of a seed, which looks like, as Cavazos points out, a bearded old man with a hood over his eyes. This inspired his original peanut carving of a bearded sage back in 2004. Since then, he has envisioned that same seed germ to be 29 other images, including a bat and a jellyfish.

The idea behind these peanut carvings is that micro mirrors macro in the sense that smaller elements of nature and produced images have a tendency — for whatever reason — to resemble that of actual, whole objects and creatures. Cavazos said the meaning of the art is finding pre-existing images and highlighting them to create new meaning and context. This genre of art is often found in the art world, yet artists don’t want to categorize it that way. Instead, they generally call whatever medium they’ve used as a new art form and go on their merry way.

I’m always a little weary of buying into anything that sounds a little too existential, skeptical anything nearly hokey, but after being shown a Flaming-Hot Cheeto Puff in the shape of a penis (for 18+ year old eyes only), I’m starting to think that maybe Cavazos is on to something. Perhaps sometimes the cigar isn’t always just a cigar — although we can get to Freud another day.

I like the idea that we create things and find things in nature that are unconsciously made out of smaller versions of images in everyday life. For the spiritual folk, it can make you feel a little like everything is intertwined, as if nature is somehow fused to our creative vision in such a way that we don’t even realize what we’re doing.

Even Leonardo da Vinci said that although it sounded nuts (pun intended), he found inspiration and images in mold growing on walls.

Regardless of any philosophical enlightenment I may take away from this experience, I’ll never look at a peanut the same. Peanut butter on the other hand ...

Until next time!