Some people would look at a common tequila barrel and see just that, a wooden barrel. Others see a blank canvas and the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind piece of art—and win some cash while they’re at it.
Given free range to use the barrel shipped to him by Herradura Tequila however he wanted, UT junior Raul de Lara decided to go big, life-size big, and it paid off last week when he beat out nine other participants to win $10,000 in the company’s Barrel Art Contest.
De Lara has been making art since high school using abstract sculpting techniques to breathe new life into everyday items—like turning a tortoise shell into a chair or combining pieces of wood to make a funky lamp. His unique art has won other competitions in the past, and when he learned about the Barrel Art Contest from a friend and read about the interesting rules, he decided to go for it.
The Herradura Barrel Art Program was established by the company to showcase artists’ creativity using the company’s tequila barrels. Herradura held events in eight cities around the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and of course, Austin. Each city chose 10 artists to be featured in their competition, with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize and the chance to compete in the finals in Miami, where the grand prize will be $100,000.
While most of his other competitors left the barrel in its original shape, de Lara shared close quarters in his small apartment with the item, and decided to sculpt something to keep him company.
“The barrel was shipped to my apartment and sat in my living room and it just began to feel like a person,” de Lara says. After looking into the folklore surrounding the origin of Mexican agave, he decided he wanted to depict the human form of the god Quetzalcoatl and used the barrel as the raw material. “I took my measurements, so it’s my size. He actually weighs 10 more pounds than I do.”
The competition put no restrictions on how the barrel could be used, so de Lara chose to take it apart and use the raw material, even the metal hinges. Currently in the design program in UT’s Department of Art and Art History, he says that he took every art class from photography to ceramics to video before deciding that sculpting was what he wanted to do. His ultimate goal is to be a working artist.
“I would love to wake up and go to sleep only making art,” he says. “Whether it’s doing studio work or on commission for hotels, restaurants, or people. I just want to create for people.”
The money will help de Lara afford new materials and ultimately make more art—but that he’s more grateful for the networking the competition allowed him to do.
“The cash helps,” he says. “But more importantly, the connections I made there and being able to say I won helps in the eyes of people that require reassurance [about my ability], which is nice.”
Photos courtesy Raul de Lara