The Best Artist – a creative lifetime with Rene I.a.t.b.a Moncada
When I was 17 years old, I was in a band project called “Kamikaze Kitty & The Attack Kats” – a three-girl, goddess-based band hell bent on using iconic, alchemical and sexually charged energy to grab as much attention as possible! My bandmates were two stunning young women – each of us contributing a very different energy.
My role was ISIS, the Egyptian goddess of the moon. My forte’ would be percussion instruments such as maracas and hand bells. Our young vision was to be as unique and exciting as possible! Our quest to find perfect costumes for our vision led me to one of my greatest creative friendships and influences that would be part of my life from then on; a completely unique and crazy Venezuelan artist simply named, Rene.
Rene was born in Columbia. Rene’s father, Eduardo Moncada, took him to Venezuela when he was two years old. Eduardo’s mission was to teach his son everything he could about life, and he instilled in his inquisitive son a great love and hunger for learning. Rene proved to be a fast learner and a boy not afraid of hard work.
Rene’s childhood was not without hardship and violence. Venezuela was rife with military control, bullets and fear. On more than one occasion, Rene’ was witness to the death of a student or teacher hit by police who were part of a dictatorship. Eduardo saw baseball as one way to help his son escape to a better life in America, and early on he groomed his son to become a great pitcher and player.
Via a series of life’s events and good fortune, Rene found himself in St. Louis, MO, to be observed by the Cardinals. Rene was fascinated by America while not as fascinated by his lack of funds and the English language. With elbow issues, he knew, as much as it disappointed his father, that the decision had to be made to leave St. Louis and live in Iowa with a friend he’d made and his family. The family had one condition – Rene had to finish high school. He did.
After high school Rene took on a series of jobs and began to think about where he wanted to be and what he really wanted to do. His father advised him to go to New York City where everything was happening! Rene got in his car that evening and drove straight to NY.
Thus began a series of more various jobs, a marriage that lasted only one year, and a life altering trip back to Caracas, where Rene met the woman who would become the love of his life and his life-long partner, Joanne.
In 1972, Joanne and Rene got an apartment on W69th St. in Manhattan. By then Rene was an art director for several magazines and a freelance illustrator. His artistic talents were organic and were leading him to many new opportunities. Joanne believed so much in Rene’s talent that she told him to pursue his art and she would support them. By doing so, she gave Rene the gift of following his inspirations, thus becoming a fine artist not reliant on selling his work to survive.
In 1976, they found a ground floor loft space in Soho, filled with left-behind garbage and remnants, lacking a kitchen or a bathroom. They moved in October of that year, unaware that they were to become part of a Soho Art history they could never have imagined.
Rene spent the better part of the next two years renovating and building the loft into a unique living space and gallery. Artists with their own galleries, however, were considered “vanity galleries”, not taken seriously. Rene found himself ignored by the gallery directors, critics and media.
So, he took his art to the people, to the streets, painting murals on walls in Soho, such as the infamous W. Broadway “I am the best artist” mural which became impossible not to see. It was the backdrop for many fashion shoots, post cards and controversies!
Rene made it impossible to be ignored, adopting his “I Am The Best Artist” tag and earning the admiration of future graffiti artist Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and the rest. Over a period of 17 years this wall would become Rene’s conversation with the art world.
Rene also busied himself with all his other artistic creations. Sculptures, weavings, jewelry, etc. He called his weavings “Nudismos” – a combination of the Spanish word for “nude” (desnudo), “knot” (nudo) and “nudity” (nudismo). This is where my life connected with Rene’s.
One of my bandmates from Kamikaze Kitty had seen Rene working on one of his Nudismo string garments and asked if he would make them for others. He said yes. So being the Moon Goddess, I was sent over to inquire more and see if I could be the guinea pig. I was a tiny waif of a girl then – 5’-3” and 110 pounds.
On a hot, sunny day, my blond hair damp from sweat, I knocked on Rene’s door. When he opened it, I said, “Hi! I’m Cyndi and you’re going to make me a dress.”
When Rene retells this story, he says it was as if a gift was sent to him – a little blond with curves granting him permission to stand naked before him and allow him to create a Nudismo with complete trust and eagerness. From the get-go, it was understood that Rene was an artist, he was committed to Joanne, and we were artistic soulmates. As time went on, spending many hours creating my garments, talking about our hopes, dreams and plans, Rene and I gradually became more attuned to each other’s hunger for creating our dreams to realities.
Rene instilled in me, much like his father Eduardo did for him, a thirst for learning. He would take me around Soho, introducing me to the many galleries and artists, teaching me an art education no college could have. Soho was in its artistic heyday and I was thrilled to be entrenched in it. This was the 1980’s and EVERYTHING in the art world was influenced by everything in Soho. Rene became my mentor, my muse, my teacher and my friend for life. Joanne and Rene were my family when I had no one.
Over the years we would do collaborations with my performing art pieces, his fashion shows (at his loft and in clubs like The Cat Club). I would have a chance to explore my poetry, explore modeling and dream.
Certainly, life has taken us many places. When we reconnected after many years losing contact, it was as if we just continued from where we left off. My first book of poetry bears a cover by Rene. Rene has also done two album covers for my band, “The Cynz”. He is now a widely recognized artist whose respect has finally been fully realized and well deserved.
Rene – I am the Best Artist – A Documentary and Inventory of His Life and Work” is now available! A fascinating look into Rene’s life, his fight against Censorship, infamous law suits that changed the artistic landscape and over 200 pages of color photographs will leave you breathless!
Rene, self-proclaimed “the best artists” explains: “What I do, no one can do it better, they can only do it differently.”