Q&A: Joaquin Cortez, the sand sculpture artist behind the JAWS at Volente beach waterpark

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This summer at Volente Beach Waterpark, the "JAWS on the Water"  dive-in theater presented by Alamo Drafthouse has been a great success. 

The event has movie-goers out on the water, floating in inner-tubes while watching a giant projection screen showing Steven Spielberg's hit classic, "JAWS". 

As a part of the fanfare, Alamo Drafthouse worked with Texan sand sculpture artist Joaquin Cortez to build a super-cool life-size sculpture of the film's toothy beast on the beach. The statue won't be there forever, as it is just sand, water and glue. 

We had the opportunity to talk with Cortez about the sculpture and his artwork he's been doing across the state. He's currently pursuing a project in Ft. Worth. 

Check out our Q&A:

HCN: When did you start sand sculpting?

CORTEZ: I was on vacation in South Padre Island in 2014 when I met The Amazing Walter, a local sand sculptor. He gave our whole family a lesson on how to make a sandcastle and I was pretty blown away by the art and how you could take sand and make anything out of it. I returned the next week and learned how to make the tools needed. The next week I won first place in the contest there. I practiced for a few more months, and I traveled to Virginia Beach, where I came in first at a sand sculpting tournament where I was competing against teams of people.

HCN: What’s involved with sand sculpting?

CORTEZ: A lot of water. You just basically turn the sand into mud and pack it. You can use forms, too, or you can do it by hand until you have a big block of sand. Then you carve anything you can imagine out of it through reduction. You can get a mountain of sand for pretty much free, and so is water, it’s a reusable art. You can do something within a few hours, but it’s going to be pretty small. These big ones take at the minimum the whole weekend, and some take a week. You’re moving a ton of sand and you have to be delicate, or else you’ll get a collapse. I’ll come up with an idea first, and then I’ll sketch it and figure out any needed support structures for it.

HCN: Tell me about the Alamo Drafthouse JAWS on the Water project.

CORTEZ: I’m friends with some guys in the art scene alliance, and they put on events here in the Austin area. They do art outside, and they’re part of SXSW. They contacted me for making the sculpture for JAWS on the Water. Two weeks ago I sculpted it, and painted the next week with gray talcum powder and white clay. People really seem to be enjoying it, I’ve noticed a lot of people are taking photos with it.

HCN: One of your milestones as an artist was the bald eagle memorial you made for the fallen Dallas Police officers in the 2016 shooting. Tell me about how that went.

CORTEZ: Sand sculpture is fun, but also, art can open people up to ideas and different subjects. I would like a sculpture to mean something, rather than just something fun. In my hometown, when I made a bald eagle sculpture for the Fourth of July, people were actually crying at it and telling me how touched they were. They were telling me how it was a sign to them about how they felt about America. When I was making the Dallas memorial sculpture, I had police officers coming from all over to see it. I was getting emails from all over the state. People were really touched by it. That’s what I want to do, I want to make sculptures that inspire people and really mean something. The sculpture lasted 6 months. That’s another thing about sand sculptures, they are impermanent. Because they think it could be gone tomorrow people rushed to come and see it, and they still took pictures as it deteriorated. 

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