When Alfonso "Piloto" Nieves Ruiz emigrated from Mexico in 1997, his great ambition was to be an American football player, but an accident banished him from the gridiron and turned him to sculpture, a calling that has made him a popular artist in Chicago.

Piloto's sculptures were one of the main attractions of the recent Pilsen Open Studios 2012, which exhibited the works of 106 Latino artists in Chicago.

Dozens of galleries, homes and workshops of the mainly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood kept alive the tradition of exhibits and art education that over two days attracts thousands of people.

At Piloto's exhibit, the work that the sculptor himself classifies as "very grotesque art" divides people.

"There are those who leave as soon as they see it, and those to stay to study the details," the self-taught artist told Efe.

"I use clay as my principal material, as a symbol of the earth and the fact that everything and everyone comes from it. I combine it with the trash I collect and in that way I try to show the mental trash and spiritual disconnect we're exposed to every day," he said.

At 37, Piloto manages to support himself with his sculptures and by teaching art, after years of struggling like most immigrants who come to this country.

"We immigrated out of necessity, like birds and butterflies, and now that I'm on this side I have the chance to practice my art," Piloto said.

He played American football in Mexico "and when I came to Chicago I thought that was my game, but I was injured jumping over a fence...during a heavy metal concert, not playing."

With the dream of a sports career behind him, the realities of life led him to work as a cook, a waiter and in construction.

Finally in 2001 a teacher at the center where he was studying English convinced him to go back to his childhood interest in art, when he made sculptures out of scraps of bread and modeling clay. EFE

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