"I attempt to evade the restrictions and the rules of painting, by using various commonplace materials to remind the viewer that painting is just a symbolic surface, which tries to reveal its meanings."
Interview by writer Stephen Feather
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I was born and raised in Chicago. My folks are blue-collar Mexican immigrants and for a lot of different reasons didn’t really have much interest—or more realistically time for high art or culture. They didn’t get in the way of my interest or pursuit or anything like that, but it was outside of their realm of experience.
As far as my education goes, I got a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA at Yale University’s School of Art.
You’ve described many of the sources you draw influence from as having ‘repressed conditions’. To what extent do you hope your work can be liberating?
Each of these sources/strategies is used to describe a state in which a certain time in culture is not represented by any one style, method, or idea—but by many. From a lot of different periods, a lot of times all applied at once. It’s liberating to refute the notion that world culture was built by a few elite voices rather than by a chorus of many. I want to reinforce the fact that art isn’t simply a product of the world we live in, but instead an active, integral part of it. I think this liberal mixing of styles will ultimately provide a mechanism to overcome oppressive traditions—and xenophobia, something I’ve experienced personally.
You use a variety of materials in your work including but not limited to cowhide, goatskin, figurines, hooves, sheep wool, bricks, bark and synthetic hair. What significance do these materials have and how are they selected?
I typically choose raw materials for their political content, by which I mean the animal byproducts that are the building blocks of something known as dependency theory, which states that raw materials from underdeveloped countries are exported to wealthier nations/empires and enrich the latter at the expense of the former. I also attempt to evade the restrictions and the rules of painting, by using various commonplace materials to remind the viewer that painting is just a symbolic surface, which tries to reveal its meanings. I think that my work takes place, in its multiple forms, around a questioning of rhetoric and ethics of this and other forms of mediation. My desire is that it should erase frontiers, disrupt genres, and dissolve obstacles. I want my work to trigger associations and thoughts akin to those of the characters of Rayuela, a novel by Julio Cortázar:
‘This is what I think is reality’, thought Oliveira, fondling the plank and supporting himself on it. “This glass cabinet arranged, illuminated by 50 or 60 centuries of hands, imaginations, compromises, pacts, secret freedoms... Expecting that one is the center’, though Oliveira supporting himself more comfortably on the plank. ‘But it is immeasurably idiotic. A center so illusory as to expect to be ubiquitous. There is no center; there is a kind of continuous confluence, an undulation of matter. During the night I am an immobile body, and on the other side of the city a roll of paper is being transformed into the daily newspaper, and at 8:40 am I will leave the house, and at 8:20 am the newspaper will have arrived at the kiosk on the corner, and at 8:45 am my hand and the newspaper will be united and begin to move together in the air, at a meter from the ground in the path of the tram...’
The construction of that ‘figure’—as Cortázar would have called it—resists the perspectival unity of the image and brings about a reformulation of the person.
How do you go about naming your work?
Alright, so I have Notes on my iPhone, which I’m constantly typing in. These notes include: Grocery List, Passwords, Weight, and Titles. The titles for my paintings usually come from books ranging from fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Unknown University for example comes from the title of Roberto Bolaño’s complete collection of poetry. I also stumble upon potential titles from both personal conversations and overheard conversations. Eternal Artifice comes from a text message exchange I had with a friend.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
My studio is located inside the old Erector Set Factory in New Haven that they converted into yoga and artist studios. I’m usually there in the evenings once all the weird psychic energy has left the building and I am pretty much alone in my meditative void.
Once inside the studio, it’s like I’m Harvey Harlow’s monkey in total social isolation. My only “contact comfort” is listening to audiobooks, podcast, old mixtapes, or previous conversations/ interactions replaying inside my head.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I usually encounter art on a screen an eternal present, rather than in person. Recently I’ve been looking atRené Magritte’s La Reproduction Interdite(Not to be Reproduced) from 1937 on my computer screen. I am responding to the idea of Windows as a Structualist approach to investigating the role of context in the distribution and legibility of images in the 21st century. The simultaneity of information – that things can and do exist in different places is a crucial concept in my practice in a fluid continuum of meaning that is based not only on juxtapositions of styles/motifs, but also on context, reception, even adjacencies of one painting to another.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star you’re actually a few million years too late.
That star is dead, just like your dreams.
All images courtesy of the artist