Advanced Life is a magazine published in Mexico by Acura Advance. In addition to a print version, they publish a digital edition that might well be a model of how magazines of the future will be delivered. It can be downloaded here.
Recently they contacted me and asked to do a cover story and interview about my work. It’s now out in their latest issue. Since the interview is in Spanish, I thought I’d post an English language version here. The interviewer was Tatiana Arce.
Q: You have said that Diego Rivera is one of your most important artistic influences, could you tell us why?
A: Two reasons. One graphic: the way he simplified forms, both in his drawing and in his compositions; and the other cultural: the way he reinvented modernism by stepping back from the abstraction that Cubism was leading art into and embracing as his theme the whole history and topicality of his culture.
Q: Are you interested in the work of any other Mexican artists?
A: Tamayo, Cuevas. I like them both for different reasons. And Posada, although I learned about him too late to be influenced by him. I discovered Posada by reading about Rivera. Diego cited him as one of his influences, so I looked him up too. After that, I came to think that Posada and I had a lot in common, except that I don't draw so many skeletons.
Q: The current image of Mexico, worldwide, mixes two separate aspects: one negative, regarding, corruption, drug lords and violence, and another positive, focusing on the economical growth of the country. If you were asked to illustrate this, what kind of images would come to your mind?
A: Well, pictures don't always come quickly. What I'd do if that were an assignment is internalize the problem, then empty my mind and start drawing. That's the best way to get answers. Or at least answers that aren't cliches. It's a way of getting past the structured thoughts of everyday life.
Q: You have often talked about your interest in creating images that are able to tell a story and stand on their own.
A: Well, I know I've said that I want pictures to tell a story, but that may not be the most precise way to put it. I used to tell editors that they should imagine they've locked me in one room and the writer in another and given us both the same assignment. Then when we hand in our work, you marry the two and trust that the marriage works out. It seems to me that you'll get better art out of an artist that way than by asking him to channel some writer's sensibility.
Q: With this in mind, do you think technology is making our societies shift back from an alphabetic thinking to a more ideographic communication?
A: Not necessarily. At least I hope not. Linear thinking is too important to the maintenance of a civil society. It's the only way people can communicate precise thoughts. The problem with linear thinking is that it often becomes an iron mask. Drawing is a way of thinking too. It's an irrational way of thinking and there are always dangers in that. Cultures that make a fetish of irrational thinking usually pay for it in the long run. But on the other hand, irrational thinking is the source of insights and breakthroughs.
Q: Besides Hawthorne, what other storytellers, writers or artists, have had an impact in the way you see the world?
A: The plays of Albert Camus: Caligula and The Just Assassins. Greek tragedies like Prometheus Bound. The writing style of H.L. Mencken. But before I came to read widely or see art (except for comic strips), I was influenced by my uncle Wayne, who was a postman in rural Arkansas.
Wayne was a fantastic storyteller. He drove around every day to all the local farms, delivering the mail and chatting with farmers and housewives. So whenever he'd come to our house for a visit, he'd have wonderful stories to tell.
They weren't dramatic stories, just accounts of ordinary, everyday events. Yet there was always something compelling about them. They weren't necessarily funny – I don't remember Wayne ever telling jokes – but there was usually something comic about them. His pacing and the way he combined words always made his stories more interesting and more amusing than they should have been. I absorbed all those techniques when I was a kid, and since I was always drawing things, the same sensibility just naturally came out in the pictures I drew.
Q: Just as images tell a story, there is a story behind every work. How has your creative process changed over the years?
A: It hasn't really. I'm essentially doing the same thing that I've been doing since I was five. I just have better opportunities now than I did in Kindergarten.
Q: Has any particular project forced you to modify radically the way you work?
A: No, not in the way you've put it. But since I never studied art, my natural curiosity about how to make pictures has led me to try out different approaches. And various assignments have given me a chance to try those things out.
Q: Can you share an example with us?
A: Some years ago, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin gave me a series of dream assignments. Every month or so, they'd pick a theme and give me a cover and eight pages inside to do whatever I wanted to do on that subject. Then they'd supply an article (in German) to go with the art. One of those assignments was about high schools of New York City.
I began by sketching teenagers who hung around Greenwich Village after class. Then I used the sketches to do a series of conceptual paintings. One of them had two kids exchanging drugs in front of a great tortured wall, with a hungry black dog walking towards them. It wasn't much more than a scene drawn from life, except for what I did with the surface of the wall.
I wanted to cover the wall with graffiti. But I didn't want to just imitate graffiti; I wanted to get its spirit. I finally found a way by remembering that when I was a little kid I once got into trouble by drawing with crayons on a corner of my parents' living room. That's what New York City graffiti reminded me of. So in my painting, I covered the wall with crude crayon drawings of grotesque faces.
That painting became my favorite of the series, but what I liked most about it were the crayon drawings themselves. For months afterwards, I began to work crayon drawings into other assignments, first for the same magazine, then for others. Then some art directors began to ask for them. By then I had bought a big box of pastels – which gave the drawings a more sensual feel than what I had been getting with crayons – and the whole approach began to take on a life of its own.
To other people, it may have looked as if I had somehow adopted a new style. But for me, it was more like a phase; like a teenaged rebellion against the self-confidence that comes from being a professional. It kept me from settling into an artistic rut. Every once in a while I have to get back in touch with being five years old. It lets me feel as if I'm starting all over again and the challenge of always starting over keeps me interested in what I'm doing.