The rawness of his voice matches the paintings in Juan Pablo’s studio. “Sorry, late night”, he says, clearing his throat, and a chair for me. A crystal ashtray dense with discarded cigarettes sits on a small table, like a paperweight, atop reams of sketches and drawings that lift and settle with the movement of a ceiling fan. Juxtaposed between a half empty bottle of tequila and an upturned cockroach lies a crumpled pack of Delicados. It takes a few seconds to realize the chaos on the table is a little too perfect, that I’m looking at a still life waiting to become Juan Pablo Quintal Garcia’s next painting.
There is something of the style of Juan Pablo that reminds me of Outsider Art, in terms of it’s raw unbridled creativity. When I ask him about this, the language barrier gets in the way. “Outsider Art was a term coined in the early 1970s as a synonym for ‘art brut‘ , or rough art”, I explain, “describing artists who were out of mainstream art culture. They were self taught, sometimes marginalized, but were recognized for their innate, often raw talent. Sometimes these artists weren’t discovered until after they were dead. It became a movement almost in and of itself, with prominent art shows dedicated solely to outsider artists. When I saw your work and you talked about not having formal training as a painter, I thought of you in those terms”.
“It’s an interesting concept”, Juan Pablo responded. “I don’t have formal training, it’s true, and have learned to paint by experimentation and hard work. I guess I’m not really an Outsider artist but if my paintings are outside what you typically see in galleries in Merida, I’m happy for that”.
I ask Juan Pablo how he became a painter. “When I was 16, I went to Denver Colorado as an exchange student and then got a job in Disneyland in Orlando. It was there I met a Norwegian girl, got married and moved to Norway. I had dabbled in painting but it was in Norway I really started to paint.”
“Was that love or the landscape?”, I ask him. He laughs. “I think both! It was also the first time I had a good job and money to buy what I needed as a painter, and I began to think of it as a career. I saved quite a bit of money and when the marriage ended after 2 1/2 years, I returned to Merida, where I’m from. I painted in my studio every day for 1 1/2 years until the money ran out. Now I teach Spanish part time and paint as much as I can.”
“You seem to have three different styles—portraits, still lives, and op/pop art that seems almost political”, I observe. “What drives you to work on one over the other?”
“I do the portraits when I have the most time, the most energy”, Juan Pablo responds. “For me they represent unity because even though the people are of different races, the emotions are shared.” He catches me staring at a lush still life not dissimilar to the table in front of us. “The still lives are like exercises in perspective and colour, and are the easiest for me. And when I don’t want to think about anything, like when I’ve been up all night or can’t sleep, I play loud music and make pop art.”
“What are the pros and cons, do you think, of formal art training and your way of becoming an artist?”, I ask. “Well that is a very good question”, Juan Pablo considers. “I think technique learned in a formal environment gives you a head start because everything I learn is through trial and error. But there is also a freedom in the sheer force of ‘doing’, that I wonder might get lost with too much structure.” He laughs again. “But sometimes I just don’t know how to do stuff, and I think having a formal critique mechanism, or a mentor, would be very good for my work.”
Juan Pablo lights up another Delicado, the smoke hanging in the air like his last statement. I can’t help thinking this is an artist who is going places and as if reading my mind, he says, “next February I plan to go to San Cristobal in Chiapas to paint for a few months—we’ll see what happens but I think it’s going to be great”.