Meet the Artist: Emilio Suárez Trejo

“Art is reality reshuffled.” Robert Rauschenberg

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

When you move around a canvas of Emilio Suárez Trejo, you can see how he’s re-imagining the world. In unskilled hands, an accumulation of text, photographs and found objects would simply be just that. In the hands of this young artist, the collection becomes an intersection of art and everyday life.

I met with Emilio at his new studio space just east of Centro Historico in Mérida. It’s here we looked at his work, discussed his influences and talked about his life as an artist.

How long have you been working as an artist?

From a young age I have always been drawing, and I knew that someday I wanted to have a career that involved drawing. I graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mérida in 2010 with a degree in Visual Arts and have been working to find my own voice as an artist ever since.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

A ‘career as an artist’ is often an oxymoron to many parents. How did your parents respond to your decision to follow this path?

Well, my father is a lawyer and so of course he wanted me to be a lawyer as well. Both he and my mother were skeptical of my choice, not understanding what ‘being an artist’ means. I believe that it’s important to do what you love, and I think they’ve come to see that doing what I love means a lot of hard work (smiles).

So at 28, are you able to support yourself as an artist?

For the first few years it was a bit of a struggle. After I graduated, I did residencies in Veracruz and Cuba that helped me develop, but more importantly, showed me that I could actually have a life as an artist. When I returned to Mérida I began teaching privately, and I now teach oil painting at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. I feel I’m a very lucky man in that I have the freedom to work on my own pieces and the opportunity to teach others.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

What do you love most about teaching?

When I teach, I’m as much a student as my students are, in that I’m always learning something… I find that very gratifying. For that reason, I ask them to call me ‘Emilio’ instead of ‘maestro’. Rather than teaching how to paint, I teach them how to feel, and give them the tools they need to express themselves.

How do you find time to work?

I’m always working. If I’m not working on a piece I’m thinking about a piece. Teaching is simply a complement to that. I paint everyday and my students know this. I try to teach the importance of establishing a painting practice because that is the only way you will find your true voice as an artist.

Who has influenced you as a painter?

Before I went to University, I hadn’t studied much art history. As a student, I learned to appreciate historical artists from my own culture but I became fascinated by contemporary artists like Marcel Duchamp, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the New York artists from the 50s, 60s and 70s like Robert Rauschenberg.

Have you ever been to New York?

No, but if I could travel anywhere right now, it would be to New York—to see the work of the artists I most admire. I saw Rauschenberg once in France and I realized then how important it is to see the art itself—not just in photographs—to see the paint on the canvas, the emotion in the work.

This is your first year on the Artist Studio Tour. What are you most looking forward to?

I’m a little nervous but also excited. This is the first time I’ve had a studio of my own and I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people who haven’t seen my work, and to hear their opinions. I am most interested in building relationships and hope that one day, this studio can become an ‘art lab’ of sorts—a place of learning, experimentation and inspiration for others, and of course, for myself.

Emilio is one of 36 artists in 29 studios participating in the Merida English Library annual Artist Studio Tour February 17th from 10 am to 5 pm. Information on the tour, the artists and where to buy tickets is available at meridaenglishlibrary.com

 

 

 

Meet the Artist: Juan Pablo

©Juan Pablo

©Juan Pablo

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.

Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo

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”.

juan-pabloI 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.”

graffitti“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”.

Juan Pablo Quintal García