Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Surrealism & 2016

Les Amants (The Lovers)  (1928) :: Oil on canvas 28" x 21" by Rene Magritte

Back in art school I remember there used to be a stigma placed unto anyone who wanted to explore surrealism. As art students we were encouraged to experiment and break away from tradition. We were told that Surrealism was an art movement that already had its time and place in Europe in the 1920's and that like Impressionism, there was no point of following the steps of these artists. It was dated therefore "passé" and not considered  a valid form of contemporary art. While it is not easily found in mainstream contemporary art, there are still many incredible artists today that make great art inspired by the surrealist tradition. 

The Promise II (2012) :: Oil and egg tempera on panel 16" x 20" by Madeline Von Foerster

I've always wondered why is there a preference for certain kinds of art within the mainstream contemporary art scene while others are excluded. Take for instance conceptual art. An offspring movement of Dada and formally theorized in the late sixties, conceptual art is perhaps as dated and "passé" as Surrealism, yet the former is by far more acceptable in the eyes of mainstream art circles. Yet the surrealist movement is very strong today, particularly among the international art group Dreams and Divinities. There is indeed a resurgence of surrealist art and it is stronger than ever. There is no reason to believe it already had it's time and that it's over.  Au contraire!

Halcyon (2012) ::  Oil on panel 12" x 18" by Carrie Ann Baade

Transcending the Duality (2014) ::
Oil on canvas 39" x 39" by Liba Stambollion

Modern Surrealism also derived from Dada had it's own Surrealist Manifesto written by French poet Andre Bretton. It began as a literary movement influenced by Sigmund Freud's free association and dream analysis. Soon after the poets, painters started to experiment by painting without conscious control, a creative process called automatism. This in turn, revealed unconscious imagery in the work. Surrealism has basically two schools; One more abstract, distancing itself from conscious control as much as possible (Miró & Ernst) and one with a more detailed and figurative approach (Dalí, Magitte). Surreal implies something "unreal", a dream-like realm beyond rational reality.  

Mammon (2010) :: Oil on canvas 78" x 54" by Alex Gross

Interestingly "Surreal" was chosen as Merriam-Webster's word of the year and used to describe the events of 2016. With recent events such as the terrorist attacks in Europe and the US as well as the war in Syria, the US elections of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK, it is not hard to explain why the word "Surreal" has seen a spike in lookups on the online dictionary. It is not the first time though. In 2001 the word had its most enduring spike soon after 9/11. It often seems like the word comes up in moments most people feel a sense of shock and tragedy and try to make sense of it all. 

8:30 A.M. (2002) :: Oil on canvas 50" x 60" By Miguel Tio

Canción bajo el árbol (Song under the Tree):: Oil on canvas 30" x 40" by Johnny Palacios Hidalgo

Whenever we feel there is a disconnect with reality, for better or for worse, we tend to think of surrealism. I remember visiting the School of Fine Arts in Lima, Peru in 1998. By the time I was amazed at so much young talent in this school, I even wanted to study there. But something really caught my attention. Many of the art students were devoted to surrealism in their art. With so much political unrest, social injustice and inequality, that was so shockingly evident to me, I asked myself, why were they so interested in the fantastic? Wasn't this plain escapism? Why not make art that is mindful of your surroundings and  denounce what's wrong with the system? Was it because it was too depressing, they didn't see it, or they simply weren't interested?

The Seed (2014):: Oil on canvas 48" x 48" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Then I realized, my art was no different from theirs. I too looked for solace, peace and inspiration elsewhere, in art history and... in an alternate reality. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I think there is much more to it than that. The truth is that after all these years I now see how unexpectedly socially aware surrealist art can really be. While many might see surrealist art as a form of escapism, it can also be a cure for our current social ills. Surrealism allows us to explore our own inner worlds and see things from a different perspective. Surrealism opens up the gates to a realm of the insanely impossible. In middle of all the craziness of our own world, surrealist art can enlighten us by revealing the key to understanding ourselves and how we perceive the world around us at an unconscious level. That may well be our antidote and best way to cope with the crazy sick world we live in today. Yes, 2016 may easily push many to think of it in "surreal" terms. Doesn't this already make a very good case to consider surrealism as a valid form of contemporary art if not the most relevant of all specially in these times we are living in?

Nueve (Nine) (2016) :: Oil on canvas 39" x 25.5" by Gabriela Garza Padilla

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Consumerism in an Age of Fear

In Plutocracy & Trump we trust (2015)  Mixed media on Cardstock Coasters 4"

2016 will without any doubt be remembered by many of us as a year of great losses (Bowie, Prince & many others) unpredictable politics (Brexit, Trump) as well as global turmoil and ongoing conflicts. At a personal level It's been a rough year not just for me but for many around me. From car accidents to economic hardships and odd situations I can only think of happening in a movie where things go so badly for the protagonist it almost seems like comedy. But the year hasn't ended yet and there are so many lessons to draw from it so far. 

Our Daily Bread (2016) Oil on canvas 36" x 60" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

With the mass media obsession with Donald Trump and fear of his victory (which I should say helped him win the elections) and Trump's scapegoat obsession with terrorism and criminality perpetrated by minorities and non white immigrants (Mexicans & Muslims), the narrative of fear has taken democracy hostage. Fear is an irrational force that does not necessarily reflect the real threats to our lives. Facts (something most people these days seem to voluntarily ignore)  reveal a far more lethal enemy most people aren't even aware of. Curiously this hidden enemy is easily spotted right in front of us.

Consumerist Gluttony (2009) Oil on canvas 20" x 20" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

In an age of fear it's hard to think straight and see what the real dangers are. Under the influence of fear, the masses willingly obey and easily become passive consumers. Consumerism offers an illusory escape which is far more dangerous than what we may be escaping in the first place. It is a wolf dressed up as sheep. In fact, this wolf in disguise makes terrorism, criminality and even war look like a pack of angry Chihuahuas. Think I'm exaggerating? Consider the following:

 " In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,00). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder. Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda".

                             Holy Combo IV (2016) Oil & goldleaf on panel 24" x 30" 
                                                   by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Furthermore the author demonstrates with statistics that consumerism is even bigger and nastier than previously thought being responsible for more deaths than world hunger. Harari states that: "In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million..  In the early twenty-first century the average human is far more likely to die from bingering at McDonald's than from drought, Ebola or an Al-Qaeda Attack".

La Re-Conquista (2012) Oil on wood triptych 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Not only is consumerism killing us more than anything else, it's also putting the whole ecosystem at risk. At the current pace of global mass consumption, we can expect many more animal species going extinct , sea levels rise and an increased pattern of extreme weather events that will severely impact the lives of every creature in multiple ways. The Earth's future is on the line and future generations will surely not forgive us for our stupidity. Truth is global warming is real whether you want to believe it or not. 2015 is the hottest year in record with 2016 expected to be even hotter. And you don't even have to be a scientist to realize this. Just turn off the AC, go outside and pay close attention to your surroundings. But we want more jobs because the economy is the 1# issue. That's right, because we need more fearful obedient consumers. Without a habitable planet let's see what will be on the menu...

Maria Mundi (2016) Oil on canvas 50" x 35" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Some Prayers to Capital, Mass Media and Consumerism

United Citizen Ship (2016) Oil on canvas 48" x 48" Evoke Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM

Lets face it: We live in a society that worships money and consumerism over all other things. We rarely question the imposed fictions of the financial institutions that rule our world and entire lives. We live as submissive sheep oblivious and following the Neo-liberal agenda while rapidly depleting  the finite natural resources of this planet. Money stands as the supreme global religion that all can agree with and come together at the table. Very few dare to be blasphemous against the  sacred rules of the Free Market so it's time we start our day with a few prayers: 

To Our Holy Capital:

Our Capital, Who art in tax haven
Hallowed by Thy Name;
Thy corporations come,
Thy will be done,
on Main Street as it is in Wall Street.
Give us this day our consumer goods,
and forgive us our student loans,
as we forgive those who trespass our borders;
and lead us not into anarchy and revolution,
but deliver us from government regulations. Amen. 

Adoracion Capital (2014) Oil on cavas 36" x 36" Henao Contemporary, Orlando, FL

To Mass Media:

Hail Mass Media, full of grace.
Our money is with thee
Blessed art thou among channels,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mass Media, Mother of Profit,
Pray for us consumers,
now and at the hour of our debt.

Virgen Protectora del Comercio (2013) Oil on canvas 48" x 48" Private Collection

Glory be to the Free Market and to the Corporation and to the Holy Capital. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Two Prayers to Consumerism:

El Santo Rey (2013) Oil and metal leaf on carved wood 8' tondo. Private Collection

“O Sacred Heart of Our Marvelous Magical King, pour out your value meals upon our franchise, upon its managers, and upon all its workers.  Sustain the consumer demand, convert the non believers, assist the customers, deliver the burgers in front of the house, and have it your way always.  Amen”.

La Inocente (2013) Oil and metal leaf on carved wood 8' tondo. Private Collection

“O Sacred Heart of Our Innocent Wendy, we entrust our family, neighbor and homeland mealtime to you. Look down upon us and serve us your Old Fashioned hamburgers from your blessed renewed Heart. Become our refuge in life and our gateway to Food Paradise. Forgive our lack of appetite and awaken our hunger that we may become your faithful consumers in this life and the next, Amen”. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Artist to Artist: Don't compete with others, only with yourself.

Whether one is in art school or participating in an art contest, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking this is all about competition. After all they train us from an early age to compete and beat your opponent, be it in sports or any other discipline. This may well be ingrained in our ancestral genes as we strived for survival and in pursuit of scarce resources. But let's not forget our hunter/gatherer ancestors also learned to cooperate with each other in order to survive. In a modern capitalist society it seems most natural to compete against each other. But allow me to question this competitive attitude for a moment and briefly explain why I believe it is unhealthy when it comes to art practices.

Art unlike science, math or even sports is a subjective field. Proper measurements on what is good or not can be debated for hours and it's nearly impossible to agree on a set of rules of what makes good art. Cultural background, age, nationality, race, politics, religion and education play a decisive part in a person's judgment on what makes good art. On top of that, aesthetic definitions change all the time. What most mainstream contemporary art connoisseurs consider good art will most likely change within a generation and keep changing afterward. Truth is we are filled with  so many adopted preconceptions and ideas about what art is, that when it comes to comparing our own art with others, we are either extremely unfair with ourselves or overtly complacent.

The problem with the competing "me v.s. them" mentality is twofold. We either compare ourselves to other artists that we consider inexperienced or way more advanced than us. The problem when we compare ourselves with artists we believe to be unprepared or lacking artistic skills is that we then become lazy and conformist with what we already master, assuming we are on top. When we compare ourselves to artists that are ahead of us in level of mastery, we end up being too harsh with our outcomes and end up frustrated.  Often we ignore  that these artists could have started practicing when they were much younger than us. Sometimes they are simply "gifted". Some of us have to work harder to achieve a successful work of art, but that should not be a discouragement. Many "gifted" artists take for granted their talents and go to waste. Sometimes it's better to sweat it and work harder so one can really appreciate what one has reaped.

My Studio in Savannah, GA in 2006

Even if we compete against artist we consider to be at the same level as us, we forget that everyone's path is different and there is no "one" right way to do art
Instead, why not compete with yourself. If last year you produced 10 high quality paintings, try to make 15 this year without sacrificing quality. Do not try to speed up  your process just because other artists are producing 30 or even 40 paintings a year. This is not a race to see who makes more, but rather make art that pleases you and you feel proud of. Most of the time this requires time and perseverance. One can learn from other's mistakes but even better: Learn from your own mistakes.

My studio in Houston, Texas in 2016

Most professional painters I know are individualistic and  prefer create their work while they are alone n their private studios. That fact alone should already reveal a hidden truth in all of this. In this competitive society we live in, the only real competition out there should be with yourself. Strive for excellence but never forget there is no finish line as long as you're alive and enjoy art. Never mind what "comparison obsessed" critics have to say. No matter what you hear or see out there, allow yourself to be inspired by others but focus on your own art and create your own path.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Tweets, Tips and Thoughts for Artists

In the past days I've been tweeting some thoughts about  art and being an artist. Some may take theses as advice and they may well be but they are reflective of simply personal artist philosophy based on my own experience.

Preparing my color palette for the week

I very rarely go into tweeter and  haven't updated my blog in months, and some of these ideas deserve a little more than 140 characters. So I'll take this opportunity to share and expand some of these thoughts a little further.

1. Somehow when I was a child, time went by slowly. Today time seems to move so fast. I paint so I can go back and slow down time for a while.  In a way I like to see painting as some kind of time machine but for the soul. Whenever I paint, there is this connection with childhood memories and play. Some can see painting as a personal therapist. When I think of painting,  The first images that come to mind are the smiling face of Bob Ross, the smell of my first crayons, my first pets and my first art encyclopedia.

2. Perhaps the hardest part of being a full time artist is keeping a healthy balance between being true to your art and making a living of art. I think there is this notion that if you paint to sell, you're a sellout and if not then you're an egocentric. I believe there should be a middle way for any artist. Let's be honest, even if we don't agree with our current capitalist system, an artist has to live. There is nothing wrong with making some compromise, but as soon as this starts to feel like a lie, then something is definitely wrong. Stay true to yourself and what you believe in. Some may argue this is pure ego, but the heart has to follow its own bliss, that's the way art is made.

3.In the beginning it's good to learn the rules & follow the book. In time you should break free, bend the rules and write your own story... If you asked me what was the most important thing in art 20 years ago I may have answered differently. At the time I felt I needed a set of rules, structure and a solid foundation. This was mostly denied to me in art school so I had to make it on my own and become my own teacher by teaching others. Time has passed and I still believe it is vital to learn from nature and the masters but I also understand not everyone has to follow the same path and in the end you choose your program and end writing your own book.

4. Being talented, creative and having great ideas are all good but without hard work, dedication and discipline your work won't get very far.. As a full time self-employed artist, I can tell you self-discipline is everything. without it I can't imagine how I would have survived this far without it. Of course that it helps if you have a special talent but with hard work and disciplined habits you can become very good at what you do and also good at time management which is crucial to marketing your art.  A creative way of thinking tends to be organic, unpredictable and even inconsistent.  One must have a  strong charioteer to rein in the horses of creativity.

5. Do not rest til you've mastered your art. If it's too easy, move on. Staying too long in safety zones eventually kills the creative spirit. I should also add that  creativity tends to thrive in challenging situations. By pushing your limits you will be much closer to discovering long hidden potential within yourself.  Something may seem difficult at first but if you don't give it a try, you'll never know.  And what may seem difficult at first, you would be surprised at how easy they really are once you've kept at it. Having determination and coming up with a good strategy plan once you've failed the first few tries is the key for success. The problem with sticking for too long on what you already know is that it becomes stagnant, boring and predictable, qualities you definitely don't want your art to be.

Me in my studio in Houston, Texas

These are just some thoughts I wanted to share but there is one I haven't shared yet and the reason why came up with this blog post to begin with.  Weeks before writing this, I've been drafting a few blog entries on more complex issues regarding art history, philosophy and aesthetics.  They will eventually be posted. But then I woke up this morning asking myself: Why do I obsess over such complicated matters? Art should be simple and its discussion shouldn't kill it/ Meanwhile a whole world of possibilities lies within me,  from which I could benefit and share with the world, just by remembering who I am and learning from my own experiences. So keep it simple, personal and close to home.  Because sometimes you don't have to go too far to discover truth in art as in life. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Finding inspiration in the Book of Revelations

Geo Iudicium (Geo Judgment) 24" 36" Oil on panel by Patrick McGrath Muñiz  (2015)

The last judgment as well as other apocalyptic narratives found in the book of Revelations were popular themes in European Renaissance and Baroque painting. There is also a well known depiction of the last judgment on the Tarot, the Major Arcana 20. On this new interpretation titled Geo Iudidium (Geo Judgement) the four seasons are depicted as four allegorical female figures responding to climate change as the story unfolds in a vertical sequence with a heavenly group above and an earthly group below.

1.  Above them stepping on a cloud,  a representation of St. Michael the archangel raises an insecticide on his right hand (replacing of the traditional sword) and the scales on his lowered left hand carry a blue globe representing Earth and humanity . As a halo, Venus is the planet of love and beauty and Earth's twin sister turned into hell by extreme global warming. Around St. Michael, seven putti (angels) with trumpets hover across the sky.
2. A black devil falls to the Earth below.
3. A Fiery Phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction symbolizes rebirth and a renewed cycle.
4. In Alchemy the salamander although a water creature was held to be a solar creature able to consume flames and cool down any fire. It is a symbol of spiritual determination, survival and renewal.
5. From Greek Mythology, Icarus falls from the sky. In this given context, it links humanity's hubris with the devil's pride and eventual fall from glory.
6. A mother-like deity emerges from the last tree on Earth, a life sustaining symbol of hope and nurture revered by survivors below. Twelve stones enveloping the group symbolize the twelve months of the year and therefore time.  Oil refineries in a barren landscape pollute the air.
7. A reference to art history from Goya's Saturn devouring his children alludes to humanity's voracious appetite and self destructive impulse based on a misleading notion of self-preservation.
8.  Aestas (Summer) extends her orange towel while an accompanying infant points a fan towards her.
9. Ver (Spring) kneels down and releases or tries to catch the Phoenix while a green jar spills some water.
10. A masked infant below points a gun at the Phoenix. The mask is reminiscent to those worn by medieval plague doctors. The image symbolizes misguided aims and false cures.
11. Hiems (Winter) wearing a gas mask, holds a broken umbrella and funeral vase.  At the far right, in the background, a reference to The Lord of the Rings, Eye of Sauron can be seen.
12. Autumnus (Autum) covers herself from the wind next to some tree stumps and a buried toilet seat. A meteor shower falls from the sky.
The 4 serpents (four cardinal directions, elements, the material plane) in the frame symbolize the Earth's ability for renewal. The Sun and the Moon are witnesses as the consequences of humanity's mindless actions and inactions concerning the planet's wellbeing bring out the final verdict and Geo Judgment.