Published on January 17th, 2014 | by Apuntes LJ0
On the Struggles of a Young Artist
Apuntes: You say on your website that your art helps you understand where you belong. Where do you belong?
AD: It’s always a struggle growing up, understanding who you are. When I was growing up I was different; I was bullied, I was always the outsider. I think that’s one reason why I got into art. I could have easily been involved in gangs but I chose not to because I didn’t want to go down that path. I felt I was different because I was a white Mexican, and it took me a while to figure out whether I was Mexican or American. I have always felt like I was in the middle, constantly struggling to find a sense of belonging. But I didn’t want to have a culture I could identify with, I just wanted to be who I was. It was not until recently that I “discovered” I was and am Chicano. It took me a really long time to figure out who I was.
Apuntes: Where did you grow up?
AD: I grew up in South San Francisco. When I was growing up I was placed in speech classes because I stuttered. And I was bullied for being in special classes, kids were always asking me “what is wrong with you?” I would constantly have to stand up for myself and tell people there was nothing wrong with me, I’m just in different classes. So I would draw and get lost in my notebooks. Art became a way for me to escape and find the place where I belong.
Apuntes: Where does your family come from?
AD: They are from Jalisco. And they raised me to be proud of my origins. But again, outside the home it was hard for me to adjust. At home I always felt fine. I had everything and felt very privileged. The only reason it took me a while to get to college was that I was not sure what I wanted to do. After high school I took a few community college classes, and found that the only classes that sparked some interest were art classes. It took me about five years to realize that I wanted to be an artist and get involved in the art world.
The meaning of the artwork became clearer, which is something you learn over time. You don’t just start painting and fully understand what you are doing. It takes time. That’s why I always say that quantity makes quality. The more you do something, the better you get at it, naturally.
I started out self-taught, and went to college because I wanted to refine my craft to find a broader audience. Friends and family are always going to support you and tell you that you’re doing everything right, because that’s what they do. But when you open up to total strangers at art shows, that’s when you figure out if your work is really good enough. I did not think much of my artwork until I realized people, strangers, actually liked it.
Apuntes: I was very impressed with some of the pieces in your gallery. They reflect the reality of what I see in the Mexican American community in the San Francisco Bay area. But I am curious about something you said about being self-taught—have you also benefited from art teaching, or does it all come from you?
AD: It’s a mixture of both, I believe. I feel like I went to school to sharpen what I had learned on my own. At first I was against being school-taught. I thought art schooling was going to take away my imagination and technique. I wanted whatever I made to be “pure” and real, didn’t want to have to talk about how impressive my work was. I feel that artwork has to involve labor. Perhaps that’s why a lot of my work is about labor, about immigration, identity, and struggle. My whole life I have been going through this personal struggle that happens to be universal, something we all go through, or at least that’s the way I see it. I think that’s why many people relate to my work, its themes of struggle and aggression. Perhaps it helps people understand all that aggression and frustration.
I felt that by going to school I would broaden my art vocabulary, because you need that vocabulary to communicate with people. You learn when to make your art chaotic or calm, and to use certain colors for effect, as a way of communicating.
Apuntes: Not being an artist myself I’m always curious about how a particular piece of work gets started. Does it come to you in your sleep or do you plan it or does somebody ask you to do something. How does it come about?
AD: I think it comes about by understanding what you constantly think of. Like, I constantly think about being privileged. I mean, I’m not rich or anything, it’s more like you being able to do things that most people can’t. I’m privileged in the sense that I have had the opportunity to go to school, and although I have to work, and pay bills, and all that, most people can’t go to school and work. I often wonder what my life would be like if I wasn’t privileged. That might explain why I am working on immigration, and the struggle of Mexicans to belong. I am trying to capture the images in my mind.
I try to balance the chaotic and the aggressive feelings with other images. I feel it is important to find balance. I don’t believe in perfection, I just try to understand my environment, and whatever bugs me, through my painting.
Apuntes: There’s an anecdote you might find interesting: two very famous poets, Garcia-Lorca and Neruda, were friends and sometimes they would try things out on each other. Sometimes Garcia-Lorca would tell Neruda “no, stop, stop, stop, you’re influencing me, I don’t want to hear anymore.” Does that happen to you? Are you influenced by people?
AD: Yeah, I’m influenced by people, especially by my friends and my family. Growing up my family would take me to Mexico, and that had a profound influence on me, it is what influenced me to start drawing and painting. In Mexico, I was surrounded by inspirational murals and indigenous art. And members of my family, while not necessarily artistic, were creative. My grandmother, for example, used to knit. And when I drew around her she would compliment me and tell me I was an artist, and that positive reinforcement was powerful, because it made me feel I was good at something. It also helped me deal with the questions of “what are you going to do with art?” or “can you make a living at that, are you going to teach?” And I was eventually able to answer, no, I just want to be an artist.
Apuntes: And what does your art look like? Is it mostly oil on canvas, or are there other forms?
AD: I work on two media, oil on canvas or wood, and mosaics.
Apuntes: Are the mosaics three-dimensional?
AD: Some of them are.
Apuntes: You are still pretty young. Where do you see your art going?
AD: One thing I really want to do is inspire people. I want to be a full time artist. But I really want to get involved with the community, and try to teach kids who struggle with their identity. I feel that finding your identity through art is a way for people to find their own culture, to figure out who they are.
Apuntes: So you feel art can be taught?
AD: Yes. People need to be inspired, although not everyone has people in their lives who inspire them, who show them how art can be inspiring. And I feel that something so personal as art should be shared, artists would be selfish not to share it. I strongly believe that art is a form of expression and release of emotion, your art does not have to be perfect, in creating we are continuously learning.
Apuntes: Do you see yourself widening to other areas, or other topics, other cultures?
AD: Yes. I really don’t want my art to be “Mexican art.” It’s really about human struggle. I mean, it’s about personal struggle, too, it’s about understanding how we all struggle individually. I struggled a lot in school, trying to have a voice, because there aren’t a lot of Mexican artists in the colleges of fine arts. I felt pretty lonely in college, it was hard to find my voice within that community. I have gotten to the point now, though, that I paint what I love, not caring what others might say. One professor told me that my work was “too Mexican,” and that really offended me. Why do I need to remind people that it is not just about Mexican struggle, but about human struggle?
Apuntes: And do you think you’ll be exploring other forms, like murals, water colors?
AD: I really want to get involved in murals and doing community art. My first real exposure to art was through ceramics classes, nothing to do with painting or mosaics. It was more about building things with my hands. I love doing work that involves using my hands. So I like to build everything from the floor up, even my canvases, rather than just buying things from the store. It’s like the art is more powerful when everything is hand-made.
Apuntes: You talked a little bit about education, about wanting to be involved in education. At what level do you feel you’d have the most impact?
AD: I’m still trying to figure that out. First I might get a Masters degree, although I don’t know if I can swing it financially, I’m in so much debt already. I do want to get involved in helping younger kids, perhaps middle-school age or younger, because they are able to absorb more. As they get older they get more stubborn and don’t want to accept learning. I wouldn’t mind teaching elementary school, because kids that age seem to have the most imagination, they are still artists. I feel that we are all artists when we are young.
Apuntes: Going back to what you said about being different, why were you different? Was it being too white among brown people?
AD: That was part of it. I guess people that I went to school with spoke perfect Spanish, they were involved in gangs, and they were materialistic. I felt I was a simpler person, and my Spanish was choppy and I had an accent. My Spanish didn’t sound right because I stuttered. When I talked they would think there was something wrong with me. There were a lot of little things like that.
Apuntes: So the schools you went to were largely Latino?
AD: Yes, I went to school in South City [South San Francisco] for middle school and high school, and both had large Latino populations. I felt my peers knew I was privileged, perhaps because I would always have nice shoes, stuff like that. I don’t really know what it was. But I always felt like it was me against everyone else, and that made me kind of a weird kid.
Apuntes: Was that because you were artistic and they were not?
AD: That’s part of it, yeah, I was really into my notes, and really into drawing. One way I would get even with them is I would draw them, and I would show them the drawings. They would usually get mad and beat me up.
Apuntes: And how good of a place is the [San Francisco] Bay area to develop as an artist?
AD: It can be really difficult because the art community . . . there really isn’t an art community, other than the Oakland Art Murmur with their gallery walks on first Thursdays or first Fridays. But even those things get too commercial, and people just go to have fun and drink, not to see the art. And people just want to buy art pieces for like $10.
I have been to New York and to Los Angeles, and seen their art communities. They are very inspiring, have so many outlets. Here [in San Francisco] it is a bit harder because we lack that infrastructure, artists have to create their own. So it’s about networking, and talking to other artists, and trying to set up events, and trying to bring people to come see your work, even if you have to give them free beer or free wine and cheese.
Apuntes: Perhaps you can get more diffusion through the internet?
AD: I have been trying. I have Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr. That’s where I get my fan base. I also make videos of me painting and post them on YouTube. People seem to like them. So the internet has been a great place to find an audience.
Apuntes: What about commissions? Can people pay you to paint something?
AD: I have been doing a few commissions. Right now I am in the middle of doing two of them. I get commissions from friends, from people at shows, or from people who have bought my paintings. They’ll ask me for something, like, “here’s a photo, can you make it into a painting or a mosaic?” and I’ll generally do it. I try to get them involved in the process. Like I’ll ask them what colors they like, or what do they want from it, and I try to actually have them help me create the painting. I usually send them partial pictures while I am working on their project, and ask them to tell me if they want something changed, or added.
Apuntes: Let us end with a stock question: where do you see yourself twenty years from now?
AD: Twenty years from now I want to be a successful artist. I want to have my own gallery. I want to be able to teach three days a week and paint four days a week. I want to really make creating art a lifestyle. Not a career, but a lifestyle. You do it because you love doing it, not because you have to.
For more information about the artist and to view his work, go to his website at https://adelgadoart.squarespace.com/ or email him at email@example.com to be added to his email list.