Artist Interviews 2021

Jorge Algraves  
By Laura Siebold

Jorge Algraves is a Mexican artist who explores the collaboration between the artist and common life in his paintings. Jorge’s “Beyond Me” series, an exploration into his childhood memories of popular television cartoons, inspired by his daughter, captured our attention at The Other Art Fair.

Jorge is passionate about giving something back to people with his art. He likes preserving his experiences in life on canvas, thereby creating lasting memories. Jorge describes the influence of American and Mexican art on his life, and his desire to exhibit his work in the U.S. and internationally. We learn about Jorge’s understanding of the representation of (passed) time through colors and the many hidden layers of his work. Jorge is currently based in California.

Your “Beyond Me” series features iconic characters from cartoon films, like Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck and Dumbo. How did you come up for the title for this series and what made you choose these characters for your paintings?

I came up with "Beyond Me" title for this series because this series goes beyond what I normally create in my paintings. Generally, my inspiration is the people that surround me, the daily and regular people that I see in the street, the common life. But in this case, I wanted to capture all the feelings that came from my childhood. Television and cartoons were and are a great influence on me, I remember that my parents were very busy when I was a child, so television educated me in a certain way.

I chose these characters since they remind me a lot of my childhood, I remember that every morning I got up early to watch cartoons and eat fruit loops (curiously I continue to do the same to date). A few months after the pandemic began, I became a father, being locked down with a baby at home is not easy. As my daughter grew up, she began to like Mickey Mouse, that was the trigger for my inspiration. I started to draw Mickeys all over the place for her, suddenly my whole apartment was full of sketches, drawings, and cartoon paintings because that's what made her happy. I tried to bring the Disney spirit into our house during the lockdown. I currently live in Anaheim, so it was very ironic not being able to see Disneyland live with my daughter being so close and so far.

What was your favorite project you’ve done as part of your artistic career so far?

Whenever I start a project, I have a quote in my mind "always take the risk of doing something for humanity and not for the economy". Two projects come to mind that I really liked, one called "Free to Be" for the LGBTQ + community of LA to inform the community about HIV, and as the second project I made a series called “Spirit in the Sky”, in which a donation was made to support institutions that fight cancer. My art is based on people, so let’s bring something back to people, too.

I couldn't tell you exactly if I have a favorite project in my career. I am passionate about all of them. Every time I see a blank canvas, it is scary and at the same time exciting; in the end, I give less importance to the project itself. I think that having 15% freedom to show my art in any art, design, or communication project, gives me full satisfaction.

Which is the most important source of inspiration for you? How would you characterize your style?

Life in general, I like to transform any experience that I have lived in the present and put it on the canvas, so it will live forever. I think I have a free style and it shows in my strokes, I never know what I'm going to create, it's not planned, I just take the brushes and see how far the canvas can take me.

I believe that each stage in my life has had a source of inspiration for my art. The people, the life, the music, the colors, the experiences, and the memories are the main thing on which I can base my art. For the series "Beyond Me", I think it would be the nostalgia of my childhood reflected in my daughter. My days now are based on playing, laughing, painting and back pain.

What was the motivation behind your “Memories” and “Experimental” series?

The two series are based on lived experiences, from my childhood until today. Having lived a childhood completely different from what is lived today, imagination and creativity were always present. Memories are transformed, as an example serves the artwork "The fellas"; they are my best friends and they are reflected there as my family and part of my life, of course.

I have always liked experimenting with new techniques and new materials. I think it is a stage that every artist experiences. Sometimes I don't like to feel trapped in having only one style, I think my paintings are very free and I like to do what I feel inside. I don't like the idea of just doing something similar all the time. I may draw a cartoon one day, a realistic portrait the next day, and abstract art at night. I never know what I'm going to paint.

You are a native of Mexico, have lived across both countries and got to know both cultures intimately. How much have you been influenced by American art concepts during your upbringing and artistic education? How much do both cultures still influence you to this day?

American art is and always has been a great influence in my life, mainly pop art and neo-expressionism, and the colorful and folk art of Mexico. It is good to have a cultural and political perspective of the two countries. I think that the more one learns about something, the easier it is to capture what you feel.

American art has always been present in my work. For me, it was a very distant dream to be able to exhibit my work outside of Mexico, my goal was to exhibit in the United States and internationally. It has not been easy, many doors were closed along the way, but there were some who believed in me. I think this search for freedom has also been reflected in my art. Living the Mexican artistic folklore life and trying to capture the American influence make a very good mix.

Can you tell us about a unique moment in your artistic career? Why has this moment been memorable?

After graduating from college, I stopped painting for over ten years, responsibilities consumed all my time. I remember years ago when I lived in Texas, I had no money for rent, I went to the dollar store to buy a small canvas, paints and some brushes. I spent the night painting to forget my debts, the next morning my wife saw what I had created and told me "I did not know that you paint, I think you should show this to the world". That day I took up painting again in my life, I could feel the feeling of freedom and the awakening of the passion for art that I had forgotten a long time ago… I sold the painting and was able to pay my rent.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my great moments in my career was exhibiting internationally. It was a very distant dream. The feeling is unforgettable when you are next to your work in a worldwide exhibition showing your art next to the most renowned contemporary artists. It is amazing. I have that memory deep in my heart of having dreamed of this opportunity, back in the old Mexico, drawing with chalk on the streets.

Which role does color play in your art creation? How can color represent time, memories, and emotions?

For me, colors are music, every time I paint, I listen to music from different times and I can visualize the tune of the song with different colors and tones. Music helps me a lot in the creative moment to know what color I am going to use. In fact, several of my artworks have the title of the song I was listening to at the time.

I like to use a dark color palette. Grays and blacks predominate in my art, although I always try to create an accent with a vibrant and energetic color such as reds, yellows or greens. Creating cartoons, the colors will always be energetic, but even so, I try to give it a touch of darkness that I like in my paintings. Some colors may represent time for me; the grays, magentas and yellows give me a feeling of the past and the vivid colors create the present in my paintings.

Have you ever completely abandoned one of your paintings because you were not happy with the way it turned out?

No, all my paintings have different layers, each work is a mixture of mistakes and successes. When I don't like what I'm doing, I transform it into another idea directly on the canvas, becoming the basis for the new one. I could say that each layer is a rebirth of the next one.

Some of the works that I have done have many paintings underneath. No one will ever know what is underneath the work that is shown, I think that gives it life and vibrancy. In the end, it is a mixture of several mistakes and successes, I never know what I am going to paint and how it will end.

In your opinion – what is the purpose of art? How can it help us understand life?

I believe that art is the purest way of expression of humanity. The purpose of art is to make us not forget the beauty of life, it helps us understand it as a personal feeling. Art is freedom. I cannot conceive of a life without art. I think it is a form of expression in which we can release our demons and our deepest feelings. Art unites people and hearts. Art will always generate a feeling, it is the purest form of communication of the soul.

Do you have an artistic icon or role model? What inspires you about this character and what have you learned from that person?

Not in particular. There are many artists that I admire, such as Koons, Giacometti, Basquiat, Gary Baseman, among others. What inspires me about them is how they decontextualize an object and transform it into art. I think that's genius…or very good marketing. Back in the 80's when I was in middle school, it was my first art show. My art teacher told me that I painted like Basquiat, of course I didn't know who that guy was at that time. Over the years I realized that it was a great compliment, I think that since then I have had some influence by neo-expressionist artists, although I like to create my own path. Now with social media, comparing your work with other artists sounds inevitable, I think that is a basic error of any artist. You can be influenced by artists, but never compare yourself to one of them. Each artist is unique.

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