Artist Interviews 2022

Simon Vargas  
By Julia Siedenburg

Simon Vargas is a brilliant collage artist. He describes himself as a multidisciplinary artist. His gorgeous collage artworks are such a stunning combination of nature and women in beautiful gowns. These international cut-outs were a mix of international reading materials. From encyclopedias all the way to fashion magazines. Simon has a great gift for taking these many different pieces and making them work together so easily and organically. These works of art can be seen as love letters to mother earth and humanity.

I have been hoping to have Simon as part of an issue for a while and I am so beyond grateful that it has finally worked out. I am in love with his work and I was so excited to learn more about him and his work I hope you feel the same, dear reader. Please enjoy reading my interview with this exceptional artist.

How did you get the idea to create vintage magazine collage pieces?

I started creating collages at a very young age. I used it as a hobby to decorate my book covers and binders in school or to decorate my room and then later for friends and family that really loved them too. As I got older I started getting quite a bit of attention for them and so I started to develop the technique and process in a more professional sense. I used to use elements from magazines when I first started making collages 15 years ago but I quickly realized the paper quality was not the best and so now I have moved on to only using books and other high-quality paper sources.

Where do you get the magazines from and how long does it take to have all parts together for one collage piece?

I source all of my elements from books, scientific illustrations, botanical guides, encyclopedias of animals, fashion books, etc. These books are found around the world. I am very blessed that I am able to travel a lot because of work so wherever new places I travel to I try to set aside time to explore local bookshops, street markets, and vintage stores to source new materials and create my whimsical worlds. One of my favorite latest finds was a book that I found in a shop in Bangkok, Thailand from a fabulous Asian designer. The book is filled with beautiful intricate designs. It was a true gem to find and quite inspiring!

Who influences you the most as an artist?

For my collages, I find a lot of inspiration in nature; the abundant flora and fauna of various parts of the world. Natural beauty in its complete perfection with diverse color palettes and symmetry that always drawn me in. Fashion is also a big inspiration, and I find that my favorite designers often use nature for their own inspiration so it all revolves around this larger source of natural power.

Do you have a message or theme that you are trying to convey with your images and which is your favorite piece you have created so far and why?

The theme is the harmony between humans and nature. That we all come from Mother Earth and yet somehow with our lives, jobs, social lives, etc we usually tend to move further away from it. In my pieces, I am capturing a utopian vision of humans and nature in complete balance, an idealized version of reality. The surrealist elements of having the flower heads and fruit heads are to point to the fact that although we’re human we are truly connected to nature at our core.

I don’t really have a favorite piece. They all feel like my babies, and I love to watch my designs and styles evolve over time. I can tell you that in my last show which I did this past month in Miami during ArtBasel 2022, there was a piece that I really enjoyed creating. I loved how it turned out. The vegetation I picked was completely different from the elements I normally use on my collages it had more of a pastoral look and feel, with wheat tall grasses and the color palette was quite muted compared to many other pieces I’ve created. As usual, the character is a really strong female with a lot of movement in her gown and body language. She is posing in a field of grasses under a sky of stars next to a wolf and deer and with two owls looking towards her. It’s a stunning and contemplative piece!

I discovered your beautiful yet minimalistic pieces at the LA Art Show. How was your experience at the show? Do you like showcasing your work at big events like those?

LA Art Show was a great experience. As an artist, I find it really important to be able to show your work in various places around the world so you can diversify your impact and audience base. Shows like LA Art Show, Art Basel, NY Armory, etc really help artists emerge in different locations and meet new clients and admirers, it’s also amazing to be able to show our work to thousands of people in such a short period of time. My next large-scale exhibition will be in New York City in March at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, Manhattan.

Tell us a bit about your background and upbringing.

I am originally from Colombia but I was raised in Spain. I think my collages really show this juxtaposition of the nature-loving, magic realism-influenced Colombian, with the very fashion-forward European side. I also lived in New York for 10 years where I studied fine arts at The School of Visual arts. The city was the best school though in general, It taught me so much about life, art, and connection. The most important lesson is that we are all the same. No matter where we come from, religion, sexual orientation, race, gender, etc… we all have these inherent similarities that make us human. That’s another reason why I place flower heads on my characters, like that there is no defined background for the character, and the viewer can impose their own vision on the piece.

Considering the current political climate and the wars/revolutions happening in the world, how much power does art have in your opinion? Can it help resolute conflicts like those?

Art is a very strong power. I do believe it can help resolve conflicts and it can definitely help unite people in a significant way. I’ve seen it bring awareness to various important themes and difficult subjects, as well as help alleviate violence. In Colombia a lot of organizations that I’ve worked with in the past use art to keep children out of conflict, and gang groups out of crime, and to bring peace and respect to developing areas of the country.

Making collages is a specifically crafty type of work. What regular day-to-day things do you like that require assembling/ piecing things together and would you say you are a particular detail-oriented person?

I am very detailed oriented. At times almost to a fault. Not only with my work but with my living/working space too. I am always organizing and cleaning making sure everything is it its right place. I do believe I am very meticulous in every aspect of my life which lends itself well to my collage practice.

Does your mood play a big role when making art? Please explain in what way.

For me, my mood plays a really big part when making all my art. It decides how much the art-making process is going to flow. Which route I’m going to go in as well as what I see in my head or feel and how well I can recreate or push forward that emotion in a visual manner. I might wake up really happy and create a very joyful collage. Other times I might enter my studio space feeling more nostalgic and the collage will represent those feelings by developing in a more somber style or perhaps with moodier characters or darker colors. Everything depends on my mood.

What is next for you? What are your plans for the future? Are any big events coming up?

In May I will be participating again at Art Busan in South Korea. Branching out to Asia really excites me as I love Asian culture, and want to continue to expand my presence there. It’s always important for me to be able to show my work all around the world in different cultures. Also next year I am currently planning to pause making collages for a little bit. I’m originally an oil painter and for the last 5 years I have really focused on collage making which has brought me a lot of joy and success, however lately I’ve been feeling that my oil painting side is needing more attention and so next year I am going to be working on my new large scale series of Colombian woman which will be oil and canvas and mixed media.

This series will be focused on the indigenous woman from a tribe called Kuna who I visited and spent time with last spring. I am so excited to start working on this series and continue to showcase to the art community and world, the different races and communities that bring so much diversity and magic to Colombia, my country of birth.

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