Featured artist Lydia Enriquez’s interview with artist Francisco Moreno on his exhibit “Las Noticias”.
Lydia Enriquez: Francisco, I’m super excited about your upcoming show Las Noticias at Curbs and Stoops, Westbury. Can you tell me more about the genesis of the title work for this show?
Francisco Moreno: Thank you, Lydia! A few years ago I went to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona where I saw a series 58 works he did called Las Meninas. In the works, Picasso explored a series of paintings based off of Velazquez’s Las Meninas in which he recreates the painting over and over to use it as a vehicle for discovery. The obsession I have with news (translated to Spanish as Las Noticias), as a subject matter, is similar to that of Picasso and Las Meninas. So I think it’s for a couple of reasons, the model Picasso set for a work ethic in his Meninas and the homophonic relation between Meninas and Noticias.
LE: Curbs and Stoops is gallery that produces pop up shows, can you tell me how this exhibition experience differs from less dynamic forms of curation and exhibition? Do you think that your show at Curbs and Stoops will differ from your work for your upcoming solo show at Oliver Francis Gallery?
FM: The work featured at Curbs and Stoops consists of paintings produced these past two years while at RISD and will be curated by Jeffrey Peña from Curbs. This show will hopefully differ from most exhibitions because of my schizophrenic approach to painting. When I was showing the work to Jeffrey in preparation for the show, it was interesting to see that, though many of the works are different in approach, they are threaded together by intent to deconstruct and understand American culture through painting. The show at Oliver Francis Gallery will be part of that thread and feature new work and onsite installation/painting.
LE: Is your process for creating an installation different than a painting? Are they interchangeable?
FM: It is and it isn’t. Both require a keen understanding of aesthetic and spatial relations, but making a painting on canvas that is 22 x 30 inches is different than making one on a wall that is 12 x 20 feet. The smaller one is autonomous and transportable as opposed to the wall drawing, which depends on its site and everything around it (for example: why this space, why this wall, how much of the wall does this cover, does this location make sense for this installation, how does the human relation to the installation affect the viewer?, etc.). Paintings have the luxury of existing in a personal vacuum, similar to the vacuum a gallery would create for an installation, but installations are more sensitive to the things around them and controlling all things in the installation is something that needs to be taken into consideration when thinking in that manner. Needless to say, doing both is beneficial because when you make one or the other, you create a zone where new things can only happen in that area, but then you realize that it can cross over.
LE: You often include very specific imagery in your work. What draws you to imagery? How do you know when it needs to be represented in your work?
FM: I want to explore something that would allow me to engage in situations outside of my studio walls so I decided to read and draw the headlines from the United States section of the New York Times. I want to examine the images, reality, or sheer absurdity of what America considers news. A headline attempts to captures how we function in society now. When speaking of headlines, British artists Gilbert and George say that “(headlines) are a reflection of a society we are all complicit in.” The newspaper headlines that I select present American ways of life that reflect our current state as a country.
During the project, I made these drawings daily. The drawings were quickly executed in a moleskin sketchbook with pen, pencil and ink. In cursive, above each image, I wrote the headline text and a date. When looking through the sketchbook, I get a sense of time passing by. After half a year of working on this project in my sketchbook, I have began to curate and focus more on specific events that I feel affect not only me, but the current situation in America. For example: the Texas wildfires of 2011 reflect the effect that global warming is having on our environment. The British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill was catastrophic for the American people and continues to be in that the shrimp processors have not been able to recover from the damages caused by the disaster. I hope that creating an image of the event will bring it back into conversation.
LE: How do the sketchbooks relate with the finished work? Would you consider showing them together or are the sketchbooks purely a means of documentation?
FM: The sketchbook is something for myself, like a journal or notebook for a writer. But sketchbooks are incredibly important; they are the impetus for larger works. There is always rawness to them that is important to maintain in the finished work. There was a time when I thought everything I did was great, but then I realized there are a few things I should keep to myself.
LE: I’m curious about your relationship to the history of abstract painting. Do the moments of abstraction almost become an icon for the idea of painting in the same way that an image of the Statue of Liberty is an icon for the idea of America?
FM: It wasn’t until I discovered “dazzle” that I had a hard time making sense of abstract painting. In 1917, the American Camouflage Corps was created. It was an American organization that hired British painter Normal Wilkinson to initiate the use of “dazzle painting” for naval camouflage. This mode of painting was heavily influenced by cubism in that it consisted of “a breaking of contours, the passage, so that a form merges with the space around it or with other forms; planes or tones; outlines that coincide with other outlines, then suddenly reappear in new relations; surfaces that simultaneously recede and advance in relation to other surfaces; parts of objects shifted away, displaced, or changed in tone until form disappear behind themselves.” These paint schemes were created by artists and executed by workers. I utilize these dazzle painting schemes in the similar way Picasso worked with analytical cubism: to “find aesthetic experience at the margins of what was socially regulated, since it was only from that place that the advanced artist could construct an image of freedom.”
I agree with you in that moments of abstraction become iconic. I was thinking about Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell when superimposing a paint mark on Captain America or Jackson Pollock when making the Killing Room painting. They become another element to take into consideration when creating a work.
LE: Do you have a method for how much abstraction and how much news or outside input get added to a painting? Is it ever a struggle to combine something from the interior world of “abstraction” with something that is purely exterior like a news headline?
FM: Some events are unfamiliar enough that the image itself is “abstract” as opposed to some events that are so loaded that is calls for a strong collision between the event’s visual representation and abstraction. Sometimes the image of an event is abstract and symbolic enough that it functions as both. I really like this question because every day something new happens and within the Las Noticias project I have to find a new way to visually approach the next piece. Every image opens new possibilities in my practice while remaining close enough to the purpose of intent. I think that this work will always be interior even when I take exterior things like headlines.
LE: You recently graduated from RISD’s MFA program. Do you feel there is a big difference in the way that you are making work outside of an institution?
FM: RISD was a great experience. I know there are a lot of people criticizing MFA programs right now, but for me it was the best thing I could have done. I came from a state school in Arlington, Texas where I consumed most of my contemporary art through the Internet and art publications. At RISD, I was exposed to lectures, conversations, and studio visits with great artists that helped me strengthen my purpose as an artist. Now that I am out, I know what I need to do and how to do it. I can confidently say that I am about to make the best work of my life.