Heryk Tomassini is an intriguing young artist who creates stunning installations http://heryktomassini.com/ that resemble paintings, but employ materials that are fringe works. Heryk uses his deep insight and Puerto Rican heritage to create his great work. Here’s our cool chat …
“… I think people should care about art because it’s another tool to understand culture and the different definitions about it, how it’s expressed and how it has changed through time …”
MICHAEL: Hello Heryk, Your work is intriguing. First of all, what is Guindalejo and why do you use it in your work? What does it mean to you?
HERYK: First of all, I need to contextualize myself in order to answer the question and for people to understand the reason for my work and the subject matters involved in it. I'm from Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States and the oldest one.
I'm very interesting in our political condition and also in things that appeal to the masses. In both, I can find ambiguities and contradictions and for me, this is very important because it is dynamic and keeps me always in a process of raising questions instead of finding solutions.
As we know, the term “colony” involves a duality and ambiguity as well. Through this, there’s a process of imposition and also adoption, resistance and appropriation. These can be reflected in things on a daily basis.
I always use the Burger King menu of Puerto Rico as an example in order to better understand. In our menu, there’s a wrap that is called, “BK Fresh Wrap Criollo.” Criollo is a word we Puerto Ricans use for our traditional food. What is interesting about this word is that Spain invented it when they colonized Puerto Rico to name the Spaniards born on the island at that time in order to give them a kind of status and establish a difference between the natives and them.
Also, this wrap contains sweet plantains inside it in order for us to feel familiarized with it and it appeals to us in order for us consume it. This drives me to pay attention to those things that we appropriate and that make us believe it belongs to us.
The word “Guindalejo” is one of those examples. Guindalejo is a word we invented and if we make a literal translation of this word to English, it means “Fringe.” There’s an adoption and appropriation of a concept that in a certain way appeals to the masses. Most of the people in their own way use a Guindalejo in their cloths, cell phones, etc. For me, that was a way to develop an idea and translate it into art.
MICHAEL: What I'm hearing you say is that fringe or Guindalejo is a popular material, but it also symbolizes Puerto Rico which has been colonized and even today, Puerto Ricans continue to be sidelined and disrespected. If I'm interpreting you correctly, this theme alone will probably keep you busy with your art for the rest of your life unfortunately. Am I right?
HERYK: I'm the one who conceptualized Guidalejo as a symbol of colonial. That's my reading of it. I linked it to our political condition; trying to “problematize” it through popular things. Is it unfortunately for me our political condition? Yes, for me it is, personally speaking. Is it for me making art? No, it’s more of a tool for me to keep investigating and raising questions, and for me that's healthy in a sort of way, because it’s dynamic.
MICHAEL: Your fringe works are both installations and paintings ... in a way. How do you describe them? Are they always attached to canvas?
HERYK: The fringes aren’t always present in my installations. The fabrics are what - most of the time - play an important role. This material is important to me because of the relation to the history of Puerto Rico and personal as well.
When the U.S. and Puerto Rico sealed the deal through the Constitution that made us a colony, part of the arrangement was that the U.S. invested money into the island and produced jobs. The garment industry played an important role in the economic growth of the island. My grandmother used to work in a sweatshop during that period. When I make the fringes and hang them on canvas and/or stretchers, they’re paintings that comment on that medium and open dialogue about it. Now I'm working installations that have fringes out of the canvas and stretchers and the comment is different.
MICHAEL: Why do you like creating installations? What keeps you making them?
HERYK: Hard question! A few reasons! First of all, my background is architecture and that brings space into the subject matter of my work. There’s an interesting thing in making it part of my narrative and how to use it.
This thing is about the whole and the parts and vice versa and I put them in conversation. I also bring reference to Las Meninas, the Diego Velázquez painting that includes the spectator. You have the experience to feel being part of the scene. There’s this element of spectator/actor that's always present in my mind. On top of that, it gives me the chance to own the spaces temporarily and the theme of memory is also important for me. This idea of temporary/territoriality opens the door to explore duality and play with contradictions.
MICHAEL: Many of your installations are attached to canvas, but I also think I've seen some directly attached to walls and ceilings. What are those about?
HERYK: At the beginning, the fabric attached to the canvas started out as a way to comment on the medium of painting. Later it became more part of the act of claiming space for a temporary period ... how I can own and claim a space and make it my own.
MICHAEL: Wouldn't you like to see more of your work in the homes of everyday people? What do you think it will take to get more people to appreciate art for their homes?
HERYK: Yes, I would like to see my work in everyday people’s homes. The thing is most of the people are skeptical about my work because of the medium I'm using. They're worried about dust, how they can clean my paintings, and so on.
I always explain to them that it’s easier to clean my paintings even though there’s fabric rather than oil or acrylic paint. With my work, all you need is an air spray and you can clean it up. I hope that soon people start to understand it.
MICHAEL: You're currently in college, no? What are you majoring in? What do you hope to do in the future? Are you concerned at all about being a starving artist for the rest of your life?
HERYK: Yes, I am currently doing an MFA at UPenn. I got a scholarship from the institution and I'm also a teaching assistant. The combination I think is balanced. I can say that my hope for the future is finishing the MFA. That doesn't mean I have no goals for my future. I’m just focusing on the program right now and working hard, taking as much as I can from the program.
I’m also getting ready for the Bronx Museum Biennale that's opening this summer and I'm so grateful to be included. As for being a starving artist, I have no problem at all. I see it in a positive way; it keeps me focused and working hard. It helps to raise dynamic questions and pushes boundaries. It's all depends on your definition of starving that's why I see it in a positive way.
MICHAEL: Finally Heryk, So many people don't really appreciate or even notice contemporary art. They're more focused on sports or tech or whatever. They don't care about art. Why should people care about art? Should they? What can we do to introduce more people to contemporary art?
HERYK: This is a good question. I think people should care about art because it’s another tool to understand culture and the different definitions about it, how it’s expressed and how it has changed through time. Today it will be harder after the newly-elected President (Donald Trump) gets his position because he doesn't care about culture, so having said that, we need to work harder to try to get to people. I think schools need to get more involved in teaching about art to their students and the focus should be art history.
MICHAEL: I agree. Thanks Heryk. Cool chat.
HERYK: You're welcome Michael! Agreed, nice chat.
Check out Heryk Tomassini at http://heryktomassini.com/.