John Borrero is a self taught artist who creates art from found objects www.johnborrero.com He’s also a painter who paints with his fingers. I spoke with him about his work, life and why he’s not driven by the desire to be rich or famous.
MICHAEL: Hey John. Thanks for chatting with me. First of all, I love your sculptural assemblage work. What made you begin doing this?
JOHN: Although I didn't study art, it was always a love of mine. I just couldn't find a way to fit it into my life, but it used to creep in. On my way home from work, I used to see things in the street ... little bits of rubbish would catch my eye. Sometimes, a piece of metal would look to me like an arm. At other times, a chunk of burnt wood would look a lot like a bird's wing. And so it began, with me hoarding away bits of discarded items that, to me, looked like precious things. My collection sat on my desk lifeless, but growing each day.
MICHAEL: So, what was your inspiration to create?
JOHN: At that time in my life, my greatest escape was through reading. I read voraciously. It would happen that I'd find myself reading stories from mythology, folklore or religion and I would come across a description of a character and think "Wow. So this character is a winged goddess with armor covering her sword arm. I have that piece of wood that looks like a wing and that arm-shaped metal part ..." and so on until a form started to take shape from my collection of misfit discards. Later on, I incorporated faces to give my pieces more of a sense of humanity and to help people see the characters the way I was seeing them ... as fully realized people who were given life through their stories.
MICHAEL: I love artists like you who work with found objects. It's as if you refuse to buy into society's notion that practically everything is
disposable. Is this true for you?
JOHN: I think part of my goal in using found objects is to take items that have been discarded ... antique photos, artifacts, driftwood, doll parts, etc., and to reach inside them and uncover a sense of beauty, value and purpose ... a story. In terms of recycling something that society has deemed disposable, the greatest example of this is to be found in my use of antique photos. I've often had people ask me what my feelings are about using someone's photo in a work of art, since I am unable to consult with the original person. I answer that in my treatment of the photos. I try to show respect and love for the person captured in the image. I sit with them and look at the emotions they can help people to feel. I try to take something that no one wanted and make it into something that people would collect and cherish … wedding pictures, baby pictures, chronicling a life lived fully and completely, but forgotten. I hope that through my art, their faces will once again be remembered and loved.
Although it’s true I won't be able to return that person to her original identity, I try to revive part of their character … the strong woman, the tender matriarch, the willful young lady. With a little bit of work and a sense for storytelling, I take her and help her transition ... into a goddess. What can be more loving and respectful than that?
MICHAEL: It’s cool love that you call yourself a storyteller. That's really all I do as a writer. What kind of feedback have you gotten about your art? Is it your goal to do gallery shows or become famous and see your work in museum exhibitions?
JOHN: Well in terms of my art, I include some sort of text with each piece. Sometimes it is a narrative. Sometimes it is a poem that I've written. My goal in writing is to give people a bridge to my process. I think many people at first see my work and think that it looks dark and sad. It is my hope that the words that accompany the piece will become part of the experience of viewing the piece and give people a sense of the lightness, humanity and most importantly, the hope. My art is very polarizing. I never see ambivalence toward my pieces. People are either terrified and uncomfortable or entranced. They either run past my booth or sit with me for an hour taking everything in. I'm okay with those extremes. It means that the people who follow me do so very loyally. What more could I ask?
I've done gallery shows and enjoyed them. I like small, intimate venues for my work. I think that is why I do craft shows. It allows me to condense the experience into a 10x10 space. Museum shows are very attractive to me. That will be something I hope for in my future. Fame … it has never been my goal to be rich or famous. I only ask that if it’s meant for me to be out there as an artist, that the financial means for me to continue that present itself through my work. So, I would like the art to support itself as much possible.
MICHAEL: Aren’t you also a teacher? Pre-school? Is there a connection for you between your work and your art or do you prefer keeping them separate?
JOHN: Ha! Ha! Yes, I’m a preschool teacher by trade. People are usually surprised to find that out. My teaching and my art developed separately from each other. If there’s any overlap between the two, it’s in my view of the world as a magical place where inanimate objects form together and become animated to become characters from mythology. Children are an inspiration for those of us who want to see more in our world than what’s there. As we get older, we often trade in that wonderment for realism. Working with children helps me to remain an adult with a kid's sensibilities. I've also got a very fatherly way of being with children, as I do with my sculptures, if that makes any sense.
MICHAEL: Yes, it does make sense. I love your comment about adults trading in wonderment for realism. Funny, because I love both. Yet, isn't this a daily struggle? You want to dream and follow your dreams, yet reality, good or bad, remains a constant.
JOHN: Yes, absolutely. I think this is exactly why people find my art dark or disturbing. The characters in my paintings are sometimes magical or surreal, but the emotions are very recognizably human. They engage a piece expecting whimsy and find realism ... melancholy ... nostalgia. Of course, this plays out in my real life as well. I can't spend the rest of my life in my studio. I must leave it sometimes and I when I do, the world interferes.
It’s like swimming or flying or any other activity that allows us to remove our feet from solid ground. The lightness that we feel in the air or underwater is very intoxicating. It’s tempting to want to stay there forever. But that isn't meant to be. We don't have gills or wings. We have feet. Life wants us here on earth living life and walking our paths.
MICHAEL: Nice. Given that John, where do you think your art will take you? Do you also paint or draw?
JOHN: Michael, that's a phenomenal question. As much as I've tried to figure out where my art would take me (and my earnest desire to know), the one constant in art for me has been the lack of promise beyond anything but today. I just take baby steps and hope that the road continues beyond that bend up ahead. I will be a featured artist in a book to be released soon. That's pretty much all I know. I will be as surprised as anyone else to see where life takes me. Do I paint? Until two or three years ago, I'd have said no. Then suddenly, I felt inspired to start painting, mostly as a break from sculpture; something to do while the epoxy dries. Then, at an Open Studios event, people kept asking for the prices on the paintings over in the corner. They were paintings I never intended for anyone to see. I was suddenly born into the world of painting. There are people for whom my sculptures are a little too ... engaging and direct. But some of those people feel a connection to my figurative pieces. Other people find the figurative paintings a bit too sad, but can live with the melancholic feel of my landscapes. And just as simple as that, I've found myself with three different streams of art: sculpture, landscapes and figurative paintings. I do draw, but that isn't anything I show or sell. Those are dark little doodles ... think Edward Gorey when he was in kindergarten.
MICHAEL: Finally John, many art lovers still don't even consider sculpture when it comes to collecting. Any words for them?
JOHN: Well, then I feel very fortunate for the people who I've found who have been so enthusiastic about sculpture and the ways in which sculpture can engage. There was an amazing woman who bought Daphne, the tree woman from mythology, and placed it in her picture window in her home in Virginia. She stands there frozen in tree-like beauty looking out over the lake each day. There is poetry there. An architect in Maryland has a room with a few of my sculptures where they all appear to be in dialogue with each other. Another New York woman set my sculpture of Kali, the fierce Hindu goddess, on a table in the entryway to her apartment, watching over the rest of her home. For those people who can accommodate it into their space, I've heard wonderful accounts of what happens when your art climbs off the wall and sets a place for itself amongst you.
MICHAEL: This has been great John. Thanks for chatting.
You can find out more about John Borrero and his work by visiting his website at www.johnborrero.com