Nelson is an artist who lives with his family just outside Washington, DC. His work www.nelsongutierrez.com is very interesting for its animated quality which he uses to shed light on issues of concern. However, Nelson doesn’t preach, he simply expressing what he wants to express. Here’s our chat…
MICHAEL: Hey Nelson, Your work is very socially conscious. You're clearly aware and concerned about what's happening in the world. Is your work an attempt to open dialogue, solve problems or are you simply giving us your take on things?
NELSON: Hi Michael, Thank you for your interest in my work and for taking the time to do this interview. To answer your first question, I think my work is a little of “an attempt to open dialogue”, none of “solve problems” and much of “giving you my take of things” after research. I consider that a large amount of the art ever made -especially in contemporary art- is more effective when it unlocks a discussion about formal or conceptual issues. In that sense, I don’t want my work to be an exception. Although I’m just pointing to different current topics that concern me and I’m giving you my independent point of view on them, in some particular cases, I would like to create awareness about those specific subjects. Finally, so far, I have never tried and it’s not my intention to solve a problem with my work.
MICHAEL: I like the graphic nature of your work which carries a sense of urgency. Your painting and drawing series look very animated and almost like they could be short, animated films within themselves. No?
NELSON: You are probably talking about my recent project, “The Death of Fear,” which follows the latest social uprisings that have taken place worldwide. It is made up of about 100 individual drawings on paper depicting individuals engaged in demonstrations in 15 different countries. The series started with drawings using different mediums (pencil, charcoal, watercolor, acrylic, etc.) on paper of assorted sizes. As the work developed, it seemed right to me to unify the scale and the medium of the drawing, thus creating two separated bodies of work within the series, one is a group of 70, 14” x 11” ink and graphite on paper. The other group is made up of 10, 50” x 36” works using the same medium. When the work is displayed as a group, due to the nature of the images, it is possible to identify issues of time, performance or motion and some other elements of animation. I consider that the repetition element in the work reinforces the subject related to the social patterns that we have witnessed in recent years around the globe. I found it remarkable that many people have made reference to animated films when confronted to these stationary works in recent shows.
MICHAEL: I see it in some of your other works too. I also get a sense of repetition or slight variation in some of your work. Am I right?
NELSON: You are right Michael. I develop my projects around specific subjects and almost always I work in series. In that sense, the different works within each series have similarities or slight variations as you mentioned.
MICHAEL: How did you become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family? Tell me about your background.
NELSON: I come from a family with artistic interests. My mom painted still-lives and portraits in oil and my dad use to play the piano - classical music -neither of them where really artists, they just did it for fun. My mom is an attorney and my dad worked in the financial sector in Colombia all his life. Anyway, at that time at home, there were many art books that I read and revisit frequently, some of them were about art technique, some of them were about art history, especially on the subjects of classic art and the old masters. At the same time as I was in high school, I enrolled in a traditional art academy in Bogotá where I took drawing lessons - from basic to advanced life drawing - with a group of professional artists. After high school graduation, I went to the Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano and obtained a BFA in Fine Arts. A few years later, I moved to London to pursue an MFA at Chelsea College of Art and Design. As an art student, I concentrated on painting and drawing, but since the early 1990s, I have focused on creating three-dimensional artworks, conceptual objects and installations, based on current socio-political issues.
MICHAEL: You know Nelson, many people think they have to be highly-educated about contemporary art to understand it. They think that there's some mystery. Thoughts?
NELSON: I don’t think there’s mystery or secrecy in contemporary art and I don’t believe that people need to be highly-educated to understand it. However, I believe that the average viewer should approach contemporary art with a real interest and an open mind. I think it makes a big difference to have some basic knowledge of art history and art in context. If one understands why the art was made and how it reflects the events surrounding it, one can begin to accept its existence. It provides a context and a point from which objectivity can materialize. There is always something of the artist in the art and knowing these experiences. The artist’s background as well as the techniques he/she has used or is currently using, assists to a great extent in understanding a particular contemporary artwork. A final thought, as with any other discipline, the more contemporary art you see and the more you read about it, the easier and more enjoyable it gets.
MICHAEL: Don't you live in DC? How does the environment there inform your work - if at all?
NELSON: Yes Michael, I live in DC. The environment here doesn’t really inform my work. I could be doing what I have recently been doing anywhere else.
MICHAEL: No? Not the politics, monuments, American flags, sense of history, heavy culture, beltway traffic, political alliances, car processions with police escorts, cherry blossoms in bloom, demonstrations and marches? None of this affects you?
NELSON: I actually live in Old Town Alexandria, not too far from downtown DC, and as much as I possibly can, I avoid going into the city for many of the reasons you has mentioned, like beltway traffic, frequent car processions with police escorts, road closures, cherry blossom’s million of tourists and demonstrations and marches which bring more road closures. DC in fact has wonderful things, historic mansions, masterful museums and monuments and memorials. Hallowed cemeteries and sacred places are among other of the numerous attractions. The Smithsonian and Kennedy Center are invaluable sources of information and priceless educational tools for visitors. I actually visit them with my family from time to time. Certainly everything that surrounds us and the environment in which we move and develop affect us in one way or another and is part of what we are. What I don’t clearly see is how in this specific moment of my career, the fact of being in DC is informing my studio practice in a particular way.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and the art market? Super-wealthy collectors are buying Picassos, but not emerging artists.
NELSON: I think that both of them, the art world and the art market, work at very different levels and it is not really possible to generalize or to perceive them from a single point of view. I don’t think there is just one single type of art collector, the same way as not all artists, art galleries/dealers, auction houses or fairs sell the same type of works. Some collectors buy art as an investment and for profit, some buy art to gain status and some others buy art because they like it and they truly enjoy it. In the particular case that you mention of some super-wealthy collectors buying Picassos, but not emerging artists, that’s probably because Picasso is almost certainly the most recognized artist in modern art history. His works have a traceable steady value and are perceived as a safe and sound investment. A Picasso also may give the collector and his/her collection a “higher status,” a “brand” within the art world. Some collectors work differently, like Mr. Charles Saatchi who purchases and promotes a very diverse mixture of painting, sculpture, assemblage installation art, video film and conceptual works from emerging artists, attaching his collector “brand” to it, increasing the exposure and the value of the art. There are also other collectors like the Rubell Family or Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, just to name a couple, who in addition to displaying and collecting internationally established artists, buy and support the work of emerging artists working in contemporary art.
MICHAEL: Where are you now in your evolution as an artist? What’s inspiring your interest and inspiring you these days? What ideas or concepts?
NELSON: My ideas usually come from a thought process about a broad variety of personal interests: the individual vs. the collective, people in relation to their culture and environment, identity, societal change, as well as personal experiences and memories. I’m now interested among other topics, in the current Colombian peace process; after the country has been overrun by violent conflicts between the government’s army, guerillas and paramilitaries for more than fifty years. During the last few months, the parties involved have been talking about reaching agreements to end the conflict. I’m interested in a non-politicized approach to this reality, to its origins and its manifestations in popular consciousness. These are elements that can be used to portray the reconstruction of Colombian national identity. Drawing, mixed media, and 3D objects provide a medium that enables me to have a free approach to materials. It gives me a diversity of possibilities to make use of in creating the visual symbolic images I want to express in my ever-evolving creative process.
MICHAEL: Very cool. Finally Nelson, If your body of work could speak (which it can in a way), what would it say? What would you like people to take away from your work?
NELSON: I think art should not try to be something other than what it is essentially. I would like people to appreciate my work for its artistic qualities. In some cases, it’s an additional benefit when people turn out to be aware of specific issues articulated in the artwork.
MICHAEL: Thanks Nelson. Cool chat.
NELSON: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. It has been a very nice experience.
You can see Nelson’s work at www.nelsongutierrez.com.