David Cuatlacuatl (b. 1989, Puebla, Mexico) recently received his MFA degree at The Pennsylvania State University. He received his BFA from Ball State University. He lives and works in the U.S. and loves tacos al pastor and atole de calabaza. Cuatlacuatl is a Dedalus Foundation MFA Fellow nominee in Painting and Sculpture, 2015 and recipient of the Graham Fellowship, Pennsylvania State University, 2013-2015.
Seeing the limited conditions of people native to my hometown and south of the border helped me develop a certain worldview. I believe this has a major influence on me and on my work today. The lack of modern development in third world countries allows for intuitive abilities together with a strong working ethic to excel during the everyday life. It is this idea of intuition and practical problem solving, which I celebrate in my work processes.
I respond to an age of intense mobility, both voluntary and coerced, with hybrid processes and mixed media. A dislocated temporal presence is connoted through the use of found materials, which carry the imprint of their former lives. Selected application of assemblage disorients the fictional and illusionistic space connoted within the frame. Using strategies of modern art and vernacular forms, I blur boundaries of low and high art. I often attempt to take a neophyte approach to dismantle structures of hierarchy, to dissolve barriers of property and value.
I am a collector of objects, attracted by their color, texture, form, and scale. I forge relationships with my surroundings through my interaction with these objects. Simultaneously respecting and bracketing their previous history, I bring them to my studio and host them in my work. The struggle to place these orphans in a new context and setting of formal investigations drives the creation and compositional possibilities.
Q&A with David Cuatlacuatl
by Sidney Mullis
You mentioned in your statement that you think of the elements that make up your completed pieces as orphans and your artistic process as the struggle to place them. You allow your marks/objects to retain this dislocation, yet still seem balanced in the overall composition. When do you know that you have attained that “imbalanced balance” in your work?
It’s difficult to say. I don’t particularly seek the imbalanced aspect. I think imbalance is a given in and out of the studio. I will say that I tend to have multiple unresolved pieces going on at the same time. A lot of rearranging and material moving takes place among the pieces. It gets fun and interesting when multiple paintings depend on one particular object. That’s when the problem solving begins as well as the search for possible solutions. At times it feels like I arrive at an unsatisfactory balanced composition too soon, but I chose to continue to work through series of regrets or various moments of joy.
Do you keep a sketchbook? Does drawing play a part in your practice?
Although I don’t really do preliminary sketches for final work, drawing does play a significant role in my work. I don’t consider drawing simply an exercise, as it often becomes an imperative element to finish a painting.
What is a neophyte approach? How do you employ this technique?
Neophyte relates to being new or inexperienced at a field or situation. I like this as reference to those moments of abstraction experienced when learning a second language or the unfamiliarity to a new city. More than a technique, I consider it a mindset that helps me begin new work.
Your work deals with the hot topic of immigration. I find that it doesn’t scream its political beliefs, but is still loudly heard. Do you think of your work as political?
My work takes into consideration social, economic and political concerns based on personal experience but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it political.
You mention the intuition and practical problem-solving disposition of people native to your hometown and south of the North American border. Could you discuss this type of person further and how this personality makes it way into your process?
I think about people who face material or professional limitations. Which is not necessarily specific to people south of the U.S border, but people who combine inventiveness with a survivalist attitude. Often repurposing conventional uses of objects or things considered being broken. I think modernity often considers this attitude as defiant. In my work, expression comes from the use of discards, fragments, and recycled materials. Things are held together by bits of string or using the most basic, simplest, and crudest means necessary.
Found objects are frequently integrated into your pieces. How do you acquire these materials? When is an object “orphaned?” When do you become “the host?”
I use a combination of found objects or discarded material. Also ready-mades I find at thrift stores. I also have picked up things from the side of the highway in the past. Sometimes I get donations from friends as well.
About being a host, I feel like I become a host as soon as I bring these materials into my studio. Even if at the end these objects don’t find their way into my work.
There is a great attention to detail in your work from having seen it in person. Erasures and easily overlooked marks are regular elements to be found. Could you talk about your interest in these subtleties?
That’s the drawing phase that I enjoy a lot. It’s a different kind of engagement from the assemblage or construction process. I like the idea of the presence of something going unnoticed by the use of erasures. I think about how the presence of a mark, history, or cultural belief responds to a kind of removal.
How do you think your background in graphic design influences your work?
When I was studying graphic design, I was looking at design influenced by Constructivism. Design that usually consists of eye-catching images featuring bright colors, geometric shapes, and bold lettering. I never really became immersed in the graphic design industry after my undergrad studies. Nevertheless, I still continue to employ both digital and analog tools.
You recently graduated with your MFA from the Pennsylvania State University. Congrats! What has your transition out of graduate school been like? Any advice for others as they make transitions out of similar programs?
Thank you. So far the transition has mostly consisted of packing and unpacking. At the moment I don’t have studio space, so that’s been somewhat rough. But I recently got a smartphone and been working on some digital paintings. I don’t think I am in the position to give much advice, sorry.
What artists are you currently interested in?
This summer I started looking at Renaissance painters like Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca. There is something about their depiction of figures and architecture that I find really intriguing and mysterious. I also recently had the opportunity to see work by Tom Wesselmann in person for the first time. It’s exciting to be looking and working with the figure again.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thanks so much for the opportunity!
Thank you for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about David and his work, check out his website!