By Ivonne Ballí.
"What I look to do is express that you’re human. You’re capable of feelings; give yourself that chance. Connect with another human."
Ivonne Ballí: You share many reflections about your work and process on Instagram. Tell us about how social media becomes a form of reflection and socialization, as well as part of the project. What role does Instagram play in your growth as an artist?
Horacio Quiroz: It worries me because Instagram has been a great tool since the beginning, and for good or bad, I realized I wouldn’t receive the attention I expected from the media and public here in Mexico. I saw Instagram had people, a captive audience who could provide feedback, and you can contact or get to anyone with a message. Doors were opened. In fact, the solo show I have now happened because the relationship with the gallerist was built on Instagram. It’s cool to explore this new way of forming relationships; we’re doing it in several areas. But at least in the work sphere, it’s been very interesting and unexpected. In a way, when I quit my old job and started painting, I became a little bit of a millenial. I feel part of both the X generation and the millennial generation, because I had to renovate myself in many ways.
To answer your question, I worry and wonder about how much my work is affected by social media’s participation in it. I question it, I put it on the table. How good might it be to have that immediate feedback of your work? It might lead you to abandon what you wanted to do in the first place, you know? I try to always go back to myself, to what I paint and what I want to express, not what other people want to see.
On the other hand, it’s questionable to me when other painters and artists don’t yet have a platform for diffusion such as Instagram. But like we said, everyone manages themselves however they want, no? When I started my career, I would see these young painters in their 20’s from the USA who posted all day, and I said I’ll do the same. I’m very grateful to and value the people who supported me in “non-virtual” real life, as well as the people I’ve met who’ve come to studio visits. People who’ve given me their advice and support. I can’t deny that yes, social media has helped me immensely. You can get to whoever you like, and it validates you socially. It’s funny- if I, for example, lose face with the gallerist I’m having a show with, he’ll troll me, and if he loses face with me, I’ll troll him, right? It’s an interesting tool. You’d think, at first, it takes away the seriousness in your work- posting all day and not leaving anything private- but sharing your moments of creation and your processes gives you a validation with the people who are seeing how you work; how productive you are. They see that you have this show and that event lined up. People watch your production and that socially validates you.
IB: I see you write reflections on your Instagram that accompany your work process, such as the "Principle of Polarity" in The Kybalion and the Kumbhaka (the pause between inhalation and exhalation), which is interesting to me. What are other concepts you’ve been thinking about or inspire your work?
HQ: I’d say, as general inspiration, I’m interested in the processes of change and people. Having started this new career- 5 years now- I still can’t believe it sometimes. I still have to convince myself sometimes. “I’m a painter now, I’m having my second solo show in NY,” and I’m like, man, seriously? I hadn’t expected this, it’s a big change. I’m inspired by the processes of change in people, like seeing your friend with her man and she feels like shit with him. You see her 2 years later and she’s happy now. She remade her life; she has a child. She’s someone else now. Or maybe another friend is in the closet, and you see the whole process they had to go through to come out of it and then you see them liberated. Or someone who’s sick who’s suddenly cured. Those kinds of changes inspire me the most.
For this exhibition in particular, which is called Polarities, I was very much inspired by The Kybalion which is a book with an anonymous author. No one knows who wrote it. It’s from Egypt and talks about various principles and mentions Principle of Polarity which explains how in this plane that we live in, everything has duality. There are no absolute truths. Nothing is a complete lie, nothing is a complete truth. While we tend to judge and make very categorical judgements, what we should be doing is flow through the circumstances that life presents. I am neither good nor bad, I can commit good acts or bad acts. Same as you. But I won’t judge you as all bad just because you did something bad. You could be going through something which to my judgement the things you do are bad, but that is my particular judgement. It’s not because you’re particularly bad.
IB: Oh yes, when I was doing my research for this interview, I saw that you talk a lot about dualities. One of my questions will be about that, actually.
HQ: I went through the principle of polarities; thinking of polarity and being inspired by The Kybalion. I’ve also gotten inspired in the philosophies of Carl Jung and the Ying-Yang, which basically say the same thing. The good as the seed of bad and the bad has the seed of good, and everything is rotating and its continuous movement and change. I approach this polarity through various themes I’m interested in such as feminism; gender, sexuality, or for example, the Kumbhaka. It’s the moment between inhalation and exhalation. The moment between past and future, when you exhale and inhale. It’s a way of representing that polarity in our life. We are always breathing; we’re living and dying at the same time, we inhale to keep alive and exhale to let it go. That moment between past and future is Kumbhaka, the moment to come into the present.
IB: Follow-up question: What are you reading or investigating currently?
HQ: I’d be lying if I said I’ve read all Carl Jung or the entirety of The Kybalion. What I can say is that the I’ve had experiences in my life. All the quotes and phrases I include are things I’ve seen in therapy. I’ve confronted them, I’ve lived them, and I like to say them. If I speak of polarity, it’s because I feel divided at times. I feel one thing, I think another. I go through life judging others and I shouldn’t. It’s a message for me, before it being meant for anyone else. I don’t know where the work will go, but I think I’ll get more out of The Kybalion.
IB: You started to paint 5 years ago. How has your career in graphic design influenced painting?
HQ: I studied graphic design, but I had really been working as a creative in publicity for 12 years. It’s not until now that I’m realizing how it’s influenced me. I have knowledge of marketing and communication, which I’ve felt very natural about applying to my career in painting and recently I’ve been realizing someone who studied graphic arts or visual arts doesn’t have that. I’m conscious of those skills now in the way I promote myself, and I also have many friends in PR, in media and publicity, which I think has helped. On the other hand, I was always doodling in my notebook. While I was at the agency, I’d draw and draw, and even though I didn’t paint, I worked with many art directors, many photographers, commercial directors, etc. The eye keeps educating itself.
IB: In the interview you did for UnderTheCanvas, you showed a piece you made when you were a teenager which somehow determined the path your career and personal style has taken in the present. How has that evolved? What are the interests that persist through time?
HQ: I’ll tell you how it came about. When I quit the agency... Imagine, I’d been working there for 12 years, an entire lifetime. I was very frustrated. I wasn’t working in what I liked and I hated having a schedule. I hated the employee lifestyle; I hated eating out of tupperware, you know? I hated that whole lifestyle and I thought: “I wasn’t born to manage these awful accounts”, I don’t like what they say. That they’re feeding the collective unconscious stuff we don’t need; products I couldn’t care less about. I was very frustrated at the beginning and I had to get a lot of stuff out. If you check out my line of work chronologically, you’ll be able to see the beginnings were very dark and obscure. It was a catharsis of what I was living at the time. Looking back, I can see they were tumors I got rid of.
When I started out, I realized my work looked a lot like that painting I did when I was 13. I said: “What am I going to paint? I’ve already quit, now what the hell do I paint? You’ve thrown your tantrum, you’re out, now what will you do? What do you want to say?” When I realized I was doing the same thing I did as a teenager, I said, “This is the way”. I got here unconsciously. This painting is very significant because it was the last thing I did in my adolescence. I arrived to the same thing I painted as a teenager unconsciously… A 13-year-old kid doesn't lie, he paints what he really feels. That validated me, that’s how I knew where to go.
A lot of my recent work, this series I’ve just finished, has a lot of references to what I was doing as a kid. On one hand, there was this painting of the faces, but I can tell you that I was drawing little figures all the time. I’d invent their skirts, hair. I’d invent their accessories. I feel like that part of me came out with the recent work. You can see these clothes hung over there in my studio; it’s because I was experimenting with clothing. As a kid I’d draw all day long; I’d fill notebooks. My friends played football and I was the gay kid who didn’t fit in. I found shelter in drawing. I found my world there. I thought “Well, maybe people will notice I’m gay, but they’ll notice I’m very good at drawing, too”, and that gave me peace. It was a defense mechanism, a protection. “Alright, I’m a fag, but look at my drawing, you can’t bully me because I can draw well”.
IB: Do you use models or people as a reference or do you make them up?
HQ: It’s a combination of everything. It’s a process that involves drawing and photographs; from a photo to drawing and vice versa several times, until the idea becomes clear, and then I move on to the canvas. Just the same- on the canvas, the idea can evolve. I could start with one idea and end with another, it doesn’t change radically but the process flows on the canvas. But yes, both photography and drawing.
IB: How do you perceive the panorama of contemporary painting, of its production and the possibilities of what is being done now?
HQ: Mexico disappoints me in that there is not enough painting at art fairs. The percentage of painting on display is very little and that’s what I look for at an art fair. I like seeing what my colleagues are painting; what everyone else is doing. It’s frustrating for me when I go to fairs and I see that small percentage of painting; and within that small percentage, an even smaller percentage of figurative painting. The chances of finding something surrealist is even less. I don’t know what to think. I think there’s a parallel market to what you see in fairs like Zona Maco or Material Art Fair, or Salon Acme, in which you see a lot of painting. On the other hand, I think Mexico is very particular. Pop surrealism and lowbrow art is very strong and I don’t know if it just hasn’t arrived to Mexico or if it’s just a question of the next generation which is producing, getting a little bit older.
I think there’s a lot of people producing painting and there’s no place to exhibit it. There should be more of those places.
IB: I think so, too! Painting is my first love and perhaps my only love. I do see a lot of conceptual art, other kinds of art, and the directions they’re going are so interesting. The possibilities of art have expanded to the point where anything can be art- imagine the possibilities! I like to think the more traditional kind of art, which has always been painting, would have even more possibilities. I’d love to see a revival and flourishing of painting.
HQ: It’s traditional and it’s not traditional, because it’s the only technique that’s been produced for thousands of years. But the traditional aspect of it is taken away by you, the creator, who might deal with current issues and new concepts. People have this view of painting as some olden times thing, but I feel like young people’s proposals about painting will be arriving soon, and with a lot of strength. Going back to social media; I see thousands of kids working on drawing and painting. I just think it’s a matter of time.
IB: Perhaps in five or ten years, we’ll see all the kids who are now 15 burst onto the art scene and art market with new and exciting proposals about painting.
HQ: Of course! And if it doesn’t, that’s fine, but it’s more convenient for me to think that way.
IB: There’s an interesting generation about to come into adulthood, I think. By the way, what artists have influenced your work?
HQ: There isn’t a particular painter I’m inspired by. But I like George Condo; Egon Schiele; Dalí; Kent Williams, I like Rex Van Minnen… You know what was very useful as a reference to me? Photography. I love skin textures and the human body, and it is especially delightful in photography.
IB: You said you followed a lot of artists on Instagram in your interview with UnderTheCanvas, not because you were interested in their style so much, per say, but in the materials they used.
HQ: Instagram is a tool for voyeurism. You can have access to each corner of artists studios and observe. I saw what they had on their tables; the kinds of tools they used, what brand of oils they used, their times, processes, etc.
IB: It’s so cool that you use those kinds of resources. The art world can be very snobby at times, and there are many artists who don’t like sharing their knowledge.
HQ: When I started, I tried to get close to many people, artists.In my publicity world I had idealized the art world and I was so sure everyone was so cool. I figured they work in what they love. They’re bound to be super chill, and when I asked them if I could come over for a studio visit, they’d be like, “Who are you, anyway?” and I’d tell them I just want to meet them and see their studio, I didn’t want to copy them or their style. I just wanted to see how they work and their place of work. I hit a wall with that. The art world can be very protective of itself, and I promised myself I would never be like that. The doors to my studio are open, whoever wants to come is welcome. I hosted an Open Studio three months ago over Instagram, and whoever wanted to come could just shoot me a DM.
A lot of young students showed up, and that was so satisfying to me. To think that they could learn from an experience like this, and that perhaps it awakened something in them. I swear it could make me cry. I try to give advice to whoever asks me how I go about things. That old-fashioned attitude about not sharing knowledge is awful to me. There’s a thousand people that paint better than you or me, we’re here to share. If you’re doing well, I’m doing well. It’s interesting how Instagram has opened up those possibilities for sharing in the art world. It opens doors; your work is valued. It doesn’t matter whose son or nephew or friend you are, which is very common in Mexico where you need the contacts to do well. The art world recognizes you for your work, not for your last name.
IB: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming solo show at Booth Gallery on September 7th, as well as the work you’ll be exhibiting?
HQ: We’ve talked about the concept, which is based on The Kybalion. The body as context to represent movement and change in life. There will be 12 paintings, a drawing installation, and another installation with the clothing the characters use in the paintings. It’s like taking the painting out of bidimensionality and putting it somewhere new. Creating a different approximation of the pictoric image through a 3D piece. Which in this case, would be clothes.
It’ll stay until the 20th of October at the Booth Gallery in Manhattan. It’s quite underground. They’ve been functioning for several years and the owner is this super famous tattoo artist named Paul Booth. If you want to have him tattoo you, you have to make an appointment years in advance, he started with the Last Rites Gallery and years later founded the Booth Gallery, where I’ll be.
IB: What are some dualities you work with? I’ve seen man/woman, masculine/feminine, body/soul, beautiful/ grotesque, dead/ alive, and most of all, love/ fear.
HQ: This piece is called The Alpha Female Giving Birth to Himself. From the title you can see it’s an absolute contradiction. It’s a new representation of Botticelli’s Venus. In Greek mythology, she was born because Uranus’ genitals were thrown into the sea and so she emerged. It’s a representation of the birth of a new feminist woman and the struggle between the concepts of feminism and femininity. How women are changing and stepping forward into a new conception of themselves, society, and what it means to be a woman. The birth of this new woman, her struggle and the scream of a baby when it is born. It’s about the polarity between this old-fashioned concept of the woman and the new, which are opposites at the same time as complements.
The Anima/Animus. Jung has several archetypes, one of the the animal, and the anima is the masculine part that lives inside women. Being women and interacting with that masculinity, and how you as a woman can relate to men. The polarity of masculine and feminine. You’re a woman, but inside you there’s a masculine side that you integrate into your femininity and with which you relate to men. You are not completely feminine, and I am not completely masculine.
This one is called Love, Eros and Sex (The Mind says No Sir, but the Body says Yes Please). It’s about the polarity between mind and body when you feel one thing but think another; this goes in the direction of emotional relations. If you fall in love with somebody, I may feel one thing but know it goes against what I was taught or what I expect of myself. It’s the struggle between think and feel.
The beautiful and the grotesque are present in all my artwork. Finding the balance between both things within this unconformity; beauty within the work, demystifying the technique. The dead and the living are in the piece titled Kumbhaka. Living is inhaling and dying is exhaling, you live and you die all your life. Love and fear are opposite emotions, and they’re present in all my work.
IB: I really like your work and believe it reflects our zeitgeist. Society is changing and I think we’re ready to break traditional gender roles of having to be super masculine or super feminine. I think the generations that are growing up now are much more relaxed about them, and more conscious of that. Men use makeup now, for example.
HQ: Yeah. It’s really very stupid, blue is a color, pink is one, too. They’re just colors. Whether your hair is long or short, whether you like going out in skirts or sporting a mustache, who cares? It’s just fabric. The whole discourse society puts in your head since infancy is idiotic.
IB: The first decade of life is so interesting, because children receive so many messages about their identity as boy or girl. You can’t do ballet because you’re a boy, you can’t play baseball because you’ll look like a tomboy, close your legs, sit like a lady, boys don’t cry, be a man and hide your emotions. I think as a culture we’re ready to let children flow a little bit more and stop putting them in boxes, and let everyone choose whether they’d rather play with dolls or play football.
HQ: And like that, everything. Nothing is completely good or bad. My personal reflexion is that things simply are, and you have to flow with the circumstances that life presents you without judging. To close the interview, I’ll say that with my work, I seek for the viewer to feel something. To have something provoked or connected with. When I go to Zona Maco, I can’t generalize because there’s so much good art, but generally speaking, a lot of things don’t say a whole deal. Things tend to be very decorative. “I want this to look nice in my house”; conceptual things that don’t need to be understood or thought about. In turn, what I look to do is express that you’re human. You’re capable of feelings; give yourself that chance. Connect with another human.