Jose Arenas is a contemporary artist whose work intrigues my senses with rich color, stirring motifs and symbols, and use of everyday patterns, culture, and community represented in the works creation. On May 4, 2013 Jose graciously had me over to his studio in Sunset Park Brooklyn. Below is a narrative inspired by the following questions: What is validated as art? What projects are you working on right now? Talk about the recent interest in postcards. Talk about how current studio space in NYC has inspired your work. Talk about the use of motif and symbols and where the influences have come from in relation to your current work. Reflect on conversation connected to multiple identities, symbolism and who owns the culture.
I like to think of my personal everyday patterns, habits, and rituals as direct source for my artistic practice. As I continue to develop ideas for new paintings I am particularly interested in the way collected objects or images from my surroundings and environment function as triggers for broader and more multilayered ideas. I’m drawn to images that are both familiar and abstract, and that suggestively point to something else. There is something intensely satisfying in identifying and collecting many visual elements from all around me that over time accumulates and is subsequently reorganized to fit a host of ideas. I work primarily with image because it offers a broad range of narrative possibilities that can affect one on a deep emotional level.
In my work I combine decorative motifs, representational forms, and culturally specific symbols that generate multiple metaphorical relationships. The result is a collage style composition with a world of symbolic relationships that are both personal and open to interpretation. Meaning in the paintings is fluid and dependant on people’s personal history and experiences. My current investigation titled “Memoryscapes” marks a shift from using flat field color as a stage for symbols that merge with many other elements. I’m presently incorporating landscape scenes that are idyllic and familiar and that are linked to personal ritual or rites of passage. They suggest a kind of innocence and coming of age that directly speaks to my experience growing up in Northern California and Guadalajara, Mexico. Many of the background landscapes are directly taken from postcards depicting “paisajes”, quaint countryside folk paintings that illustrate many regions found in Mexico.They also include old dug up postcards that depict small California towns in the 50’s, around the time my parents worked as farm workers in the central valley part of the state. The postcards function as a visual record of a lived and shared moment in time. It’s a window too into lived experiences that are presented as idyllic and memorable. In my parents case it was not like that at all, it was hard living that necessitated social services and the support of others in their community. Beyond my own narrative goals though, I aim for the postcards to more widely suggest a glimpse at another world, that in an armchair way we could experience place through other people’s eyes.
I work out of my studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, an industrial section close to the old docks and piers along the south-west end of the neighborhood. Being here has definitely marked a shift in my painting both thematically and formally. An area I am turning to more acutely is of a shared immigrant experience beyond my own (which for me included growing in Mexico and the United States). Larger themes that revolve around identity and place, of adapting to new environments, and leaving home for another but never letting go in one’s mind, are becoming a more central point of investigation as I consider new territory to explore in my work.
I feel New York has tremendous potential for reaching multiple audiences. As a studio painter I’m interested in showing in a gallery context, but as a muralist I especially like the idea of reaching a wide range of viewers that might not normally, or regularly be exposed to a gallery setting. I’m currently working on a series of mural designs intended for commission in Sunset Park and possible collaboration with fellow artists. I am also preparing my new work to be part of Art Basel week in December at Fountain Fair, through Arcilesi Homberg Fine Art, whom I will also be exhibiting with in Dumbo, Brooklyn location in November 2013.