A really spectacular interview here with Mexico City-based multimedia artist Matias Solar, whose work, which spans painting and installation, addresses artistic, cultural, and political questions pertinent to Latin America as a historically peripheral or overlooked region in the established art world. We chat about his street-art influenced style, the malleability of "medium," and the idea of the studio! More info at the links below!
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Hello! So tell my about yourself! You're from South America -- where originally? And you're currently based in Mexico. What brought you from one place to the other?
I was born in Chile, a small country at the end of South America, and I lived and worked in Santiago for many years. In spite of being a very small place, it is a city with a very vibrant art scene. I think because of being so isolated from the rest of the world, it creates a very avant-garde and disillusioned spirit. All these post-dictatorial children raised on the internet do incredible things with very few resources. If you want to hear or see something fresh, nobody will bring it in the form of exhibitions or concerts. So somehow you have to self-supply, alone and between your friends. Mexico City is more connected within North America, and you see that in the culture. For me, it's the same Latin-American chaotic way of living, but bigger and with more eyes on it. I'm here to refresh myself, and to show my projects to more people.
When did you first start exploring art-making?
I always drew, since I was a kid. I think that's my main media, and after that, in the 90s, I took classes in an institution that offered free classes about contemporary art, music studios, and art gallery shows, taught by young artists of the 90s post-military dictatorship in Chile. It was very influenced by political and conceptual art, and there I began to experiment with found objects and installations. After that I moved to painting in the the streets, tags and murals. Here we have a very strong muralist tradition, and it was very natural to think of painting on walls before doing it in a studio. So my first experience with art, especially painting, was in public spaces.
You work in a variety of media that spans painting and installation. Can you tell me more about your work?
I think the way I see the media has to do with a historical time in which artists did not have the duty to be faithful to a particular medium. I see a medium as a tool to communicate something, and with style it's the same. If what I want to say is better with a lot of stones in the middle of a room, I'll do it. However if what I want to say works better with an expressionist oil painting, then that is that... I think my projects come more from finding situations in the cities, and particularly in the way of the people and the artists who live and survive in this particular time. In a constructive or visual form I speak of this cultural moment, and I relate my way of working with an archeological research of the present. Here in Mexico City, I'm very interested in some kind of situation where different epochs collide in regular, everyday moments. Traditional ways of making that are confronted with high-tech instruments, or the imagery of pop global culture is confronted with the folklore of this region, like Cheetos seasoned with Pre-Columbian sauces -- things like that.
So, my projects are more like an open research area than a final product. Today I'm not interested in concrete answers or a thesis; I don't believe in that... What I search for constantly is a way of doing things that say something about their context, about Latin America especially.
What is your process like? How do you get started on a piece? How long does a work usually take you to complete?
I have different methods to arrive at a final result, which could be called a "piece." One method is that I am constantly drawing or painting, sometimes from an image , and mostly found on the internet, but otherwise without a particular search or model. Rather, it is a purely formal process. I don't believe in a separation of formal and conceptual art today; that doesn't make any sense. it is just like climbing on a bicycle and pedaling, and always arriving at some point or a destination of its own determining. The painting itself is a search, and the results are more abstract, but they are always related to something more concrete, more practical.
Another method is when I find some specific material that interests me. For example, recently I had to replace the waterproofing of a roof while I was repairing a ceiling, and spontaneously I discovered a material that is a mixture of asphalt and foil. When I saw this material, by instinct, I save it to do something... That will soon be part of a larger exploration, which is related to other projects, so I think the process of art making is never-ending, and that is the way that I'm interested in other artist too. It's like follow a clue that brings you to a place, and then that place, and then to another.
What is your studio or workspace like?
I like to work in open spaces outdoor, so the ideal space for me is something like a tent in warm/hot weather. Otherwise, sometimes I just don't have a studio, so I use the art space as a studio or the studio as an art space. In Latin America all the ways of making art are different than US or EURO... It's like, if you don't have a strong market, you don't have a factory, but you need to make the product anyway, because art is a cultural necessity even here... So the whole formula changes, its chaotic, and that's what interests me to do something. I live like that, so I don't have that need for a “nice studio," -- that's just superficial. I just adapt my art to what I have. Paper and pencils are always there, and my notebook is the studio. It's like “post-studio art “ but not forced by gentrification or that kind of 1st world problem. [Images are from residencies.]
What is your favorite medium, or method, that you use to make your work?
The most interesting results for me arise from installations, and the processes that are generated in the construction of these projects. Another thing that I find interesting especially in painting its play with a formula: to restrict some elements so that others take more importance. The painting is always a political administration of resources, an economy that tells us about other economies, and other administrations in real life or culture.
Today I think a lot about ways to collaborate with other people to merge processes.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
The best advice is always and forever especially for art students: "Fuck the teachers.”
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about being an artist, or a mistake you've made that you've learned from, or that led to success?
Make a living as an artist is a challenge in itself. There is no book that teach you how to be an artist. But apart from that cliche, what I learn and I try to repeat its just do-do-do. Experiment and get away mentally from what other people think about your work, or even art history. The challenge is always to find a way to stay free of prejudices. That's impossible, but interesting as an exercise. The big mistake is to not do what your instinct says. You fail when you are not alert to yourself.
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