This Guy Gave Up His Dream Job For Life As a Graffiti Artist

Photo by Stuart Keegan

Up until his mid-twenties, Mohammed Ali was following a pretty standard path for a kid from an immigrant family. He’d done well in school, gone on to earn a cutting edge degree, and landed a dream job as a game designer. But his artistic streak and moral compass were making other plans.

“It was my job to make little children addicted to their screens, to take kids away from playing outside with their friends or doing their homework and turn them into screen zombies. That’s not something I wanted to do with my life.”

Ali’s priorities began to shift.

It started with graffiti when he was a rebellious teen. You know, the usual did-that-kid-really-paint-this-on-my-wall stuff. All popping letters and neon colors. But in his early 20s, Ali started thinking a little bigger.

I suppose I was wrestling with this whole identity of being raised as an immigrant, but also of Muslim faith, especially at a time when Islam was (and in some ways still is) demonized, post 9/11.”

He moved on from bubble letters, and began experimenting with Islamic script while documenting the ups and downs of Muslim faith in an intolerrant world. And while spraying a public wall with paint (and no permission slip) is illegal in the UK, Ali was connecting with communities. And the news stations, community planners, and big businesses wanted in.

“Back in the early 2000s, while I was working my gaming gig, I built a website on the side and continued with my street art. Having an online presence was why I got noticed. News channels like CNN were finding my work online and calling me at my day job. I had to tell them to call back on my lunch break! I was so lucky to ride that trend. I don’t think I could do it the same way these days. In those days, so few artists had any presence online. It was all new to them.”

Ali admits he tried his best not to become an artist. But his path to being a full time artist was so laden with purpose, he couldn’t resist. Now he spends his time making tangible difference in the world. Not with a sword, pen, or brush. But with a spraycan and mission.

“I want to try and change the condition of society and the world that we live in. I realize not everybody can do that. And not everybody should do that, because everyone would be poor!”

Since becoming a full-time artist, Ali has taken on other roles as well, as an educator, a speaker, and an advocate for his community. In 2013, he was invited to give a TEDx Talk at the Vatican and in 2016, he was awarded the MBE for services to art and community cohesion. He’s been invited to create enormous murals in cities around the world.

We spoke more with Mohammed Ali about his life, his influences, and his work through art to build stronger communities.

Explore Mohammed Ali’s Virtual Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how Ali covers entire walls, you can now experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Johannesburg Mural / Birmingham UK Murals / Untitled Gallery

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

How is street art uplifting communities when most people consider graffiti an eye-sore?

This Cromer Street mural by Mohammed Ali is enhanced by augmented reality where you can hear the stories of local residents.

Let’s take one of my latest projects as an example. It’s a new mural in Kings Cross, London(not the train station but the neighborhood behind it). Even though this work was sanctioned by the City Council I didn’t hold back on painting the very real issues that the neighborhood inherited from the 70s and 80s.

Back in those days, there was massive drugs and prostitution activity going on. Nowadays, Kings Cross has undergone a bit of gentrification. There are all these posh cafes and nice apartments… but below the surface, the inheritance of drugs remains. While I was painting, I saw drug deals taking place in broad daylight, so problems are still very much there. But I also met young people who were full of potential and pride. The area has changed and I wanted to acknowledge that, to tell a story of its transition. If we are oblivious to such past narratives, how can we work to resolve the current issues?

So I wanted to create a piece that told the story of the people who live here. I wanted the wall to tell a story to people passing by. So that’s exactly what I did. Using augmented reality, I’ve embedded 10 interviews from locals that automatically start playing when you hover over a part of the wall with your phone. I’m literally making the wall speak.

That’s how I use street art to reflect the local area and the stories that people are truly living. So that the ideas and thoughts of people who live there are actually heard. I expressed to the council that I want these interviews to be accessible in 200 years time, so we can remember and reflect on the truth of people. Not just what the biased history books want us to remember.

How do you paint those massive murals?

D Emptyspace Gallery of street murals by Mohammed Ali

Well, first of all, you need access to equipment like a scissor lift. I tried to use a scaffold, but it’s very tricky. So if you’re doing a big mural, it’ll have to be legally sanctioned, because you need the time.

To scale the art up isn’t really that hard. It’s just a case of understanding how to break your drawings using up using a grid so that you can scale them up. Once you have a grid worked out on paper, you can transfer it to the wall. It’s a well-documented technique. Just practice and follow the method.

I’ve recently made the switch from oil-based spray paint to water-based. They are generally safer to use plus it’s great for doing workshops indoors with kids and that sort of thing.

You do a lot of live performances in collaboration with vocalists and musicians. How do you set them up?

Through life, you sometimes encounter a “Fireworks moment”. That spontaneous moment, that golden moment in time, and it goes just as suddenly as it comes.

I was invited to do a TEDX talk at the Vatican a few years back. In my 18 minutes, I spoke for about 5, and then used the rest of the time to paint. After that event, someone came up to me and told me that a row of about four or five people were crying during my talk. And I thought, how strange, I wasn’t doing anything immediately emotional.

I realized that I needed to gauge what it was that made them feel such emotion. So I started tracking and monitoring my performances to capture that magic formula. I wanted to replicate, repeat, and build upon that moment. To develop and share a strategy or method to making an emotional reaction.

I approach people after my performances and ask how they feel, and when exactly they felt that way. Then I attribute it to specific timing, like smoke coming on stage, or a narrative that was particularly personal. I realized that what I was doing was using light, sound, music, and visuals, to make a multi-sensory experience.

Live performance by Mohammed Ali in Malaysia

If you get the right timing it’s fireworks. Say we start off pitch black, then slowly, the light fades in. And then this happens. And then there’s some music fills the space. And then there’s a moment of silence.

If I can get all these in the right measures, I’ve got some something really golden in the bottle.

Being a revolutionary is very nice and all… but with three kids, you have bills to pay. Do you ever compromise your morals for a commercial gig?

No, I try to stay away from the commercial sector where I can. Some street artists get snatched up by big corporations once they start making a name for themselves. But I didn’t want that. I’d already worked for a big corporation. I don’t want to compromise my morals or dilute my message to fit the agenda of some massive company.

I do corporate commissions, but I’m pretty picky about my clients. I won’t be a part of someone’s meaningless PR stunt.

A while back Ben & Jerry’s contacted me… Alarm bells went off, and I was all like “Really? The pink bubbly ice cream chain store wants me for some street cred? No way.

But I heard them out. And in the brief, they said something that immediately struck me.

“There’s a building negative attitude towards immigrants in Britain, so we want something that makes immigrants feel welcomed.”

I was shocked. I thought at first that it had to be some PR stunt or corporate social responsibility gig, so I took a deeper look into the history of Ben & Jerry’s. I was completely wrong. Turns out the owners have a long standing history of social activism and have even been arrested for demonstrating.

Now that’s the kind of company I’ll work with.

D Emptyspace Gallery of street murals by Mohammed Ali

What do you think artists have to offer the world in terms of real, tangible change?

Look, art makes people feel something. And it makes them think.

And it’s incredible. A bunch of bricks with a bit of pigment, bit of color, can make an emotional connection between a human being and a wall. That’s quite something.

Sometimes artists need to think methodically and strategically and tangibly because otherwise, the arts forever remains this esoteric, abstract thing that society doesn’t value.

Mural in Johannesburg by Mohammed Ali

What can we offer the world as artists? As creatives? The one skill I have is to create beautiful things, to present things beautifully, so that they become something that people desire. That’s my talent, so how do I use that for something that benefits the real world? Every artist needs to ask that question.

If we want the arts to come away from the fringes of society, then we have a responsibility to make the arts tangible and accessible for people. We need to engage communities with our art.

As an artist, you need to ask more relevant questions. How can my art talk to scientists and doctors? How can my art talk to schools and educators? How can it influence school curriculum?

How can my art talk to town planners and politicians, when they’re battling to try and find answers to a broken society of segregated and divided groups in cities?

It’s men in grey suits who make all the big calls, and I say it’s time for them to seek help. We need to be taking a seat at the damn table. So we can start solving problems with creativity and intuition where logic is so obviously failing. And getting the city council to hand over walls so artists can tell the real story of a community is step one.

To get to that goal, creative people need to learn to talk.

Instead of crazy conceptual ideas, we need to break it down to an accessible level. Artists are trained to think and respond differently to problems. And if we get a say in the problem-solving process, I think the world will be a better place for it. That’s what gives me hope and purpose.

Bringing people divided by race, culture, and religion is hard. Really hard. How have you been tackling current issues?

You’d think that various minorities in the UK would stick together. But unfortunately they often self-segregate. That’s why it was so incredibly powerful when Tanmanjeet Dhesi an openly Sikh Lawmaker, stood up in parliment and publicly defended Muslim women (after Borris Johnson referred to them as “letterboxes”).

For this openly Sikh man to stand up and defend Muslim women on national television was inspiring. It was a brave act of solidarity towards the Muslim community, and I wanted to honor that.

So I did a stencil of Tanmanjeet Dhesi in a Sikh neighborhood. I want to capture these fleeting moments in time, to memorialize them in paint so they don’t get lost in the dustbins of history. I don’t think society preserves these moments enough. I mean, who is it that decides on city monuments or commemoration statues? It’s certainly not the people who live in those neighborhoods. Even the history we’re taught in school is biased.

For example, did you know that in Andalucia in Spain, Christians and Jews lived under Muslim rule for hundreds of years? It was a stable Islamic state that even put non-muslims in government. (Editors note requested by artist: The situation was nuanced. You can get the full story here). So if you thought Islam and Judaism were natural enemies that couldn’t possibly co-exist… you’d be wrong. Why aren’t we taught THAT in school?

Photo by Peter Lopeman

In a time of turmoil, where people in power enable hate crimes, I think seeing a man of color wearing a turban on a wall says something powerful.

I did a similar stencil for Greta Thunberg — she’s been an icon of environmental activism and deserves to be remembered for a good time to come in my opinion. Youth should be encouraged to speak the truth. Don’t you agree?

Explore Mohammed Ali’s Virtual Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how Ali covers entire walls, you can now experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Johannesburg Mural / Birmingham UK Murals / Untitled Gallery

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Download D Emptyspace for iOS:

Android version coming soon!

Follow D Emptyspace for more company updates and art-curated content!

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Download

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What You Need to Tell Models to Get Better Photos

What You Need to Tell Models to Get Better Photos

Whether you’ve worked with models for years, or are absolutely an absolute beginner when it comes to model shoots, you can learn something from long-time expert Andrew McMeekin.

Character portrait shot by Andrew McMeekin

As a photographer or artist, working with models can be nerve wracking. (As we’ll soon learn, it’s just as nerve wracking for the models too!) How do you get the right pose to complete the image in your mind’s eye, or even more importantly, in your client’s brief?

Andrew McMeekin makes cinematic photographs with dramatic lighting reminiscent of works by Carravagio or Rembrandt. While he isn’t an “old master” per se, he has been shooting professionally for 12 years, specializing in fashion photography and portraiture, and keeping himself entertained with several series of historical photos.

I drilled down for a behind the scenes look at how McMeekin executes his artistic vision, respects the client brief, and keeps his feet on the ground in an industry that’s known to be a bit… dramatic.

Explore Andrew McMeekin’s Art Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how McMeekin curates his galleries, you can now experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Fashion Photography: Ocean Ambassadors / Cinematic

Historic: The House of Desmond / Dark Side of Desmond / Traveling Vintage

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Let’s talk about models — how do you handle them? Do you know what poses you want to get in advance?

Most models you work with will be terrified unless this is their full-time job and they’re doing it every day for big magazines. A mistake a lot of photographers make on shoots is saying “Well you’re the model, pose.” And that’s really not what a nervous person wants to hear.

A model needs to know what you want them to do. If you don’t know what kind of poses you want, it means you haven’t done your research for the shoot. If you want to work on commercial shoots, you are responsible for providing the end-product. You have to have the direction and knowledge to say, “This is what they’re paying me to get, so this is how we’re going to get it.”

Green Cadillac by Andrew McMeekin

What are the differences between working with professional models and amateurs?

There are five different categories of professional model. High-end models are in category one, and a category five would be someone with no experience at all.

With a high-end model you have to handle their temperament and showmanship. Like photographers, professional models have a front to play to keep up appearances. But if you cut the crap, you can get the job done quickly with minimal drama. If you’re calm, quiet without spouting the stereotypical “Oh darling, it’s gorgeous, it’s wonderful,” et cetera, then they’re good to work with.

If you go down the scale to an inexperienced category five, it’s totally different. They’re generally shy and have no idea what to do. You have to remember, this person was chosen simply because they are attractive, not because they are experienced. But if you’re nice and have a calm environment, and provide some direction, the model will respond well and you get better pictures for it.

The House of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

Directing models seems to require a lot of confidence. Can beginning photographers pull that off?

It’s all about how you handle a model. I find younger photographers have technical ability, but no confidence when directing. You need to cultivate the confidence to say, “Well, hang on a second, let’s do this and cover that another time.”

Get that right and you’ll immediately get better pictures.

When celebrities or people in the public eye come in for photoshoots, they have a perceived idea of what they want to look like — and it’s normally wrong. You have to work to represent them with more authenticity.

You also do studio shoots for private clients. What’s the biggest difference between fashion shoots and portraiture for you?

Portrait Headshot by Andrew McMeekin

The style of lighting is the most important. For portrait shots, you need to bring in a more rounded style of lighting that doesn’t have any dark shadows. The last thing you want on a headshot is a shadow. You need to light everything very evenly.

Fashion shoots require more dramatic lighting because the brand wants the clothes to look sharp — it’s all about what the models are wearing and not the models themselves. When you do portraiture, it’s all about the person. Different situations, different lighting.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t be in a hurry. I’m definitely not one of these photographers who takes thousands of pictures. Snapping every half-second puts people off. You need to get it right and take one picture. Models are more encouraged by that.

Do you find ways to express yourself creatively while working on commercial shoots?

At the end of the day, you’re doing work for a client. You always have to think “What do they want to achieve from this?” and then keep the answer in your mind’s eye. You need to deliver what the brand wants and needs. That’s what you’re being paid for.

On smaller shoots with a tight budget, you have to find the balance between the brief and creatives for yourself. But if they’ve employed an art director, you can push for what you want a little more. The art director’s job is to make sure that they deliver what the brand wants, so they’ll pull you back or push you further to serve the desired outcome.

Ocean Ambassadors by Andrew McMeekin

I’ve just done a shoot for the Ocean Ambassadors that comes to mind. The topic was centered around marine life eating and dying from plastic. The brief was to make it dark and deep with a very strong meaning. They wanted it to be hard-hitting, with mermaids, and on the beach.

So we had these mermaids and merboys all done up on the beach and a whole team of people — prosthetics, makeup, and lighting all set up on the sand — it was quite a production! And we were all there to execute the vision we’d been working on. The photos came out striking and impactful. Needless to say, the client was thrilled.

How does your experience working with models translate into your personal passion of historic portraiture?

I have a very good model for these shoots, his name is Desmond (pictured above). He’s not a pro model, but he’s an absolute master at playing the part. He turns up with all these costumes, goes into our props room, and comes out as a completely different character. It’s amazing to work with him and he makes my job a lot easier.

One photoshoot I did with Desmond was almost a disaster (Dark Side of Desmond). We were shooting historic portraiture in the old underground tunnels of the Ministry of Defense Radar system. It’s miles and miles of pitch black tunnels underground the East Coast of England. It’s really atmospheric down there… it’s so dark and full of history.

Dark Side of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

So I was down there with Desmond in full costume, a bunch of heavy equipment and assistants. We walked quite deep into these tunnels to get to a good spot. And then suddenly, the [radio] triggers on the camera don’t fire! Turns out there’s something in the walls that blocks the electronic signal. It was a really tense moment — to click the camera and have nothing happen. It’s not what you’d call a ‘regular’ problem.

Desmond got claustrophobic and panicked a bit. So he went outside for a breather while we figured out the signal problem. We literally had to go nearer to the entrance and open a door to get the camera to work.

Photography wasn’t your first career. How did you come into it?

I started out as a hairdresser and did a lot of work preparing models for fashion shoots. When I finally decided to get photos taken to promote my salon, I couldn’t find photographers who did anything the way I wanted. Then I thought, Andrew, why don’t you just do it yourself?

Traveling Vintage by Andrew McMeekin

I went on a very expensive whirlwind of a learning curve. I got the top people on the net and the top private photographers in my area to teach me how to use a camera. I was in the fast lane — it was all very quick. I knew the hair side, the makeup side, and the fashion side — in a way I was already half-way there. There are more parallels than you think.

“Hairdressing and photography are very similar in the way you see face shapes, you learn how to look at people and their aesthetics in a different way.”

I found that the top guys were extremely good at photography, but fell apart when trying to handle a model on set. If you’re not in the fashion industry, it’s like learning another language — and I already knew the language from hairdressing.

When people come in for a photo shoot, they have much the same psychology as someone coming into the salon for a hair consultation. There’s this hidden body language and psyche that you learn as a hairdresser.

If you’re quiet and listen then people relax and that’s good for getting repeat business.

Thanks to the hairdressing salon I started out with a big client base. In the beginning, I did lots of free photo shoots with competitions and things like that — and we just progressed from there. Now I have a big five-story building that’s a one-stop-shop.

Do you have any advice when it comes to creating an effective portfolio to show off your work with models?

Keep it simple. Don’t go on about yourself and about how you were a photographer when you were four and your grandma bought you your first camera. No one is vaguely interested in that story.

“People want to know what you can deliver for them. They don’t care if you’re clever. They just think, what can you do for me?”

If you check some statistics on websites, you’ve only got about 3 lines before someone gets bored and switches the page. So make sure your vision and portfolio is very easy to navigate.

If I employ you as a photographer, what can you do? For me? That’s the crunch line.

Andrew McMeekin pictured at the Salt Flats in Bolivia

Get in Touch with Andrew McMeekin

Website | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Download D Emptyspace for iOS:

Android version coming soon!

Follow D Emptyspace for more company updates and art-curated content!

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Cande Aguilar Creates Art at a Cultural Crossroads

Cande Aguilar Creates Art at a Cultural Crossroads

Carving out artworks that explore the juxtaposition of Mexican and American culture in a unique BarrioPop style

Madre Y Mickey by Cande Aguilar (2019)

When we first launched D Emptyspace, we didn’t know what to expect. How would artists interact with the app? Would they use it as we expected or find new ways to share their art?

When we saw what Texan artist Cande Aguilar was doing with his gallery space, we knew right away that we’d found our next interviewee. By layering photos behind his artworks to customize the gallery walls behind his artwork, he really made the gallery space his own.

Aguilar lives in Brownsville, a city in south Texas that borders Mexico both physically and culturally. His distinctive BarrioPop style combines found images and symbols from pop culture into multimedia creations. Working on large wooden panels from his home studio, he’s created an impressive body of work that comments on the complex juxtaposition of Mexican and Texan culture.

Cande Aguilar’s D Emptyspace Gallery

What led you to decide to be an artist? Was it something you knew from a very young age or did your passion develop over time?

I was raised by a musician (dad) and a music lover (mom). My dad was in a well-known conjunto band and used to take me along with him to the gigs. I grew up listening and watching master conjunto accordionists, thinking back, it was like as is a painter watched master painters Van Gogh or Picasso create. The accordionists were real masters of their art.

Music was sort of like a doorway into the arts for me. Some of my first memories of visual art are of my uncles doodling on school paper, drawing lowrider cars, I just remember my little four-year-old brain realizing that drawing existed and thinking “wow, that’s something that you can do?” It turned out to be an important moment that would lead me to becoming a visual artist.

“Growing up I never thought I would be a visual artist. I thought that I would follow in my dad’s footsteps and my life would be music.“

In high school, I took art classes, but didn’t really think about it seriously… In the back of my mind, I was already jamming on stage with my dad in my godfather’s conjunto band (Gilberto Perez y sus compadres)!

I ended up creating a band after high school with a couple of close friends and stuck with it for about 9 years. Then, in 1998, I began to sketch, picked up pastels and oil paints in between gigs to make little drawings, more or less a year before our lead singer quit the band to have a family. That’s when I knew my life as a traveling musician had ended.

Eventually, I got to the level where I wasn’t just squeezing paint directly from tubes but mixing colors and stretching my own canvases to create a more accurate representation of my imagination. That’s when my art really started to take off; the transformation from musician to visual artist was complete and I had my first solo exhibition in 2001.

Conjunto Queue by Cande Aguilar (2018)

Do you have a routine or space that helps you get into creation mode?

When I started, I would actually paint outside. I had a little cargo van with my materials in there. And so every evening, come eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night, I would pull everything out from my van, put it outside and work through the night.

Nowadays, I work in our garage that I converted into a studio space. I tend to work only at night when everyone is asleep. I have 4 kids, and with all the distractions during the day, it’s difficult to get into the swing of things. So yeah, lately I’ve been working from about 9 pm onwards.

When I walk into my studio, sometimes the creativity flows quickly. I just pick up a brush or whatever medium I’m using and go. But other days it takes a little while to get started. I just sit around in the studio absorb the work I’ve done so far and enjoy what I produced the night before. The art always sucks me back in, and by the time I know it, a few hours have passed and I’m happily covered in paint.

“When it comes to actually focusing and trying to carve out some kind of image and form some kind of connection from my imagination to the surface of the work, it takes some time to myself.”

Your artwork is so textured, so detailed, so intricate. Do you specifically curate the types of surfaces you display it on?

That’s something that I’ve been recently doing at my exhibitions. I try to change the atmosphere as much as possible. I try my best to give the viewers a certain context of how the work can look in a different environment.

It’s funny how that worked out on D Emptyspace. I just tried to customize the space, and it worked, and I kept thinking, “I can really play with this!” One of the main reasons I really like the app is because it helps me put the work within a virtual context. You can see what the paintings could potently look like next to each other, like sketching out a model or floorplan. The app works as a practical tool, a lot of fun for me and exciting for the viewer.

What’s it like to make a living as an artist, setting up exhibitions, and balancing everything?

Some time ago I was kind of feeling sorry for myself and thinking, “man, nothing’s happening even though I’m having a bunch of shows I thought things aren’t the way I would like them to be,” so I thought “I’m not going to attempt to enter or make any shows. I’m just gonna paint, and keep making the art.”

Cande Aguilar setting up a gallery installation

And then all of a sudden, a few days later, I get an email from a dealer in New York who was interested in my work. And now I have my first exhibition in New York City, keeping me really busy and hopeful for the future.

Those ups and downs are part of the mystery and enjoyment of being an artist. When you want to give up, but then something happens and you know you just need to hold on and keep going, it’s not easy “making a living from making art”

“Even if art wasn’t commercially viable, I wouldn’t be able to stop painting. Even if I go a few days without spending time in my studio, I can notice my mood starts to shift. Art has a real hold on me… I have to work.”

Can you talk us through what you were thinking when you created this piece?

El Puente Nuevo by Cande Aguilar (2019)

This painting is of our international bridge here in Brownsville TX that connects the United States and Mexico. It’s known as el Puente Nuevo or The New Bridge in English.

I transferred an image of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars flying over the bridge. As I do in many of my paintings, I juxtaposed mainstream pop culture icons, and/or appropriate from art history to form a sense of belonging because, in this region, we are not really considered “American” or even “Mexican”… it’s kind of like living in a cultural limbo.

So when locals see this particular painting they might think, “Oh, that’s our bridge from here, right? And, that’s the Star Wars spaceship”, making it interesting to them.

On the other hand the painting dives into the immigration issue we have. The Millennium Falcon has always been a symbol of hope in the Star Wars story and so flying over the bridge is kind of bringing hope, amidst all the negative immigration stories.

There’s this stereotype of the tortured artist, the starving artist, the outlier of society… What do you think about that?

I’m a family guy, I have four kids, a 16-year-old, 14-year-old, a 10-year-old and a three-year-old. So, as you can imagine, I consciously have to remain sane. I have to (and want to) function as a normal person for my family.

You can get lost in this in this artistic vision or whatever you want to call it. A lot of people become over eccentric and can’t handle normal life.

“I’ve always felt that I have to maintain a foot on the ground, that I can’t just come in my studio and forget about everything. That’s really important to me.”

Have your kids and life as a “family guy” influenced your BarrioPop artwork?

When my 16-year-old was around 5, she made this fantastic little stick figure drawing. And so I blew it up and used it to create one of my most recognizable paintings.

Along with her drawing, I appropriated local icons, the childhood image of Christopher Robin, and brought in a landscape from one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. To me, Vincent van Gogh’s artwork has always been very peaceful, even though he was known to be socially challenged.

Land of Peace by Cande Aguilar (2008)

That stick figure and Christopher Robin are singing a duet, they represent the sister cities of Brownsville and Matamoros. One side the US and the other Mexico. Back when I painted this work, the violence first started flaring up in Matamoros, and I was kind of in denial. I didn’t want to accept that bad things were happening in Mexico, just around the corner. And so the title “Land of Peace” came up.

With my most recent BarrioPop work, I’ve been incorporating my kid’s old coloring book pages by transferring them onto my work. It’s a technique (image transfer) I’ve used from the very beginning and draws inspiration from the work of Robert Rauschenberg. I should add that my kiddos have profoundly influenced my work and continue to do so with their individual personalities.

If you could give every aspiring artist one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t stop working. Don’t stop. Don’t stop doing the artwork, don’t stop practicing it. Because it’s true what Picasso said about inspiration…

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” — Pablo Picasso

You have to just go in there and do it. Just go in, in your studio, or wherever your work and go at it. Eventually, you’ll develop your own voice.

Keep working, even if you don’t want to show your work to anybody, as long as you know you can do it, and you do it for yourself. That’s, that’s fine, too.

Do you see technology changing the way we appreciate art?

Back when I started in early 2000, I used to work on my pieces and put them aside for later exhibitions. Nobody would see the work until months later when I was going to have an actual show.

Technology has changed that. Now I can make a work, photograph it, and publish it when I want. Even if I only get three viewers on Instagram, at least somebody’s going to see it right away.

To me, that’s the moment where my art comes off of life support and takes a life in its own right.

So yeah, social media has definitely changed the way artists create and viewers interact. When somebody comments, either negatively or positively, there’s always something to learn. And I think that becomes part of the artwork.

Cande Aguilar pictured in front of his work “HAHAHA” (2018). Picture by @frontera_media

Tell us about your upcoming exhibition in New York? Are there any other exhibitions planned this year?

Cande Aguilar’s exhibition “barrioPOP” will be held at 81 Leanard Gallery located at 81 Leanard Street in New York from September 5th to September 28th. You can grab the show info on Aguliar’s Instagram page (@barriopop).

It’s the first show that the gallery will host; it’ll be a double debut. One for me and one for the gallery, so it’s pretty exciting.

I have another show, coming up in Lubbock, Texas at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts. You can catch that one from October 4th to November 30th.

Get more details on Aguilar’s exhibitions and body of work via his art dealer, Ric Michel Fine Art.

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