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

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

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What It Means To Be Broken With Artist Kurt Caddy

What It Means To Be Broken With Artist Kurt Caddy

Kurt Caddy’s photomanipulation gallery in D Emptyspace

Kurt Caddy is a visual artist, a trained theologian, and a dreamer. When the team at D Emptyspace stumbled upon his artwork, we were immediately struck by his incredible use of color.

“Caddy photographs ordinary and even mundane images of places that feel worn, broken, or unresolved. He then uses layers of color to transform these small scenes into abstract pictures of beauty, wonder, and metaphor.”

Sarah Bernhardt, curator

Caddy lives on a farm in Missouri, has eight children, and is constantly in search of a way to express the point at which pain and beauty meet in our everyday lives. This July, he is an artist in residence at Yellowstone Theological Institute in Bozeman, Montana. His lectures will be on theology and the arts, the role of goodness, truth, beauty, and theological aesthetics. He will also conduct workshops and exhibit his work.

Note from the writer: As someone who identifies as an agnostic, I was worried this interview would be too focused on the Bible, Christ, and theology. I worried that I wouldn’t relate to Caddy (a major problem for an interviewer and a writer!). But as you’ll see from the words that follow, Kurt Caddy’s wisdom, calmness, and respect for all, is abundant in the way he creates and lives. Although the words that follow contain some mention of religion, it should not deter you from experiencing his unique (and beautiful) perspective.

Did art inspire you from a young age or is it something you found later on? Do you remember that first ‘wow, I can make something’ creation moment?

Looking back, I’ve been this way my whole life. I didn’t ‘all of a sudden’ realize I had this huge thing. I’ve never been ‘trained’ to create art. It’s all been my innate way of thinking in terms of color, and shape, and texture, 3D, and expression.

My mom still has a Christmas ornament that I made when I was in first grade. It’s just string that’s dipped in glue and sculpted like a snowman, but I didn’t think “ I’m going to be an artist” at the time. I grew up in a very practical way; go to school, get a diploma, go to college, get a degree, get a job, and so on.

Flashing Sea by Kurt Caddy (Oyster shell pigment and watercolor)

Let’s get a little bit further into inspiration and where yours comes from. How would you describe it? Is it an outside force or something that comes from within?

I think it was interesting that you asked the question, “is it internal or external?” The reality is, it’s both. It’s both almost simultaneously. My goal isn’t to find the ultimate inspiration but rather to get in sync with it. To meld it with whatever is stirring in me. There is something outside of me that’s bigger than me, that I’m trying to connect with.

The word “inspired” means “to be breathed into”. That’s what inspiration feels like to me.

The Hebrew word for breath, or spirit, inspired spirit is “ruak” which means “to breathe in”. In Genesis one of the Bible, God made Adam and he “breathed into man’s nostrils, and man became a life-giving being.” This breath of God inspired him. That’s the core meaning of the word for me.

Flashing Sea by Kurt Caddy (Oyster shell pigment and watercolor)

You’ve served among Native American communities. Has your experience influenced your art?

About 10 years ago, I went to a Native American reservation to work with the Lakota people for the first time. It was Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a beautiful place. My life at the time was in turmoil. My wife and I were fostering a little girl named Kate who came to us at three weeks old. We never knew from week to week, whether she was going to be taken or if we could finally adopt her. (It took three and a half years before we finally did). We were on an emotional yo-yo, there were loads of sleepless nights, tears, fear, and a festering brokenness.

That’s how I arrived at the reservation.

And somehow in this spiritually mystical way, the brokenness of my own experience collided with the brokenness of the Lakota people. I don’t know how much you know about Lakota Native Americans, but it’s a terrible part of our history. Basically, 100 years ago, people were in the way of what we (the new arrivals) wanted, so we drove them to the brink of extinction… And here I was on their reservation with a group of missionary students trying to ease the suffering of a cultural trauma that spanned generations.

That’s when my particular brokenness with this little girl collided with their brokenness, and something welded us together.

This Is The Day by Kurt Caddy (Photograph with digital color)

I felt this surge of creativity. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write a poem in the dark. I suddenly started taking portraits of Native American kids that were good in ways that they hadn’t been before. It was clear I was seeing things differently.

One afternoon, I got this desire draw (which was weird, because I hadn’t drawn in 15 years). I sketched out this Eagle head with a Lakota shield in the background. In that moment I thought “this is could be useful. I could use this picture to tell a story about people that nobody knows about. The Lakota people are forgotten. But people will come and see art.”

Lakota Shield and Eagle Sketch by Kurt Caddy

That was a huge turning point. I ended up doing an advocacy exhibition and I’ve not looked back.

Religion is obviously a huge part of your life, how does that tie into the theme of brokenness you’re exploring?

One morning when I was praying, I asked the Lord, “how does one know when they’re healed?” And I felt this presence say, “you know you’re healed when you’re when you’re ready to be broken again.”

Oh, my gosh, not exactly the most encouraging thing I wanted to hear! But this is what life is, it’s a cycle, it’s connecting with the brokenness of others, moving through your own brokenness, and being broken again. That was a big realization for me and the theme repeatedly appears in my work.

Thirst No More by Kurt Caddy (Oyster shell pigment, watercolor, and gold leaf)

Your photo manipulations are close-ups of various textures, what materials are you most fascinated by?

I’m enamored with the concept of concrete. It’s a thing that’s all around us, a thing that nobody pays any attention to. We walk on it, your building is made with a bunch of it, you come into contact with it all the time. It surrounds us. It’s common, it is ordinary, and it’s often broken, cracked, torn up. Our school just replaced several sidewalks because they were all broken up. I was taking pictures of the broken concrete and now it’s gone through a cycle, it’s all brand new and textureless.

I’m fascinated by the places where they rip up carpet and the glue shows through. As my kids would say, that’s my jam!

It’s from everyday scenes that I find ordinary, broken, unresolved kind of places and bring them into a world where I can transform them, where I can change them. I don’t want it to stay what it is; I want it to be something better than a gray piece of sidewalk that nobody pays any attention to.

So I layer digital colors together. And suddenly, you find yourself gazing intently at something you never noticed before. I think that’s how I raise my children. They come to us in this unresolved place with sorrow and pain and hurt and agony. And we just keep putting layer of love, layer of love, layer of love, until one day you’re like, “boom”. And that’s the process. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

And you paint as well, how does that process work?

Painting takes so much time. And then I don’t do myself any favors because I like to make my own paint from scratch.

I start with minerals, dirt, and ashes. I start by breaking down something that is whole. It’s is an ancient technique in Japan called Nihonga that was made famous in the US by Makoto Fujimura (one of my biggest inspirations).

Still Waters by Kurt Caddy (Oyster shell pigment, watercolor, and gold leaf)

For example, there’s only one element that makes white: oyster shell. It’s called Gofun in Japan and is made by pulverizing a hundred-year-old oyster shell and then mixing it with hide glue. And that’s how you make the pigment.

At one point, that oyster was a living thing, and now it’s not. And I’m crushing it, pulverizing it, beating it, breaking it.

Doing all these things to resurrect it. Somehow this sorrow of death and ultimate brokenness transforms into something new and beautiful. That is that’s a metaphor that stays with me whenever I work.

I’ve started painting over my photography prints, something that’s been pushing me as an artist in a really great way.

Your family is pretty unconventional, what’s the full story behind that and how do you juggle life as a family man, a pastor, and a visual artist?

I have three biological kids, four adopted ones, and one that adopted us. So when our family gets together it’s 13 people (including spouses)! My adopted kids all came from trauma and really hard places. So they came to us broken and they came to us hurting, but they came to us.

And I thought “can something beautiful come from all this pain?” That’s the question that drives me.

I have so many interests that I don’t feel like I juggle everything, but rather that it juggles me! Somehow, between work, family, art, and my never-ending lists of projects, I find balance. My wife always exclaims, “is there is there ever going to be an end of the things that you’re interested in?!” It keeps me busy, but I enjoy it.

Is there an artwork you are most proud of? Why?

The Lakota people have helped me understand the value of symbolic things. Most of their regalia is very filled with symbols. And so if you see a shield, or a spear, it has a meaning. Even the bead patterns are saying something beyond the pure aesthetic

For example, the pattern above means what’s happening above is reflected below. In all my work, there’s usually a horizontal line, and two colors playing off of each other. Red is a color of sacrifice. Green is kind of a hope. Gold and yellow indicate a higher plane happening. Blue is water, movement, spirit, sky.

Infinite Grace by Kurt Caddy (Photograph with digital color)

This is my father-in-law’s driveway. That’s it. You can’t get anything more common than Arkansas driveway. But here it is, transformed with color. Starting out in a dark red underneath you have the sacrifice of Christ, and then the horizontal line symbolizes a sort of bringing together before exploding into blue, or what I call Grace. I feel like that grace is infinite, and that it’s unending.

What I love about the work above, is that it’s taken something ordinary, something broken and old, and turned it into an expression of Grace. It creates a new dialogue.

You’ve worked as a campus pastor for 22 years. What’s that been like?

I’m don’t overtly do all the right ‘spiritual’ things, instead, I use my faith in the context of life, and that really shakes things up a bit. For example, I tell my students, “When I paint, it’s worship,” and they say “No it’s not, worship is singing.” Then there’s a great opportunity to open a new dialogue.

Once, I asked students, “How do you draw hope?” Then I asked, “What color is hope?” Abstract art is finding a way to paint that feeling you have. Poems, sonnets, art, all that creative intuition, that’s something I try to teach my students about.

Grace Like Rain by Kurt Caddy (Photograph with digital color)

Living in a rural area, how do you share your work with others?

I’ve really been enjoying D Emptyspace! It’s just a cool way to share my art and show it to others in context. Plus I can make my work look massive — I wish I could print 8 or 10 feet high in real life! It’s really neat to see my art in a virtual world that I have complete control over — a lot of people have been really really impressed with the visualization.

I also do a lot of Instagram because it’s great to reach people, but it’s always hit and miss with the algorithm. It’s a really flat, limited space that doesn’t really work unless I create things to specifically fit in that space. For example, if I want to share a panoramic work, it ends up looking very weird on Instagram. But in this app, your work shows up as a panoramic, just like you intended, which is pretty cool.

Emmanual by Kurt Caddy (Photograph with digital color)

Some parting thoughts to ponder on…

I used to think the goal of life was to be happy and feel good about everything. But you try, and achieve, and search and think “why didn’t that make me happy? Why do I need more money? Why do I need more of this, more of that? And why am I never seem to be content?”

I remember reading an interview with Tom Brady, the successful American football quarterback. He’s won a Superbowl like, five, six times, and he’s the best guy ever to millions of Americans. He once said in an interview, “You know, I hope this isn’t all there is to life.”

Are you kidding me? He’s got more money than he knows what to do with, a beautiful supermodel wife, and well looked after kids. I mean, if that guy is saying “I hope this isn’t all there is to life,” you have to listen.

It always seems to be (at least in religious and spiritual circles), a paradox. A brokenness where we find we find joy and sorrow.

There is no real joy without sorrow. You don’t get the mountaintop without the valley.

You can follow Kurt Caddy on D Emptyspace by searching @kurtcaddy

Canvas prints are available for purchase via Caddy’s Instagram

Download D Emptyspace for iOS: https://apple.co/2MhsxCs

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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