Artist Report: Abel Alejandre
I enjoy sharing my work and thoughts with schools and students. However, I’m often working hard trying to honor some deadline. If you contact me, I will respond to your inquiry. Please be advised that it might not be in a timely fashion. If you review the contents of this page you might find a lot of your answers. If you are doing a school report you have my permission to use any information listed on this website. -Abel Alejandre
The first seven years of my life were spent in a remote, rural region known as Tierra Caliente in Michoacan State, Mexico. I recall no running water nor electricity. Our immediate and extended family lived in Apatzingan, the nearest bona fide town. It was from here that my family and I emigrated to Los Angeles in 1975. It was, in many ways, akin to traveling from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, given the rudimentary conditions to which we were accustomed. This experience – of leaving one land for another, having to constantly redefine what it means to be a human being, a man, a part of a community – is a constant and central theme within my work. [Read more…]
Abel Alejandre is a U.S.-based artist, best known for his explorations of masculinity and drawings. He has recently completed Artist in Residence at Fullerton.
[Full list of press]
Los Angeles Times
REVIEW The truth is out there. Or is it? Conspiracies and secrets in the art of Abel Alejandre
Los Angeles Magazine
Metro Artist Abel Alejandre Draws Fallen Superheroes
LOS ANGELES CONFIDENTIAL
‘Frank LA’ Examines Homelessness & Other Issues Through Art
Searching for an Idea at Pulse Art Fair
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Who were your mentors?
There were two men who were pivotal to my development as an artist: my uncle Guillermo and Joe Bravo. Acting as the big brother I never had, with his interest in fashion, my uncle encouraged me through the arch of my life. When I was growing up, there was a large mural by the Chicanx artist Joe Bravo at Will Hall park in Wilmington, California. For six years, I sat in the shadow of that mural; I did my homework, read, and drew. Much later, as an adult, I met him and expressed my gratitude.
Why do you have so many roosters in your work?
Often, I make use of the rooster as a metaphor and symbol for manhood, valor, machismo, and patriarchy. As I interpret this beautiful, regal (albeit common) creature, its aim is to convince an opponent of its wisdom and prescience. Yet it is a fierce animal, possessing the primal instinct to fight until its enemy is dispatched. Similarly, some men embody this quality, this sense of cunning, this unique nature, making them ideal subjects of inquiry. At this stage, I’ve come across no definitive answers, and seek only to record, to interpret, a lifetime of observation.
Who are your influences?
In my formative years, many artists influenced and inspired me, like Albrecht Dürer, Lucian Freud, Francisco Goya, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to name a few. Now, I am interested in the narratives of the discarded, unimportant moments that shape our culture. Any moment in time has countless points of view through which they can be retold. I feel that when we talk about these throw-away moments, they are not black and white, but have a whole lot of grey. These shades of grey are what I am compelled to draw and paint.
What do you hope to inspire in those who view your work?
I don’t consciously intent to inspire so much as to share my perspective. Often the work surprises and informs me as much as the viewer. Once the work is released into the world it makes it’s own way. They are my ambassadors of sorts.
What was your first job?
First job I ever had was picking cotton in Michoacan, Mexico at four yeas old. I had to support my mother, younger brother and sister. This has served as an important life lesson, “don’t wait for a savior; you have to hustle to succeed.”
Do you have a favorite piece/series, if so why?
To be brutally honest, I have contempt for most of my work after it is complete. I do not believe in the preciousness of the work, it is a detriment to moving the work forward.
Besides murals, what is the largest artwork you have done?
The largest work I’ve done outside of murals is a triptych painting twelve feet wide and 8 feet tall. It was done as part of live performance. The second largest work I’ve done is woodblock print eight feet wide and four feet tall.
What are your plans/hopes for your future in the art world?
The only plans I have are to keep creating work.
How did you get started on your career?
As a teenager I was a paid muralist assistant through the Long Beach Summer Olympics Youth Mural Project . Then started painting my own murals during the same program.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
Be productive, honest and kind. There is no substitute for hard work. As a teenager I could have never imagined that I would paint and draw with such precision. It turns out that when I really put in the time my work improved tremendously. Also, be cognizant that the art world is small and everybody talks. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about other artists, galleries, institutions and/or press.
How did you start your artistic path?
In first grade I had an easel my size prepared with newsprint paper, plastic cups filled with tempra paint. I painted a house with smoke coming out of its chimney. From that moment forward I had a vehicle to express myself. Before that moment it was not even something that existed in my world.
What was the trigger to take the leap to be a Professional Artist?
I’ve always produced work that made me feel like a “True Artist.” I never seemed to have enough time to give my work the dedication it deserved. I still went ahead and remained productive and sold work. However, it was not until 2008 that my life options were limited to sustain myself financially. Being a fulltime artist is all I had left.
Where did you attend school?
Although I would have benefited greatly from a BFA or MFA, I have an Associate’s Degree from Long Beach City College. I have also completed some coursework at several schools: Art Center of Design; Cerritos College; Goldenwest College; and Orangecoast College. Much of what I do now is self-taught.
What skill have you learned in the artworld?
It was trial through fire as the saying goes. Project coordination, like curation or film documentation, can not be done without some level of competence and leadership. Being organized, thorough, and honoring multiple deadlines not just for yourself but those you work with is, without a doubt, crucial. While every artist’s career is a unique journey, developing good leadership skills in the creative world has opened many doors for me in and out of the artworld.
As an artist which direction are you moving forward?
I don’t move the work forward, it is more like I’m along for the ride if that makes sense. The past leads the future. I trace the threads in my work as far back as I can and follow them. The soul of any artist‘s work lives in it’s most genuine and honest expression. My direction is towards honosty and hide nothing from my work.
Which art mediums will you continue to use or aspire to use in the future?
My mediums are drawing, painting, and printmaking. I’ve wanted to go back to painting for many years but I draw and print still. I can’t really say. There are many narratives and the medium is but a tool.
Can you define your mark?
‘The mark’ is more significant than a fingerprint or signature. It is one of the building block of the artist DNA. It must be laid down with purpose and a commitment to it’s surface. It doesn’t matter if the the mark is smudged, dragged, pushed, or erased and redrawn over and over. If that is how your work is composed, so be it. My marks, they are calculated and must fuse the selected surface. I think of it as a tattoo that impregnates the surface and should you try and remove it will fight. It will be present as a reminder that I once committed to it’s permanence.
Is there a story you would-be willing to share regarding success or failure as an artist?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that this is a business of relationships and handshakes. Rarely are there contracts to which you can hold people accountable. I once agreed to do an exhibition with someone I never heard of and nobody seemed to know. Only two people showed up to the opening and one of them was looking for a restroom. I now need references for any new show. If I don’t know the venue or the curators I check around before agreeing to any new exhibitions. This is done with as much tact as possible of course.
What kind of success are you looking to achieving as an artist?
At this point in my career it feels ridiculous to define success. Success is a goal post that continues to move as my career advances and I get older. When I was young all I wanted was for my work to hang in a “real” gallery. Later, I wanted to have my work in any museum. I should be looking for validation from my peers, art publications, museums and to be included in notable collections. As a mid-career artist my primary goal and mark of success is creating the best work of my life.
How old were you when you made your first art sale?
As early as sixth grade I started getting paid to do commissions for a dollar for some of my classmates and kids in my neighborhood. I don’t actually remember the very first sale, but remember, at 15, my first big sale, by my standards. It was an airbrush painting of a band called Twisted Sister and it was for $60!
What obstacles did you have to overcome or maybe fighting still today?
The biggest obstacle is time. There is never enough time to produce.
Do you have a studio work ethic or principals you live by?
1. Whatever you do, if it doesn’t push the work forward stop doing it.
2. You only compete with yourself don’t worry about anybody else.
3. Fight distractions they will always steal your productivity.
If you could have done something differently what would it be?
I would produce more consistently and avoided showing with galleries who didn’t advance my career.
What is your rudder? What drives you to continue to create?
Life experiences and ordinary engagement with the world around me feed a steady diet of rich content for my work. Content combined with opportunity and time is what I need to keep running.
Is there a meditative quality or a sort of release when creating your work?
My technique is tightly controlled and while fully engaged in the act of it, a calmness and relief comes over me. All is right with the world and am complete. I can loose myself in the intricacies and am intoxicated by the line. I see myself as a shaman who is able to stop and slow time down. When the creation stops I leap forward to the present and my catharsis vanishes. I imagine that it is the same for everyone or perhaps I am odd.
What should I know about your work besides the obvious?
My work can obviously be viewed by it’s technical merits: yes, I can draw. My particular technique is part of an art history tradition and conversation. There are several other ways to observe my work more closely. There is a visual vocabulary in which I repeat certain metaphors as a way of compacting and layering narratives. As with many artists, portions of my work are autobiographical. In particular, I like to explore the inner world of masculinity. I’ve spent most of my life searching for the universality of manhood through the lives of those who surround me and who live by old codes of conduct. In several of my works the rooster is the stand in metaphor for manhood, valor, machismo, and patriarchy.
What is your typical process for an important body of work or project?
My process can be as simple as sitting down and begin making marks or more elaborate. In the case of the work for my Metro Station I made my drawing series by first, doing extensive research into the history of west los angeles where my metro station is located. The research included residents of the neighborhood, articles, books and statistics published by the government. I then made several studies of subject and composition before committing to the final work. I then spent, on average, fifteen hours a day for three months to complete my artwork.
What brand of pencil is your favorite or recommend above all others?
For me Staedtler Mars Lumograph wood pencils are absolutely the highest quality pencil on the market. I find them to be the most consistent in construction, durability, and most importantly in mark making. I will be hard-pressed should they stop making them.
Why do you have so many pencils? And how many do you actually have?
The life of an artist has several uncertainties and such unpredictabilities drive me mad. I bring order and regularity to my studio life by overstocking my materials. At the moment there are probably a few over 250 pencils, low reserves by my standards. I suspect that if I had to go through all my stashes throughout the studio, home, office, car, art supply toolbox it would be more like 500. Considering that I could easily kill that many on just one drawing it makes me nervous to have so few. I am like an alcoholic who will save, hide, squirrel away bottles/pencils in every corner his life.