Bust of Emanuel Augustus (Collaboration with Jose Lerma), 2013, Photographic backdrop paper. Saatchi Gallery.
Interview conducted by Stacia Yeapanis for OtherPeoplesPixels.
HECTOR MADERA expertly wields colored masking tape and photo backdrop paper, creating a dizzying environment of pattern and aggressively bright colors. His masked portraiture, abject sculpture, neon banners and screen-printed pillows surround the viewer in installations that portray a frantically-fluctuating, unstable rush of emotions. Hector earned his BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) in 2004 and his MFA from Brooklyn College CUNY in 2011.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and color has always been a significant part of your practice, but you really amped that up to 11 in your most recent solo show, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Why is the intensity of saturated color so important in this body of work? How does it relate to the title?
Hector Madera: For Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between, I created a body of work that illustrated my mental state at a particular moment in my career. Through the employment bold and colorful images, I wanted to achieve an environment where feelings of sadness, tension, anxiety, disorder, euphoria and happiness—just to mention a few—were all tangled up, creating a disparate and muddled celebration of the ups and downs of the everyday life.
OPP: I can certainly see that in the framed smiley/frowny faces. Could you talk about the floor-installed works? I’m particularly interested in what looks to be balls of discarded patterned duct tape and the imagery on the pillows.
HM: These crumbled artworks in a way are rooted in two words inflao and desinflao, Spanish slang for inflated-deflated. An old friend uses these terms frequently to describe the feeling of being happy, excited, fulfilled or frustrated, down, empty. I inflate balloons that then are covered with layers of tape and ultimately with thick layers of clear acrylic. I make tiny holes with a pointy object so that the air comes out slowly. As the air releases, the acrylic hardens, preserving the final crumbled shape. When developing these artworks, I think about extracting the good out of bad situations. In many ways, it is an attempt to transform a discarded object or gesture that represents frustration or failure into something beautiful, something grand.
The imagery used for the soft sculptures is a combination of bold graphics and colors mixed with strippers with voluptuous bodies in sensual positions and digital drawings in where I recreate psychedelic-hallucinatory-euphoric effects. These sculptures are closely linked to the strange comfort found in deliriously indulgent moments.
Installation view of Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between, at Espacio 20/20 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2015.
OPP: When did photo backdrop paper and colored tape first enter your practice? Why do these materials continue to be compelling to you after all these years? HM: I was already working with masking tape as a way to join single papers together to create a bigger support to work with. Then, during my MFA years at Brooklyn College, I decided to replace paint with colored tape. Backdrop paper showed up a bit later when I first saw the material in a thrift shop. I was very interested in its color intensity and matte finish. The paper is sturdy, acid free and fadeless. So, conservation-wise, it made complete sense to incorporate it into my practice. I first used it to create sphere-like, crumpled paper sculptures that represented discarded ideas. Now these paper backdrops have become the support of my large-scale mixed media collages. It is my intention to create compelling works of art in which the presence of paper is part of the strength of the work. They say we are living in a more and more paperless society. I like to think that I am defying the perception that paper is becoming obsolete.
Salvador, 2012, Colored tape, carton sealing tape on c-print, 48 x 64"
OPP: What role does masking play in your practice in general? Can you also talk specifically about masked portraits like Salvador 2012, untitled 2012 (Rene) and Willem 2012? HM: On a trip to Paris I was wandering around the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen when I saw this book filled with close up portraits of 20th century masters, Picasso, Matisse, Serra etc. I bought it without hesitation for only one euro! A little later I decided to pay a double homage. First I selected the portraits of all the artists whom I had studied at some point. Then I covered the portraits with a mask design inspired by Los Super Medicos, my favorite tag team wrestlers when I was young. In the masked portraits you mentioned above and in my overall practice the act of masking is equivalent to the act of painting. Through the luchador mask, I explore the themes of hiding, filtering and diffusing in order to have the opportunity to become something else. The wrestler character works as a great analogy for the life of an artist. He is in a constant struggle for survival, he can rally from behind to be victorious or simply end up beaten on the mat.
OPP: You've collaborated with Jose Lerma on various monumental busts made from photo backdrop paper. How did the collaboration come about? How did it influence your solo work?
HM: The collaboration with José started in a very casual way. We are very good friends and when I moved to New York he was one of the first people I called. Since then, we were always hanging out, and he became my mentor. I guess he liked the sculptures that I was making with backdrop paper, and one night we started talking about making bigger things with the material and technique. We decided to collaborate for a works-on-paper show in Chicago. That’s when we collaborated on the Bust of John Law. This triggered all the collaborations we have done.
José's unique vision, mentorship and friendship has been very important in my formation as an artist. We share common interests, which influenced my practice and made our collaboration an effortless one.
Beau ca. 1610, 2013, Holographic tape, colored cardboard and acrylic on paper, 22" x 30"
HM: These characters are based in real people whom I've met over the years and who, for one reason or the other, don't live life as everybody else. They are unique people with unique stories. I have used them in many different artworks before. In this particular series, I wanted to pay homage to these everyday characters by creating faceless portraits with ruff necks. I am interested in the effect the ruff neck creates of holding the head up high in a very proud and lordly-style pose. The teeth are inspired in my fascination for vampires and eternal life. In these works, I’m creating busts or portraits of everyday people, "unimportant people," the ones with "minor histories.” OPP: As you answer these questions, the theme of the underdog is emerging and now I see it both in your image and material choices. Do you relate to the archetype of the Underdog? HM: Totally. I relate to the underdog. In sports, I always end up rooting for the team, boxer or player that is labeled as the unlikely winner. My upbringing has a lot to do with this, and I believe that limitations force you to be creative. You're forced to try things you would otherwise never have attempted. . . not only in art, but in life itself.
Interview conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis, for OthersPeoplesPixels.