About the Artist
My work is rooted in my layered relationship to the bio-political and vulnerable landscapes I grew up exploring in my native Colombia, particularly its rainforests. I create immersive visual environments, evoking both the fear and wonder I experience when surrounded by nature. In my practice I engage directly with these landscapes, photographing my surroundings and collecting samples. This intimate process of discovery stands in contrast to early naturalists, whose cataloging of nature left it susceptible to colonization. Using analog and digital techniques, I build on and reimagine the visual makeup of my collected flora and fauna, creating hidden, complex ecosystems. The resulting works reveal unforeseen surprises in the seemingly recognizable, encouraging close inspection and a new dialog about the individual’s relationship to the natural world.
While my work visually beckons, it simultaneously serves as a reminder of the historical and continued exploitation of natural ecosystems. I employ a monochrome palette as a metaphor for the endangered natural world, using black and white interrupted by details painted in gold; glimmering reminders of the devastating cost of human avarice. Remaining natural landscapes and their destruction often feel like abstractions; important but removed phenomena we should care about and advocate for, but seldom do. My work makes those abstractions real and personal, inviting the viewer to both delight in nature and challenging them to form a meaningful, immediate relationship to its endurance.
with Lucy Commoner, May 2017
What is your history of involvement with the Wassaic Project and how has that engagement impacted your practice?
In 2016 I did a family residency at the Wassaic Project — my very first artist residency. The impact was enormously positive and inspiring. At the time I was coming out of many years of working within illustration and graphic design, and the residency was a major step in my dedicated commitment to my art practice.
As a designer and illustrator I had always been very focused on coming up with solutions and producing very specific results. In contrast, being at Wassaic got me excited to explore working more freely and in different environments, allowing these places to bring unique experiences into my work and practice.
I arrived to Wassaic with all my equipment and gear to work as I have always done, and came to the realization that I wasn't going to recreate my studio situation in a different place. I needed to let my studio in Brooklyn be my studio and embrace what Wassaic had to offer. Go with a different flow and forget about my end result so that I could dive deeper into process and exploration. It was also very exciting to meet all of the different artists. It felt like I belonged, that I was in the right place, and that I didn't need to fight to be heard to get my idea across. The Wassaic Project is a very welcoming community, and I love that.
Your family is from Bogotá, Columbia and you currently live and work in Brooklyn, New York. How has your cultural heritage affected your work?
Well, I was actually born in New York City. But I'm full-on Colombian, and I grew up all my life in Colombia. I only lived in NYC for the first year of my life while my dad was finishing his PhD at Columbia University.
My cultural heritage is my work. What I create are snippets of memories from years of family camping, being in nature, pieces of my dad’s house, and pieces I grab every time I return. Nature in Colombia is wild and beautiful, not organized. You find so much diversity of flora and fauna with amazingly intricate details. That’s what I try to capture in my work.
Your practice is multidisciplinary and wide-ranging from large-scale murals and installations to digital painting, collage, and video. You also have worked as a curator and director. What roots connect your art works together and how do you view this piece fitting into your practice in general?
In my years of working as a director, designer, and illustrator, I always tried to incorporate all of my different disciplines, using my imagery in different ways and with new techniques. What I love about Impending Beauty is that I’ve been able to bring together so many of the different approaches that I explored throughout those years into one cohesive experience, and challenge myself to explore new techniques as well.
Your work often depicts lush nature and wildlife in a black and white color scheme. What is your intention with this monochromatic palette highlighted with gold in your current installation, Impending Beauty?
When I first started working on my Rainforest Sanctuary series, the black and white and gold had a very literal meaning. Black and white represented the thin gray layer over the rainforest canopy left after the herbicide sprayings to eradicate the coca plantations, and the gold represented the patches on the rainforest created from the gold mining.
Over the years, using black and white has become a metaphor for the endangered natural world and points to the damage caused by coal mining and oil spills. It’s also my reference to old engravings, as a way of suggesting that in the near future we may only get to see these landscapes in historical images. The gold details are reminders of the devastating cost of man’s avarice and our society’s ever-increasing obsession with material wealth.
In addition to the immersive environment you have created in the Mill building, you also have inserted interventions throughout the town of Wassaic. What insights/feelings would you like an observer to take away from your installations?
Yes, I brought some of my tropical birds to Wassaic. This is a street art piece that I began last year about tropical birds that have migrated off course. I place them mainly in industrial areas where I find trees that have been cut away but grown back. I look for plants that have been half-removed, or have come back to life, often growing back through a chain link fence. As people we have the ability to allow nature to grow or to kill it, and it’s wonderful when nature finds its way back against all odds.
I like allowing people to discover the birds and be curious about their meaning, and maybe to try and find the story behind them. It’s like a game, but hopefully one that gets them looking more closely at their environment and thinking about their relationship with nature.
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral