TAMED: An Interview with Oaxacan artist Ricardo Angeles

Opening of Ricardo Angeles' first solo show at Pilsen Outpost. (TheGate/Gloria Talamantes)

The opening of Ricardo Angeles’ first solo show at Pilsen Outpost. (TheGate/Gloria Talamantes)

Oaxacan artist, Ricardo Angeles spent the month of September working on canvases in preparation for his first solo gallery opening at Pilsen Outpost. TAMED, the show’s name is a play on the restrictions he gave himself while preparing his artwork for the show. There were days when the weather was perfect to go out and explore the city, but Angeles continued working on his paintings. He saw himself as being domesticated until he could finish every single piece of art that would go into his show. We had the opportunity to ask Angeles a few questions and look forward to his visit to Back of the Yards next year!

Where are you from? Have you ever lived in other cities? Since when you are committed to handicrafts and muralism? Tell me a little more about your learning and your artist practice motivation.

My name is Ricardo Angeles Mendoza and I am from San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca. Tilcajete is a small town with Zapotec origins in which the main activity is the creation of wooden figures called alebrijes. My family has a workshop where I learned to use wood and paint. It was a long and tedious process.

Since age six, I’ve been helping in a small part of the process of creating the pieces. Most of the time I sanded the [figurines] and sometimes I painted [them]. At around the age of 12, my parents gave me the freedom to paint my own style on their works. Sometimes I would form them again since they had already been sculpted by other workshop members. The first school where I got my style and roots was my parent’s workshop. My second school was leisure; the teachers there were the Internet and movies I was able to watch through TV and computers as well as books. When my parents traveled, they would buy books on architecture, design, and painting, they weren’t specifically for me, but I would secretly read them. I was never aware that I was being self-taught, but I just felt a profound curiosity and a need to know more in order to broaden my knowledge. Most of the times I used to spend time with older people than me, so I learned from the things they talked about and I felt the responsibility of being informed so I could know what they were talking about. Without a doubt, those conversations were my basis up until three years ago, between 2014-2015. I didn’t really want to study or do anything related to arts, and it was more because of a bad relationship with and confusion with [art]. I felt it was everything for me and nothing at the same time, I was so used to it that for me it was normal.

When it was time to choose a university and a career, it was easy for me. Easy because I was convinced that I was not going to study art and I chose something I love/loved: architecture. To start I chose to study in Mexico City, to me it will always be D.F (federal district /Distrito Federal in Spanish; almost a year ago they changed its name to Mexico City) and at this time I’ll leave it as such.

Choosing to live in D.F. has been one decision I could never regret, I knew that that city, because of its variety, was going to give me a lot of knowledge. I saw so many forms and I discovered so much information that I fell in love with it. At the same time, I kind of hated living there so much because it was and still is a total chaos, however, I was able to find the good side. for example: public transportation (a real chaos) I turned it into a hobby, I used to take a different route every time without knowing where I was going, that way I could get to know the city, eat it (visually speaking), and if I would get lost, I’d just use Google Maps and find the way back home. Living in D.F., I discovered something very important that to this day still motivates me, something that for me public art and architecture have in common: management of it through time and the sensitivity it causes to those who see it.

In D.F., I found the love of seeing murals, graffiti, architecture, sculpture, roadside stands, random people, etc., as a performance, unique and unrepeatable, in every street and corner. Right there I bought a little notebook to write and draw everything I saw and imagined. I was always drawing letters and characters to turn them into graffiti someday. Working on my notebooks made me realize how easy it was for me to manage different perspectives or dominate the sheet paper space while drawing I used to take pictures at the same time; it was in that moment that everything got complicated for me. The first month of classes at UAM Xochimilco, I realized that I loved to draw, that I loved architecture, design, and photography, but also all that confidence I had of studying architecture plummeted and it was the hardest time for me, but I still continued studying architecture.

Until that moment I didn’t have enough academic or professional knowledge about painting and drawing but I discovered many new materials: canvas, paper, acrylics etc. that I never knew about. After school, I used to experiment with the new materials I just learned about. In that moment of new knowledge a great friend known as “Gram Om”, invited me to paint one of my drawings
on a wall in an Otomí town called Xochicuahutla. Because the problems they were having with their territory and the expropriation of their lands; I went and I did it. That was a different experience for me but at the same time, it was so natural. That’s how everything started. My artist friends would go visit me to my parent’s workshop and convinced my parents to paint some walls with me, in Oaxaca, in my town or in the city. After two murals I made my first canvas, and when I posted my murals, drawings and paintings on Instagram, the support from my friends made me see a possibility of being an artist. I also realized something I didn’t want to see: the world of art, the one I grew up with, was for me. I could accept it because I had found my own style. After that, I changed my major to graphic design, and in the third month, I dropped out of school. I started gradually creating larger murals and on the way, I started to make friends that supported me by buying some of my works. Two years ago I left school on the condition of being self-sufficient, but I will be back in college next year.

 What is your art about? From where is your inspiration born?

One of Ricardo's canvases for the Pilsen Outpost show opening.

One of Ricardo’s canvases for the Pilsen Outpost show opening.

My style, as well as my techniques, have evolved, I do not have a favorite style, it always depends on the situation. I like and I enjoy playing with the concepts and words: the inspiration, in general, comes from the relation between man, nature, technology, and spirit, these 4 elements are always in my work. Lately, I have projected in my works the human behavior mixed with the stigma or stereotypes/meanings we have of some animals. An example of this is “Gallina y Huevos (Chicken and Eggs)” (a recent work). Chicken has always been fundamental in the people’s diet, even though in Mexico, at least, we relate as a symbol of cowardice, weakness, and inferiority (if someone calls you a chicken, it’s like when they call you a pussy, a coward or a wimp). The same work of art has the meaning of the eggs, but with two meanings: literally speaking, the word fertilized ovum of the hen from where a chicken is hatched and the hand signal that means a rude insult for Mexicans; contradictory also to “to have eggs” which means to be brave. I really like the intrinsic criticism and the management of indirect topics. I also like to be the spectator of direct art (without hidden meanings or without characters that do not exist in this reality) although I haven’t produced it yet.

Is this your first individual exhibit? How do you feel about it and what have you prepared for your public?

Yes, this is my very first exhibit and I feel thankful and in confidence with the public. Everyone has been really kind, and reciprocal; to me, this is very important because I like my work to be received with the same affection it was created by me for my public. I have always painted, but I haven’t had so many pieces together, to have them seemed odd to me. It has never been difficult for me to detach myself from the things I created or the things I had, as a child it became a part of growing up: I would paint a piece in my parent’s workshop and I couldn’t keep it because we had bills to pay; so that always motivated me to create an even better painting the next time. In this first exhibit that I really hope you will enjoy, the topic here is “TAMED” These are hybrids of animals/ humans showing a specific behavior; the fact is that tamed for me is a hard word, but we live it every day, freedom is conditioned, freedom is a mental state and for freedom to become physical we should make worldwide revolution of our lifestyle. Nobody should allow themselves to be tamed by anything or anybody.

What is your connection to Chicago?

Chicago is for me one of the most interesting cities in the USA, because of my parent’s job, I have traveled to different parts of the world but Chicago, specifically on the south side, has demonstrated to be a community. In Oaxaca, we all are a community and that’s reminiscent of my roots. Also because
I have found a family here, friends that I admire and I love. Not to mention there is a lot of art, architecture, and multiculturalism.

Why in Chicago and why Pilsen Outpost?

Pilsen was a good place to start for me. Everything I’m creating right now has a more realistic approach, and Pilsen gives me that opportunity. Pilsen Outpost is a gallery that supported me since the beginning. They are inclusive and they have renowned artists and emerging ones. In that space, they have workshops and the community joins them; that was really interesting for me. The mural I collaborated with Diske in Little Village and the next one will be in Back of the Yards. To be able to exhibit and paint the mural here, I decided to live on Chicago’s South Side, with Isabel and Arturo, friends I met in Oaxaca three years ago. I decided to produce here for several reasons, among them to be in context, to have direct experience and because if I stayed in Oaxaca, at home, I wasn’t going to be able to do it because I get distracted quite easily (he laugh out loud).

Collaborative mural by Ricardo Angeles and Diske Uno in Little Village for the Brown Wall Project. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Collaborative mural by Ricardo Angeles and Diske Uno in Little Village for the Brown Wall Project. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

What are the similarities and differences between the Mexican cultures here and there in Mexico?

The connection comes from the roots, the identity, the resistance and the nostalgia; this has created an environment in which you would think you’re in México but in another dimension; we have tried to create a Mexico with whatever we have, we have looked for alternatives to get closer to our land through our memories. The similarity that doesn’t change is the love and pride for the culture that we will always carry. The difference is the fact of not being there out of the necessity of being here, many times the necessity is economic or work-related.

What could we do in order to preserve and transmit the cultural traditions to new generations of Mexicans that arrive in the USA without the possibility to go back to their towns in Mexico?

As Mexicans, our roots are always present in everything we do. The point is to never stop transmitting our culture to the new generations. We can also look for organizations that support those who know how to make crafts, dance or any other occupation related to Mexico, that way we can create workshops for those who come or are born here.

What is the balance you are looking for when you are working with communities or institutions?

No matter the organization, if there is the initiative from any of them that wants to help foster the culture, in this case, the Mexican culture, we have to work hand in hand with it. That’s where real opportunities are created because we all work for them. I think that any support to art or culture must be seized, but something really important is that there is freedom for the artist when it comes to these opportunities.

How important is to have the artistic freedom to transmit your message to the public?

Very important. I think art and freedom go hand in hand. Art is a way of alternative education and overall it’s a claim of the unfair world we live in. That’s the reason art must be creative and different, it’s a living, informal way of transmission of knowledge. We shouldn’t create art just because of money, it loses the sense of freedom. Even though I understand sometimes money/income is a necessity for the artist to survive, they shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to show their proposal to move something else in people. Art without freedom causes me conflict, but I’m not against that kind of art that just looks pretty or good and follows a structure and established rules, still my art has nothing to do with it.