McColl Center artist-in-residence seeks to make people ‘see things in a new way’
Javier Collado, the most recent creative working in McColl Center’s artist studios, used to focus his art on identity, experience and the effects of pop culture on our lives. But, a trip back home in 2019 – two years after the devastating Hurricane Maria – caused him to shift his emphasis and become an artist/activist.
The Charlotte-based fine artist was born and raised in Puerto Rico and began his art education in San Juan in 2004. In 2009, seeking more stable income, he left Puerto Rico and moved to Concord, North Carolina. He earned a BFA at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Collado began his four-month mini-residency in mid-June. His studio at McColl Center is sponsored by a special HUG Grant from Charlotte Is Creative. Since then, he’s been working on large-scale (6 feet x 5.5 feet, for example) canvases that tell the story of that eye-opening trip to Puerto Rico. Collado took time out from painting to talk to us about what he’s doing and how he got started.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t have a specific moment. I remember always creating – doodling on any piece of paper I could find, winning awards in elementary school art competitions. It wasn’t until I went to college (the first time) that I stopped making and studied business because it was presented as a more practical career field.
There’s a lot in between that point and where I am now. But I find my mind and body are most fulfilled when creating and making. I enjoy researching and creating the work in my mind, then being able to physically create the design with my hands.
Why is receiving four months’ free studio space important to you? What does it give you the ability to do that you couldn’t do before?
This opportunity allows me to leave the circumstances that I have been living in for years. Ever since I left art school, I have had to set my studio in the corner of my living room – a tiny room – or even in my own room. This has made it incredibly challenging to work on the scale I typically work. These experiences are accompanied by the constant fear of possibly ruining my apartment. Due to these limitations, I feel constantly 10 steps behind my fellow artists – not being able to fulfill my complete potential.
How does your 2019 experience in Puerto Rico influence your new work?
My current body of work is a series of paintings called El Sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters), which focuses on the 2019 protests in Puerto Rico demanding the resignation of the governor. This is inspired by Francisco de Goya’s print by the same title.
Puerto Rico, like many other Latin American countries, has fallen prey to corruption. During 2019, documents came to light showing the governor and his administration mocking the suffering of Puerto Rican people after Hurricane Maria, and millions of dollars given for the purpose of aiding the people affected by the hurricane were stolen.
During that time, I raised the money to fly to the island and be part of the protest. I was able to witness first-hand what was happening. The whole country was in an uproar. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets and blocked traffic to urge the governor to resign. We were successful. I took this opportunity to document my experiences, and I am using those photographs to develop this series of paintings.
What’s your medium of choice?
I usually start with acrylics and then finish with oils. It’s an economical way to work because oils are so much more expensive.
What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the time at McColl Center?
My goal for these next four months is to work as much as possible. I hope to have 10 to 12 paintings at the end of my tenure and hope to have a gallery show – venue still undetermined – by the end of the year.
I’m trying to tell a story with my art. I have seen the effects art can have on a community. One of my professors used to say that good art can make people think and see things in a new way. People can become so oversaturated with news and images; they can become numb. Art can interrupt that numbness.
Besides needing a bigger space to work, why was getting the space at McColl important?
I’ve been looking for a community of artists; I haven’t had that since I graduated from school. I missed the constant sharing of work and talking with other artists about art. I’m meeting, little by little, other artists at McColl and creating a community with them.
What advice do you have for emerging creatives in Charlotte?
Show up to work consistently. Show up every day and create something, without focusing on how good it is. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
One of my favorite books is The Art of War; I reread it once a year. One of the things I remember from that work is the metaphor of the squirrel. Squirrels don’t care if it’s raining, snowing or blistering hot. They just go in search of food day after day. Artists have to show up like that.
Who are three creatives in Charlotte more people should follow?
I really admire the work of photographers Victoria Byers and Brittany Little and the art of Elisa Sanchez. She’s an illustrator who’s having a lot of success now.
Anything else readers should know about you and your work?
I’m always growing as an artist. I’m still making sense of my work, one painting at a time. Ultimately, I would love to paint at the same level as one of my idols, Jenny Saville. She is amazing and super-successful. I aspire to create at that level.
A Few More Brush Strokes with Javier Collado
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