“I think there is so much that can be captured in a person’s expression and the slightest change or movement of their face can say so much. I don’t sketch on transit because I think it makes people feel uncomfortable when they notice you are drawing them, so that is not my approach. I just observe people as I go about my day, travelling and exploring the system and encountering so many people who pass each other every day.”
How did your career begin?
My career as a professional artist began in Colombia about 2 years before I moved to Canada. Art has always been part of who I am. After moving from a rural town to the capital of Columbia, I started working with a local NGO doing murals and art workshops with youth. My move to Canada was pivotal in opening up further opportunities. This is when I became fully committed to creating a career as a visual artist. Artistically, I did a variety of things after moving to Canada. From being involved in community art projects, creating my own original work, murals and commissions – each opportunity brought me a step closer to where I am today. I am now an internationally recognised painter.
Who were your first influenced by?
I am influenced by where I came from, my family and home. I’m also influenced by people and places that make up where I live. In regards to art, I am self-taught. I never spent too much time investigating other artists but I have always been fascinated by artists like Da Vinci, Dali, Lautrec and others who have never been afraid to take risks and to try something new.
When did you know that you were going to pursue a career as a visual artist?
I think I have always known that I wanted to be an artist. My decisions to move from my rural home, to when I started working in the capital of Colombia, to coming to Toronto – were all decisions that were made because of my want to be an artist.
Why chose the TTC? Have you sourced your subjects from other transit systems? If so, what ones?
I use the TTC daily to get to and from my studio. It’s what I use to get around the city, regardless of what I need to do. In all of these trips, I’m fascinated by the way people engage with each. Or rather, how they avoid it. I find this to be common city behaviour. Within large urban cities there is a disconnect in public space and for me, this is in direct contrast of rural living. There is a breakdown in our abilities to communicate. This is especially seen within public spaces – like the TTC.
When you’re riding the TTC to source your next subject, do you ride the same car? TTC route? Time of day?
No, I never plan it out. For me it’s all about observation. No matter where I am, the time of the day or the route I’m taking, I’m quietly recirding what I see. What I paint is an abstract translation of what I see, not a literal one. It’s all about translating the feeling of what I’ve observed onto the canvas, through the portrait.
How do you record what you see? And how do you decide who to paint?
I observe. I watch people and how they respond to those around them, how they close their eyes (sometimes because they are tired, but sometimes as a way of avoiding communication), who they react to when they do talk to strangers or make eye contact with. I take all of these observations and channel them into my paintings. They represent the feelings, sensations and expressions of my experiences.
Your work is larger than life. Have you always worked large-scale?
Having a background in painting murals made me comfortable in exploring large scale painting. I love what happens when I go from small scale to large with my portraits. It definitely has its challenges but I manage to move through the process and create something that I am happy with.
Emotionally, why are you drawn to exploring feelings of disconnection?
I think because it’s in such opposition from what I know and grew up with while living in Colombia. There is a sense of humanity that gets lost in the big urban centres. I’m interested in capturing this, exploring it so that we can perhaps find it again. I often ask the question,’What if urban centres were like the rural places and people didn’t see each other as strangers?’
When you’re painting, are there any rituals you follow? Music? Time of day?
Yes there are. Music is very important to me. It’s a big part of my process. I also like to make time to just sit and think before I paint. Painting to me is an organic process. That takes time and thought.
How do you know a work is finished?
This can be tricky. For me, it’s about knowing when the emotion I want to convey, resonates through the piece. This is when I know the piece is finished.