Street Smart: A Q&A with Carlos Donjuan
The work of Carlos Donjuan work really grabbed my attention in #90, the recent West edition, of New American Paintings, and I recently caught up with the artist to better understand how his practice is influenced by street art and hip-hop culture.
Donjuan's work, be it painting, graffiti, or mixed media, beautifully captures the complex visual language of underground youth culture from the perspective of someone in-the-know. The Dallas native credits graffiti as his biggest ongoing influence, as well as street fashion and hybrid music genres, and recently had a major moment: his first all-graffiti show (as part of the collective Sour Grapes) at Dallas Contemporary. I asked the artist about his beginnings and how sub-cultures continue to influence his work today. More after the jump! —Kate Singleton, contributor
Carlos Donjuan, Sharp and Chrome, 2010 | Mixed media on birch, 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy the artist.
KS: How would you describe your attraction to graffiti?
CD: I have been into graffiti for 14 years now, ever since I was in high school. As a kid, I was already big into lowrider art, so graffiti was a natural fit for me. Graffiti really consumed my life and I did everything I could in order to learn its hidden secrets. I was in love with this mysterious and notorious art movement. Finding graffiti magazines and meeting other graffiti artists was, at times, a difficult task. Now you can just get on the internet and find everything you need to know. The element of discovering its history and techniques is not as difficult as it used to be, but I still love it.
Did graffiti or painting come first for you?
I did a lot drawing first, then graffiti, and finally I got into painting.
Images courtesy the artist.
How does Dallas street culture play into your work?
Dallas is home to me, and I have watched the graffiti scene develop in this city. Being part of that growth has been very inspiring and has fueled my work.
What pockets of sub-cultures are you currently most inspired by?
Right now I would have to say graffiti. There are others, but they only inspire me part-time. Graffiti has never let me down.
I am also greatly inspired by new hybrid genres of music such as Moombahton, CumbiaCrunk, Bmore, Kuduro, and Dubstep. The DJs that play these genres of music have been just as inspiring such as Dave Nada, DJ Orion, Tittsworth, Paul Devro, Diplo, Uproot Andy, Buraka Som Sistema, Brick Bandits, Prince Klassen, Sober, Dj Nature, etc.
Carlos Donjuan, Sympathetic Drank, 2010 | Mixed Media on Birch - 24 inches x 24 inches. Courtesy the artist.
You've stated that your mentality is, "part ego, part adrenaline, part competitive, part street..." How does that mentality differ from that of other contemporary artists?
I would say that the street part is the one that might differ more than anything. First, graffiti is a crime and many artists have been arrested and gone to jail for their art. I don't know many artists that would take such a risk in order to achieve their creative endeavors.
Second, graffiti artists have to deal with the fact that their work is very impermanent. Their work is hated so much by society that communities and organizations have formed to fight and eradicate their art in the streets. There is just so much added stress involved in graffiti that I don't think many contemporary artists experience.
Installation view, Sour Grapes. (Via Dallas Contemporary, courtesy John Durbin)
Your new show at Dallas Contemporary is 100% graffiti. Would you say that's a victory for you? Is it difficult to convince a gallery to run a show of only street art?
I would say that the show is a great success. One of my biggest goals is to help educate our community about our art. At the show, there were young fans of our graffiti that had never been to an art show. Then we had more seasoned gallery visitors that had never seen graffiti in an art show. It was interesting seeing a young skater kid standing next to a wealthy art collector, both admiring the show.
Getting a graffiti show in a gallery can be difficult, but not impossible. I have seen small independent galleries pop up that are willing to show this type of work.
Despite it's ongoing popularity, street art continues to polarize the art community. How do you think art historians will view the genre 100 years from now?
I am not sure. I only hope that they emphasize the importance of graffiti and hip-hop culture.
Carlos Donjuan, Sweet Nothings, 2010 | Mixed Media on Birch, 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Carlos Donjuan was featured in edition #90 of New American Paintings. His exhibition with the collective Sour Grapes, Rest in Power, will be on view at Dallas Contemporary through August 21, 2011.
Kate Singleton is a Brooklyn-based blogger and art consultant. She runs ArtHound.net.