I have to backtrack a bit to answer this question accurately, so bear with me:
I moved to the United States when I was sixteen as a foreign born national. That experience impacted a great deal of my perception of both myself, the society to which I was asked to become a part of and what it means to belong to a society and culture in general. I have never felt fully capable of being a part of any one culture or society as a result of this experience. Now, as an adult, I live comfortably on the outside, and this is the viewpoint of my work: I look at a predominantly American psychological and social symbolism defined by otherness, the "they", whoever they are in the dominant mythology, who are always - as the lie goes - "coming to get us", where "us" is the Anglo-white "working class" American; I look at this fear of otherness also from within the American kingdom of capitalism, where we are just as clearly pitted against each other in mortal battle. I call this underlying American aggression the "violent dream", which asks, in the end, for someone to die violently in order for another to succeed and triumph. This mythology, which is defined by scarcity and anxiety, permeates everything American and has been regurgitated throughout popular culture ad nauseam via a heroics of the underdog rising up against the oppressive entity, whomever or whatever it might be: corporate, governmental, criminal, ideological etc. As long as we feel estranged and we fight to the death to alleviate that estrangement and sense of injustice then we are "living the dream", no matter how twisted or out of context that action becomes; and, very importantly, along that "battle for justice and freedom" we must consume as many products and brands as possible that symbolize our journey. I believe that this mythology is the great farce of American society; the lie. As such, the empire marches on and the moral barometer sinks lower and lower both at home and abroad, and the mythology must grow to buffer it, to the point where we now have the entire world mindlessly gorging themselves at the superhero film trough to the tune of a whole new entity: the billion dollar film. This is the mythological architecture of the American imperialist psyche. This is what I am interested in both as an American narrative, and in particular to the Latin American immigrant experience.
My family history tells this very immigration story; it is the very arch of Spanish Western colonialism in Latin America, both as perpetrator and victim, a mestizo trail through Latin America of blood, exploitation, fear, corruption, self-hate, machismo, lies, and secrets combined with tremendous hope, courage, loyalty, pride, conviction, and constant cultural self-reevaluation and understanding. Yet, I would argue, that more importantly than my personal history or the history of American empire is the question of human organization itself. Is fear of "otherness" and the violence it begets the very currency of empire or perhaps, worse yet, civilization itself? Are we destined to hate, to fight, to fear, to damage ourselves both emotionally and physically in the name of "progress" and "dreams"? Who are the architects and, indeed, the true beneficiaries in these grand and absurd agreements?
These questions nagged me more than a little in 2009 specifically in reaction to the global financial crisis; they paralyzed me. Finally, in 2010, I shut down my studio and destroyed all of my work. It was a violent act and at times a regrettable one, but also the only path forward to the work that now flows from me. I was disgusted with humanity and confused by my role and place as an artist - indeed, the role of any artist in modern society. I saw - and still see, even worse so - a world ravaged by a fundamental human order of the few taking advantage of the many and divided clearly along the hateful social construct we call "race". I watched the art market tumble in perfect tandem with the financial markets in 2008. I connected the dots. The inequality and abuse of much of the world by those in power, a handful of people by comparison to the rest of us, and the ugly history of colonialism seemed to work hand-in-hand with the "financialization" of artworks. I simply could not participate in what appeared to me to be no more than the transfer of financial capital into cultural capital and back and forth again for the benefit of a class of people who were largely destroying the world. So, I stopped working. I not only stopped, I destroyed nearly ten years of work. I felt that whatever I had produced, that had come out of this "system", this "order of the day", could not be trusted, that I was equally a product of this failed order, and that the slate had to be wiped clean if I was going to find a path of artistic integrity. This moment in history was the end of capitalism for me, and in a world where artworks represented the highest achievement in the capitalist treasure trove, I knew I simply had to stop and rethink everything.
Many different factors brought me back to my work, many great books, many travels, many artworks, many restless nights lying in bed thinking, many discussions, but one singular conviction, arrived at through all the paths mentioned above, paved the way forward above all others: the firm belief that despite the fact that human governance itself is always inherently flawed, this should not and, indeed, cannot ultimately reflect upon or effect the integrity and importance of the natural, human inclination to mark-make, to self-reflect, to represent itself. I came to understand the job of the artist as, therefore, belonging to tomorrow, not today, not as a currency of the present time, but as a way of gifting the present forward to inform the potential of tomorrow. I came to understand my role as one of bringing dignity to this process of making these reflections and handing them forward. That is to say, I have come to understand that despite the mechanics of the times and all its many failings that ultimately art belongs to humanity. The so-called "owners" and purveyors of art today all eventually, like all of us, die. The only thing that remain are the institutions, in particular the museums, and, of course, the work itself. I began to understand the possibility of making art as an engagement between artist and future generations, not between artist and the art market of the present, and this relationship between the ages is the one that I have come to see as sacred and important. I did not have this understanding in 2008.
I am sure that taking a big chunk of time out of my career as an artist couldn't do good things for it materially, but the cost of meandering without a leap into self-understanding of the kind I challenged myself with was, in the end, far higher and it has given me my voice. I have no regrets. It's also helped me see just how much ageism exists in the world and in particular in the art world. The funny thing is, I'm in less of a hurry than I ever was. I was much more panicked about my career as an artist before I stopped making work and destroyed it all. I was living in the scarcity model, deeply entrenched in the idea that my success was contingent upon someone else's failure, that there are limited spots; it was all fear based. Now that I'm a bit older, I see through that. I see how younger artists are cruelly taken advantage of and churned through a cultural and financial system that spits them out in just a few years. I'm here for the long haul now, completely dedicated to my work. I have had studio visits where I was asked if this meant that my practice was a hobby. Imagine saying that to someone in their 30's. They'd be horrified and terrified and probably pretty angry. I laughed. A hobby because I'm not owned by the idea of sales? Hardly. I'm focused on what matters: the work.