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University of Texas at San Antonio Art Collection - Ricky Armendariz - Painter


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Ricky Armendariz - Painter I was born and raised in the border town of El Paso, TX. The experiences I had there flavored my aesthetic and artistic tastes. I attended the University of Texas at El Paso and later the University of Texas at San Antonio, where I earned my bachelors of Fine Arts. I earned my MFA in 1999 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was awarded the Dean’s Small Grant Award at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997 and 1999, as well as the University Fellowship Award from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997 and again in 1998. My work is featured in a number of permanent collections, including the Denver Art Museum Contemporary Gallery, the Carol Keller Galleries in Denver, Colorado, as well as the private collection of Mark Addison in Boulder, Colorado and Jerry Gore Enterprises of San Antonio, Texas. I have shown in a variety of venues both nationally and internationally including “Common Wounds”, which traveled to Bethlehem and Tel Aviv; “SINAPSIS” at the Galeria Corriente Alterna in Lima, Peru, sponsored by the United States Embassy in Lima. Nationally, I have shown at ArtPace and the Blue Star Art Complex in San Antonio, TX.

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An Interview with Ricky Armendariz by Arturo Almeida A.A. - Why are you an artist? R.A. - I think that for a long time, I really skirted the issue of being an artist. I always enjoyed making things but in my family, it was not necessarily a favorable occupation. There are many educated people in my family and they always geared me towards things that I could somehow make a living at. It took me almost ten years to get my undergrad degree because I kept changing my major. I was in ROTC for a while. Then I wanted to fly a plane. Then I was in art history and art therapy. I was taking art classes all along but got serious about that a little later. Then I decided that making things is where it is at for me. It was a real gradual progression. A.A. - Your family was not supportive of the idea of you being an artist?[6/24/11 1:35:53 PM]

University of Texas at San Antonio Art Collection - Ricky Armendariz - Painter R.A. - It wasn’t that they necessarily said, “no, don’t do that”, they just wanted me to be productive. I have a lot of professionals in my family and so they always wanted me to go on and do something else, at the very least teach. Go on to be some other kind of professional, that is the way they always geared the conversation. And it wasn’t until I landed this full time professorship that they even considered me a teacher. In a strange way, I was always proving things to them. Going through the laundry list every time I go home and explaining it to them and giving them my tally sheet of what I have been doing and getting “and how this is bettering your family” or “how is this preparing you for the future, financially”? A.A. - Did your parents ever discourage you from becoming an artist? R.A. - They never said, ‘go be an artist’ but they never said, ‘don’t do that’ either. They just wanted me to be productive and to be able to provide for my family. I think probably the closest person in my family who gets what I do is my youngest brother, Danny. He’s a poet and he helps me with these lyrics in my work. He just gets things on a conceptual level. I was constantly surrounded with work. There might be work by Luis Jimenez but then right next to that you would have like a Rudy Montoya print, very generic images of Indians. They are wonderfully rendered but there is nothing to them in terms of the content. I would have that juxtaposition. Then you would have retablos and paintings of saints in our household. My grandfather’s name is Juan Nepomuceno so we have this giant painting of Juan Nepomuceno as a saint. Clay sculptures and stuff from Mexico, things that have a more indigenous flair to them were around my household. So it was just like a big menudo, all stuck together in the same pot. There wasn’t like the fine art room and then the velvet painting room it was just all thrown together. A.A. - How have your choices affected your marriage? R.A. - It was a very difficult road and I couldn’t give my wife any role models or say, ‘hey this works out in the end’. None of my professors were on their fiirst marriage. None of my professors were in committed relationships. I couldn’t say to her, ‘Look at this professor or that professor’ because there were none. There were no examples. I was up front with her from the very beginning about who I am and what I needed to do. I was up front with her about how I specifically needed to do some things for my career that were going to require sacrifices across the board. Graduate school was a huge sacrifice for her. We had young kids. I had kids as an undergrad. I was there on weekends but for a good portion of their development, they were with my wife, Shannon. She didn’t work. We were fortunate enough to be able to do that. I worked full time, went to graduate school and I made art at night. I supported a family financially, waiting tables but I wasn’t part of their early life. I had to devote so much time to the work. I had to devote so much time to the education. I had to devote so much time to making a living outside of school. She has been tremendous throughout the entire process. Not too many people would have put up with the kind of things she has had to. It is incredible the kind of sacrifice that she and the kids have had to endure. I remember it was that way with my father. He worked a day job on the border then he weighed cows at night. That was how he made extra money. He was always working at night. I never saw my dad. I wouldn’t really say I had a difficult relationship with my father just very distant. I didn’t really know him. I respected him but I didn’t really know him. I guess I feel that my kids are going to grow up with that kind of attitude about me. Actually, I am more a part of their lives now that my wife is working. I occasionally get to pick them up from school now. A.A. - I’ve seen them with you at some shows. R.A. - They have always been a part of this. They always come to shows even when they were very little. This is my life. This is it. This is my work. It’s as if I don’t know extracurricular time. This is it. This is all I got and if you want to spend time with me you got to get into my studio. I have pictures of my kids working on my paintings. Maggie is great. She likes to block in areas. I will mix up the paint and I will tape stuff off and she will go to town. My son is less apt toward those types of things but my daughter is very engaged. A.A. - How many children do you have? R.A. - Two and one on the way; my wife is seven months pregnant. Sonny is the oldest. He has my name but his nickname is Sonny. Maggie is my daughter. They are 12 and 10 and we are coming up on our 13th anniversary. Graduate students come up to me all the time and tell me about how they have to spend more time with their girlfriend or boyfriend. They tell me that is the reason why they are not making a lot of work. I can fully understand; that is definitely a concern. But you have to get done what you have to get done. That is the bottom line. There is no middle ground in my opinion, there really isn’t. You either do it or you don’t do it. There are no excuses. When you get out and you have this curator or that curator wanting this, that or the other, it really heaps on the pressure. You have to learn to deal with that early or else you are never going to be part of anything substantial. You have got to say yes and then rise to the task. That is what you have to do every single time. A.A. - Tell me about growing up in El Paso. R.A. - I was raised there and lived there for about 20 years. My entire family is from there and from Juarez. It is a small town existence but the town itself is fairly large. Suburban sprawl has taken over El Paso. When I was very young, the east side was very under developed. It was kind of a no-man’s-land. We use to run out there. We would go out there routinely and shoot rabbits and things like that. Now, it is suburbia as far as the eye can see; there is no end in sight. Las Cruces has met El Paso. It is growing at an extremely accelerated rate. Being in a border town, you realize that things are hybrids of everything else. Things that you would find, mainstream things, in Colorado or Utah or California or some place like that, are not the kinds of things that you would find in El Paso. Everything in El Paso is slightly hybridized by its very nature and it is strange growing up in that kind of environment because you don’t really realize that things are hybrids until you leave that environment. Then all of a sudden, your language is raw. Then all of a sudden, your symbols are out of place or out of context or not able to be understood by other individuals. That feeds the language, the songs, and things like that, that I reference in my work. This mix of English and Spanish, pop songs and ranch songs, rancheras, corridos, all of them kind of meld together and produce these other facets. These other things that I think are wholly original to border towns and specifically El Paso. If you go to[6/24/11 1:35:53 PM]

University of Texas at San Antonio Art Collection - Ricky Armendariz - Painter Brownsville or Baja California or other places on the border, you get a very different hybridization. It is still hybridization but it is a very different, localized hybridization. So I really enjoyed growing up in El Paso. I went to Catholic schools all my life. I was raised and taught by the Christian brothers; it was kind of a family tradition that everybody went to these schools. We were shipped across town to these private schools. Not only for the tradition but because they were college preparatory schools. A lot of this was demanded and expected of me really. A.A. - There is something very special about the sunsets in the southwest, tell me about the sunsets in you paintings. R.A. - It is very garish. It is hard to put a finger on it. I take lots of pictures of sunsets and sunrises. I look at them and I say to myself, ‘I can’t paint that, no one is going to believe that’ but I take them anyway because there are parts of them that will work and there are parts of them that won’t work. Sometimes, I have to tone things down just because it looks too theatrical. I guess that is the best way to put it. I mean, there is something very interesting about pollution and what that does to sunsets. There is a fair amount of pollution in El Paso. It just kind of sits there between the mountains and if you get high enough you can see down on that. When the light moves through it, it reads a certain way. It produces colors that I am sure can’t be natural. If you had told me eight years ago that I would be painting sunsets, I would have laughed at you. It is not the stuff of serious painters. At least, not where I come from, not the painters that guided me. For me to be so interested in them is almost comical because they’re the stuff of calendars. They are the stuff of Hollywood. They are the stuff of postcards and billboards. That is what they are. They are advertisements. They are ‘wish you were here’ or ‘come to Mexico’ or whatever. It doesn’t seem like reality and yet it is there in my paintings and I am really trying to elevate that. To take that imagery and that genre and use that as a vehicle to guide me toward things that are loftier in terms of meaning. A.A. - What artists have influenced you and how? R.A. - Turner [Joseph William Turner] and those types of painters that were literally looking for evidence of the divine were pretty influential on me growing up, painters who were literally trying to coax out evidence of the divine in the visual image. When I went to go look at paintings in the El Paso Museum of Art, there was not a contemporary wing at the time, there were always these very old, European, basically dead landscape painters. Portraits, landscapes and still life were the only things that they did and so that was what I looked at. That was what inspired me early on. It wasn’t until much later that I started becoming aware of the Mexican muralist and the printmaker Posada [Jose Guadalupe Posada]. Posada was the Walter Winchell of his time. He was poking fun at the rich and the poor. Nobody escaped his gaze and I really admired that kind of poignancy in his artwork. I also really admired the graphic quality of his line. The blocks that were made to produce his manuscripts. That graphic quality was always in the back of my head. Wanting to use that or the carved look was always rattling around in my head. I knew that somewhere down the line, I was going to do that. I did a fair amount of printing and I never liked the end product, the paper. I always liked the blocks. In fact, I showed the blocks with the prints occasionally and that led me to really think about wood as a possible medium. I was really thinking about establishing a specific kind of look. I was real conscious of my dad’s woodshop and the ‘Hacienda de Armendariz’ sign that he had on our mail box, that carved aesthetic and how it is reinforced in places like frontier land at Disney and in Bonanza, the television series. This mystic of the old west is literally framed in a carved wood sign. That idea is pervasive. I was interested in that carved look because that is how we Americans see the southwest. If you go to Idaho or California or Minnesota, you will find that they have an impression of the Southwest that’s usually wrapped around maybe their experiences with Disneyland or their experiences with television. That becomes our lexicon. That becomes how we understand the Southwest. That is what I was trying to tap into. I was trying to find something that physically looked like the Southwest, something that looked like where I came from, a border town. A.A. - Besides painting, what other interests do you have? R.A. - Music, comedy, all of these things that feed my work to no end. I am always checking out comedians like John Leguizamo, Cheech Marin and George Lopez. These individuals literally articulate some of the experiences that I have had growing up in El Paso and that I have had in Colorado and that I have had here in San Antonio. They give credence to my experience. I have always tried to deal with a certain level of humor. There is something about speaking to or about subjects through humor. You are able to deal with some very hard subjects and you are able to do it in a very powerful or appetizing way. Comedians are huge for me. Musicians like Flaco Jimenez, his style, the fact that he is so prolific and influences so many artists, have always been a real big influence on me. It is very interesting, investigating the origins of music and musicians like Flaco Jimenez and Hank Williams, Freddy Fender. Freddy Fender was a hero for me because here is a man who can sing in Spanish and English and it can be a top forty song and you can hear it on the radio. Crossover artists that really mean something, people like George Lopez, who can have humor in both languages are incredible. You can’t really quantify it; it is very difficult to quantify it. It is so very unusual and we have so very few role models out there that those few role models that are out there, I cling to them like ivy. I cling to them and I cling to the words. I cling to everything that they do because it validates where I want to go. It gives me hope. A.A. - What inspires you to paint, how do you stay motivated? R.A. - I think what inspires me most is a feeling that this current body of work is not done yet. I feel that this sunset series is almost done but it keeps yielding new and important insights into interesting things like music and humor and so that really inspires me to make work. A.A. - How do you handle the business side of being an artist? R.A. - I am fairly new to the business side. I have sold paintings and it is always a very interesting thing how one equates value or how someone applies a certain price tag to your painting. It’s something that I am struggling with a little bit. A.A. - Are you represented or do you have an agent?[6/24/11 1:35:53 PM]

University of Texas at San Antonio Art Collection - Ricky Armendariz - Painter R.A. - No. At the moment, I don’t. I have never had to deal with these kinds of business limitations. No one is telling me that I can’t do this show or that show or that I can’t sell that work or I can sell this work. I have never had those kinds of restrictions. I have had some opportunities in the past, invitations that would have restricted my movement. I put those down and shied away from those kinds of opportunities. It is not to say that I would not do them, they just weren’t right for me at that moment in time. At the moment, I am fairly open. A.A. - Where do you see yourself in ten years? R.A. - I see myself with tenure; very well established here in San Antonio. I feel that my work is going to be in other places, maybe in New York, maybe in L.A. That is where I hope to be in about ten years. It is where I wanted to be six years ago but there were things that had to be negotiated. I had these aspirations when I was twenty-two, twenty-three. I said, ‘by the time I am thirty, I am going to have made it’. I was looking at artists like Carol Walker. She is an African-American artist and not only does she consistently have work in New York, she is known nationally and internationally, I even saw her work in the contemporary wing of the El Paso Museum. It was as if this person was haunting me. She is my age, maybe a year older and she found her niche and is doing tremendous work. In essence, I want to be her, to have my work in so many different venues and cities, part of permanent collections. That is my hope. A.A. - Do you feel like you are still learning? R.A. - Absolutely. Everyday. It is amazing. With the type of job that I have, I always have art on the mind. When I talk to my students, I am really talking to them about me. There is nothing that I talk about in my classes that I don’t deal with on an everyday basis in my own work. The problems that I have with my students’ work are the problems that I have with my own work. These are my issues. These are the burdens I carry and if I see these inadequacies in my students’ work, I am quick to point them out because they are on my brain. Craftsmanship, formal issues, color, these things weigh on me, the small details. I, in turn, lean on my students and I am anxious to have a student for four years, where I can see their development. I have been here a year. I come in and I can’t really change much. I can influence them a little bit and I can guide them a little bit but for the most part they are molded, they are congealed in a certain way. I want to instill in them the same kinds of things that other professors and artists throughout the years have instilled in me. That nagging attention to details, once you plant that seed, it never goes away and it haunts them. It will haunt them the way it haunts me and you’re never satiated. You are never satisfied. In a way, it is kind of a pain in the ass to have that because it would be great to be able to say, ‘ahh, that’s good enough’. You can fool anybody but you can’t fool yourself and you have to be self-critical to the point where it is only you. You can construct an amazing argument around your work and make it bullet proof but you will know that your work is not doing what it needs to do to convey a certain idea. That is heavy and these are the kinds of things I try to instill in my students. It was those kinds of molding moments that just changed the way I approach making work forever. A.A. - What advice would you give an artist who is just starting out? R.A. - The advice I would give is to pay attention to the details. Everything boils down to aesthetic choices. Everything turns on aesthetic weight. Everything has an aesthetic weight. I firmly believe that when you look at a good work of art, the work of art radiates with that aesthetic weight. Work that is just thrown together and not considered seriously has a transparency. It may not be initially apparent, but over time, it will come out that the work is a little thin. If a work has that aesthetic weight, it just resounds cleaner and more pure. A.A. - What do you hope people who see this show take away with them? R.A. - I hope that they see something new, something that they haven’t seen before, something that redefines for them what a Latino artist is. I am constantly going up against that. You have the old guard, somebody that was making work with icons that were popular in 1964, with the advent of the Chicano movement and up and through the 70s and into the 80s. Then, you have a different guard after that, who weren’t as wedded to the same iconography as those original artists. They started to branch out a bit. Some became abstractionist and things like that. The idea of being a Chicano abstractionist, it just sounds odd, even to me, and it is that kind of attitude that I am fighting against. I think that a Chicano artist and a Chicano that makes art are two very different things. I think that I am just trying to expand the notion of what Chicano artists are and what we make, complicate the conversation. We are a complicated bunch. We have a lot of different interests and come from a lot of different backgrounds. I was surprised to find Chicanos in Colorado, in Minnesota. We are just a crazy bunch and the Chicanos in Minnesota are different form the ones in Colorado. We are just a very diverse bunch. I used to have this pseudonym, El Pico. I used it because I wanted to be known like a sticker. That is what my grandmother called the little burrs in our socks. And I used to make work that was like that sticker. Something that gets stuck with you and it kind of gnaws at you. Maybe it’s a little uncomfortable at times; it just sticks with you and that is kind of what I want this work to do. That is what I want. I want them to come to the show and see something new, something fresh, something clean, something that sticks with them. Artist Statement My work utilizes imagery that references the nostalgia of the American Southwest, cultural maxims, and iconography influenced by and specific to my cultural heritage. Growing up in El Paso, Texas with Juarez, Mexico in my backyard, I was saturated with a mix of romanticism for the new and old West, American culture, and the iconography of my ancestral past. I am influenced by the mystique of the border region, including mesas, honkey-tonks, and big skies reaching as far as the eye can see. In this series of work, I combine compelling images of sunsets with maxims of equal significance. Influenced by commercial reproductions of sunsets in greeting cards and calendars, these works are reflections of mainstream American consumerism, as well as serving as a barometer for what is analogous with a contemporary American aesthetic. Because of this embrace by the mainstream American[6/24/11 1:35:53 PM]

University of Texas at San Antonio Art Collection - Ricky Armendariz - Painter consumers, landscape as a subject matter is often seen as inferior in “high art” arenas. But whether or not these images or truisms fit neatly with the viewers aesthetic tastes, they continue to exist in the present and enjoy a long-standing tradition as subject matter in art. Further inspiration for this body of work comes from my emotional response to paintings by Joseph William Turner, the profound song lyrics of 80’s pop and country music, and the awe inspiring sunsets of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Materials have always been important in my work. The materials I use give my work a place of origin and cultural associations. My favorite medium is plywood. Initially, I was drawn to the material for the many contradictions that plywood embodies. It is natural and unnatural, man-made and organic in substance. The carving of the plywood was influenced by memories of my father’s wood shop where he made cursive script signs reading “Hacienda de Armendariz.” But above all else, it is hard not to notice the pervasiveness of the carved-wood look as it is culturally associated with the Southwest immortalized by Hollywood. These materials and images compliment the Southwestern mystique and reafirm Americans attraction to Western art which is firmly rooted in the border culture of the Southwest. The aesthetic combination of Western imagery coupled with contemporary and art historical influences are a foundation for my work. My goal with this body of work is to elevate the perception of landscape-genre painting, and contribute to its long history in art through aligning my work with an established and mainstream American aesthetic.

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