snags and unraveling edges of STEVEN VASQUEZ LOPEZ's colorful,
hand-drawn textiles embody the accidental beauty of mistakes, acting as a
graphic metaphor for an optimistic way of viewing life's chaotic
moments. Influenced by the perseverance of his seamstress mother
and mechanic/welder father, he reveals the connections between drawing,
textile production and manual labor in his patterned grids,
which echo Minimalist painting, the weave structures of plaids and the
color palette of Mexican serape blankets. Steven received his BA from UC Santa Barbara and his MFA from the San
Francisco Art Institute. He is a past recipient of the William Dole
Memorial Scholarship (1999, 2000), Abrams Prize (2000), Murphy and
Cadogan Fellowship (2006), and the 2012 ArtSlant prize. He has exhibited widely throughout California and is represented by CES Contemporary (Los Angeles), where he had his first solo show Accidental Moments in 2014. His work is currently featured in the San Francisco-based The New Asterisk, now available in print and online. Steven lives in San Francisco.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your paintings and drawings are dense with color and pattern. Where did your love of pattern come from? What influences your color palate?
Steven Vasquez Lopez: I grew up around a lot of sewing and fabric. My mother became a seamstress at a very early age in order to earn her own money. I spent a lot of time next to her while she worked, so I have an intimate relationship with fabric swatches and pattern. Also, I went to Catholic school, where we wore plaid uniforms. Then, during high school I took some architectural drafting classes that nurtured my interested in linear and geometric drawing. Over the last five years, these influences have merged into my current work with pattern and color. Now, I continue to be influenced by plaid and color from uniforms, men’s clothing, and Mexican serapes that I see around me.
OPP: The ink drawings from Patches and Some Strings Attached, equally recall Agnes Martin's abstract grids and woven textiles. Of course, the entire history of painting has been covering over the natural grid of the woven canvas itself. Do you have any weaving experience or interest in learning to weave?
SVL: I’m glad you mentioned that. I received my MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, where there is a real importance on understanding the linage and history of the work you are making and ideas you explore. I’m well aware of and influenced by prolific artists like Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Sol Lewitt, as well as contemporaries such as Jim Isserman, Amy Ellingson and Nike Schröder, for their use of color, form and ideas as they relate to art history, culture and technology.
My domestic sewing machine and overlock/serger machine
never has time to collect dust because I use both so frequently for
alterations and making my own clothing. I’m obsessed with well-tailored
clothing. A few years ago, my mom taught me how to crotchet. I have to
be careful because I love compulsive, laborious projects, and drawing
already consumes a lot of my time.
I would love to get some instruction on weaving or creating textiles on a loom. Do you know anyone in the Bay Area you can introduce me to? Haha! My work has been used with a few research projects in fashion and textiles. It would be fun to collaborate with a designer on avant-garde and conceptual textile designs. I get a lot of recommendations to put my work into fashion. For me, it would need to be the right project. Although the drawings are influenced by fashion, I don’t envision just silk-screening them onto t-shirts. It would be important for me to get my hands and understanding on the technical side of a fashion project, then develop the conceptual parameters. There is a lot of potential there. I’m sure when the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be on board.
OPP: Tell us about the process and experience of drawing so many straight lines. Free hand or ruler?
SVL: I can’t give up all my secrets! However, I will tell you that I don’t use any pencil or preliminary under-drawing. It’s all hand-drawn with ink, and it’s a one-shot deal. I like that intense precision. I’m obsessed with the notion of a human imitating a machine to produce work. It makes the drawings more personal and valuable on both a conceptual and tangible level. Also, I have to learn a formula for each pattern and repeat the math in my head as I’m drawing. I don’t write down or record any formulas. Instead, I sing the numbering in my head. All these years of drawing, I have developed an ability to measure out the spacing really accurately. The entire process feeds my obsessive-compulsive need to make laborious, challenging and meticulous hand-made work. I thrive off it. It’s fulfilling and rewarding!
OPP: On the one hand, the drawings from Patches
(2013) are pure color and pattern. They evoke plaid fabric scraps and
bring to mind patchwork quilts and mended clothing. But these patches
seem to have personality. The more I look at them, they become blobby
beings hugging one another instead of flat scraps of fabric. Could you
talk about your intentions in this body of work?
SVL: After making about 30 of the abstract pattern drawing from Some Strings Attached, which is a ongoing series, I wanted to work on drawings that could be a little more organic, personal, quirky and silly. By using blobby shapes, the swatches transform into these interesting characters with personalities. I come from a very big, supportive, funny, loving Mexican family, and I wanted to use these amoebas to tell stories about the relationships with my family and friends in a vaguely narrative way. The patches are beautiful and resourceful support systems for one another, disregarding judgment based on economic elitism. I’m glad to hear that you see a few of them hugging each other. That is exactly what is going on.
OPP: Talk about the metaphors of the snag and the unraveling edge.
SVL: Initially, I didn’t intend on any unraveling in the drawings. I needed a project that I could do while traveling so the series started without “imperfections.” I made about fifteen perfect uninterrupted pattern drawings. Then I hit some turbulence on a plane and messed up a drawing that I had been working on for about five hours. I put it aside and had to deal with the disappointment. When I pulled the drawing out a few days later, I realized that moment of disruption was the precise moment of awareness in the work. It turned out that a happy accident was my awaking into Some Strings Attached.
One metaphor is that we spend so much of our daily lives on autopilot, trying to keep life stable, predictable and consistent. This way of living is so consuming that we forget to look around and be in the moment. We need to get off our phones and devices and pay attention to the real nuances and quirks that make life special and memorable.
On a personal level, I spent a lot of my younger years making sense of diversity. A large part of the population conforms to preconceived ideas of success and lifestyle. We need to teach both our youth and “old dogs” to embrace difference. There’s nothing more boring and depressing than a homogenous culture. Self-deprecation based on the ideals and expectations of others is a disease learned at an early, impressionable age. Let’s embrace and celebrate our uniqueness, rather than oppress and demonize anything or anyone outside of our comfort zone. I’m optimistic that it’s getting better with more awareness and visibility, but there’s still more terrain to cover. A snag in my drawings can either be viewed as a mistake or a beautiful, unique moment. It’s all perspective. How do you look at life?
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.