INTERVIEWED BY SOPHIA LIU
While his work has a clear figurative language, the large-scale paintings of Juan Miguel Palacios contain a strong conceptual load, where his work developed in series, and has a constant wandering of the individual's identity and its relationship with the environment. Concepts such as mourning, duel, luxury, restlessness, and inequality are constants vital in his work. Juan Miguel Palacios continually explores the complex range of human emotions with a free, powerful, and always modern technique. He is driven by the search for new forms of expression and fuses sociopolitical themes with personal experiences and historical antecedents of art, creating a unique and modern environment on the most outstanding and controversial issues of contemporary society. Canvas, vinyl, methacrylate, aluminum, and drywall are surfaces where Juan Miguel Palacios presents his shocking and extensive work.
Born in Madrid in 1973, Juan Miguel Palacios begins to paint at the early age of 6 years. After a long journey with many art professors and Fine Art schools, at age 12, he joined the studio of the renowned Spanish painter Amadeo Roca Gisbert (disciple of Joaquin Sorolla) for six years. Along those years, he was educated and formed in a strict academic training until he joined the Faculty of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1991. When he had completed his college degree, in 1997, he founded the Laocoonte Art School of Madrid. During this period, he combined mentoring and teaching with the development of his artist career. Currently, he resides in NY since 2013, showing his work around the world.
The image of the pig is a common theme throughout your work. Where did this interest stem from?
In general, the theme of animals has been quite recurrent in my work, always as metaphors of what I want to express. For example, for many years I worked with the image of a hyena as a symbol of oppression within an increasingly unequal society. This has been a central theme of my work for the last few years.
On this occasion, for the development of the new series "Un final feliz," the pig seemed to me the perfect figure for the new narrative that I wanted to present. The pig is an animal that has been present in all cultures. It is loaded with strong symbolism, loved and revered by some and hated by others. An animal that pleases and amuses us but at the same time we dislike and disgust it. In Spain, where I am originally from, it is present in all our gastronomy, which we consider delicious but, at the same time, it is always present in our insults. That duality and contradiction itself is what really interested me in addition to its great visual load.
Texture plays a role in many of your pieces, adding dimension and depth. How is texture important to your practice and how do you go about choosing a certain medium for a piece?
Texture plays a very important role in my work. For me, it is another fundamental element in the practice of painting, just like color. I cannot conceive a piece of art without color even if texture is absent. Whether the texture of a piece is flat or smooth is intentional.
As you were saying, in many of my paintings I not only use texture to create dimension and depth, but also to create narratives that I cannot achieve by just drawing or painting in a conventional way. For example, texture can generate optical illusions that confuse the viewer and force a more careful look.
In this way, the materials and mediums that I choose for my works play a very important role. For example, for my "Wounds" series, the use of drywall to create broken wall effects was vital. Fundamentally, this series talks about inequality. In my opinion, women have suffered the greatest injustice and inequality in the history of humanity. In such a manner, I was creating female faces that had been or were being assaulted. I was painting on a first layer of transparent vinyl and then superimposed on a second layer of broken drywall. The broken parts of the wall represented the scratches and wounds produced by the aggression. In a metaphorical way, I wanted to create an analogy between the wall and the woman. Something so hard, strong and resistant, but subjected to constant aggression ends up breaking. The drywall became a key part of this series.
The combination of lightness and cleanliness of the transparent vinyl with the roughness and hardness and depth generated by the broken drywall, like the combination of something more illusory such as the paint strokes and the realism of the pieces of the broken wall create a confusing effect on the viewer at first glance. Something that was very attractive to me as they were such strong and evident images. In short, depending on what I want to tell and express, I use different materials.
I found the use of negative space in Assaults so compelling. Can you speak about the process behind and the interaction between those works?
Something that always interests me to do in my work is transferring a concept I want to communicate into a form of representation. For example, if I'm talking about the concept of aggression or abuse, I will try to carry this abuse or aggression by hammering and burning the wall, throwing turpentine on the canvas, scratching the paint, or removing it with paint remover.
For these works, I used transparent vinyls as the surface and synthetic enamels as the medium. Enamel, an oil-based paint, dries faster than oil paint. So by the time the painting was done, between 30 minutes and an hour later, the first sketch lines were already practically dry. By throwing the solvent to deform the paint, I was removing much of the paint except for those first preparatory lines that were almost dry, thus leaving large empty spaces. That concept of absence was really interesting for my discourse because every time that there is an aggression, there is an empty space. A fissure impossible to fill. Something that was, and will never be again.
You depict a variety of faces and personalities, especially in The Wanderers and Emociones. Where do you find your subject matter?
The topics that I work on are usually based on what I am living or thinking at every moment. The things that worry and concern me or the issues that I want to denounce. My daily walks and especially my train commute to the studio are usually moments of reflection and inspiration for all the thoughts I wanna communicate.
The New York subway is that magical place where everything is possible. You can practically find all kinds of social classes and cultures in a very small space. When I arrived in NY, I remember being utterly in love and enraptured by everything—every single image I saw, each aspect and scene. But above all, of every single person and the immense diversity of them.
The richness of this scenario itself was presented to me with splendid beauty. But as time passed, with a further and deeper look, behind that superficial beauty, I started to notice the loneliness behind it. Gazes of sadness and melancholy, faces with no expression. They represented a kind of theatrical stage full of wanderers in the kingdom of heaven. New York is a city that welcomes hundreds of thousands of people, attracted by its splendor and wealth, every year with the sole objective of having a better life or success. But as everyone knows, it is a very tough city. A city in which everyone arrives with great energy; but as time goes by, the city wipes out and frustrates illusions, generating wanderers trapped in a lonely city. This type of appreciation was, for example, the origin of the Wanderers series.
What an empathetic and tender origin story—I feel so similarly to your depiction of New York. Your artwork is humongous! What is it like in the studio working with such large-scaled work?
Working at a large scale is what I love the most and where I really find myself. The physical act of painting becomes movement and dance. My thoughts move at the same rhythm as my body and they both connect with my deepest emotions. It's where everything is fast and the paint falls off. Drips and spills get everything stained and the studio itself becomes an extension of the paintings themselves. Hazard is part of the creative process in the most remarkable way. In short, it is where the walls of my studio exude happiness.
The problem with large and heavy formats is that your body pays a toll and it wears and tears over time. I am still recovering from my third major spinal surgery.
What are you currently working on?
The last series that I worked on before undergoing my last back surgery was Un final feliz, a series of works that were more fresh and fun.
It was a social and political critique, especially of the American culture, sarcastically tinted with ironic overtones since everything revolves around the iconography of two pigs procreating at the foot of a collapsing town. The series is much more colorful than the previous series and has a greater tendency of abstraction, which is where I am heading at the moment.
Precisely at this very moment, I'm moving my studio to a bigger place after 10 years in the same location since I moved to NY, which symbolically represents a big change for me that I hope will also be reflected in my work. I have the feeling that great things are gonna happen there. Stay tuned.