Updated: Apr 15
John Paul Fauves is a visual artist who lives and works in San José, Costa Rica. In his paintings he engages questions of identity as they relate to art history as well as our everyday interactions with mainstream culture and social media. Greatly inspired by modernist masters as wellas pop-artists, Fauves mixes fragments of different iconic images in vividand colourful compositions. Of his experimental and high eclectic style, he says, “art is an expression from the soul, and the soul is somethinglimitless. This is why I am always searching for different elements to bringinto the work.”
Where is your studio right now?
My studio is in Costa Rica in the capital, San José. I have just finished building a new studio and I'm very excited about it. Right now there is only a painting area, but I plan to expand it to create facilities for making sculptures. I would like to have a space to work with clay and metal in the future. I am becoming interested in creating different kinds of statements with my art. I’m a visual artist and I do a lot of painting, but I really want to be creating works in mixed media to test my limits and search for different elements I can bring into the work. Art for me is an expression from the soul and I think that that is something limitless, which is why I am always searching for new resources from which to create with.
The title of your new series is ‘No Profile Picture’. What is your personal relationship to social media?
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I think social media, and in particular Instagram has been a game changer in the development of many artists. It has given an artist like me from Costa Rica, who didn't have many connections a platform and has helped my work to become more known. For this I am very grateful, but on the other hand I realise that it can be very problematic. In my work I often criticise social media. I feel that it can grow into you and all of a sudden you stop being who you really are, and start becoming a kind of social media number. You stop living your real life and start living this illusion of yourself. I believe this is a defining feature of our generation. With my new series ‘No Profile Picture’ there are two main ideas. Firstly, the no profile picture is a universal icon, we see it everyday on our social media feeds. As an artist I see that it is my role to represent the human condition as it is in our time. Throughout history, starting with the cave paintings, artists have been drawing inspiration from what they see around them and making art that is representative of their time. For me this no profile icon says a lot about contemporary life, which brings me to my second point. As a society we are beginning to base a lot of our ideas about a person on their profile pictures and how they come across online. You see a lot of people on social media who have the best profile picture, they have the perfect job and are always traveling the world. But how much of this is authentic? Are they really happy? These people are selling an image and not showing their true selves. The reality behind these selective images we share online might be very different from what we see on the surface. So this is a little bit about what I'm trying to explore. Being an artist is a process of discovery. You start with and idea and as it grows you start to become like a detective.
You have chosen the name ‘Fauves’. What does this mean to you?
The Fauves movement was a period in art history where artists like Henri Matisse and André Derain started to move away from representational painting and started to take a more emotional approach, using bright colours and more expressive techniques. In my art and in my
life I am also very guided by emotions. Since a very young age I have always known that I wanted to be an artist, however after I graduated from high school my parents decided that I had to study business first. I found that this became a weight on top of me, and although I still kept painting during this time, I felt that my emotions were trapped. This was around the time I started discovering drugs, for me they were a good sense of escape. The french word ‘Les Fauves’ translates to ‘The wild beasts’. For me this term ‘Fauves’ is a good reflection of my life and my artwork. For a long time I was living a hedonistic lifestyle like a wild beast, but now this has stopped and I have replaced it with my painting. It was a phase I had to go through and has been inspiring to my work. I hope to channel everything that happened to me during my ‘wild beast’ days into something more worthwhile, that maybe others can relate to. My colourful and expressive aesthetic style is also very influenced by this period of art history.
Your work often references art history, for example Picasso, Warhol and Basquiat. Why is it important for you to recreate their images in your work and why did you choose these artists specifically?
The reason I recreate the works of these artists is primarily because I love them. I am very passionate about art and the beautiful masterpieces that these artists have left behind. They are big influences for me and I believe I create reinterpretations of them in my own style just as some artists might do of a beautiful landscape or a flower. These artworks to me are part of the world I am exploring and I include them in my own work. In particular there are many things I like about the work of Andy Warhol. I love his colours, his style and the way he captured the iconic characters of his time. Through his work he immortalised these characters. For example his prints of Marilyn Monroe. As well as being beautiful art pieces, he transforms her image into something that is globally recognised. The art of Andy Warhol is an influence to me as I am also interested in criticising mass production and consumerism, but in a different way. I develop his ideas in a contemporary setting and instead of focussing on mass production of products, such as Campbell’s soup cans I am focussing on the mass production of the individual. I believe that people are becoming the brands, and because of social media everyone is become less unique and only following what they see on their social feeds. They are scared to show their true selves and use social media as a shield to protect themselves.
There seems to be a certain amount of irony and dark humour in your work. What do you think about the use of humour in art?
I love it, I think that humour can be an artwork by itself and is a very interesting form of expression. Humour can be a sign of awakening in a world full of drama, acting like a message, telling you that things might not be as they seem. I also think it can be used as a tool to help people think about the big topics, making them more palatable and easily accessible. I’m not sure if I would call myself a humorist, but I think humor can be powerful.
In your paintings you mix images from contemporary pop culture with different motifs from art history, fashion brands, music and the movies. Do you consider your work to be ‘Collage’ in the conceptual sense of the word?
Yes I definitely agree with that term. In my work I create lots of layers, conceptually and physically. I see layers in people and that is something that I want to represent with my work. This idea of ‘Collage’ is very prominent in my latest series of painting. In ‘No Profile Picture’ I use the image of the white silhouette, which represents the clean soul and the idea of innocence. I then paint over it with different images from pop culture and the media which have an affect on us, and change us over time. We are born blank and the layers of our personality are created from our life experience and what we are exposed to. I want to explore these layers and peel them away to discover what is underneath. The idea of collage also makes sense in my work as it is representative of the way we are constantly being bombarded with images from different sources in the media.
What is your relationship to street art?
I used to do it a lot before, but I haven't been doing it so much recently. It is something I want to come back to, but it's not such a big movement here in Costa Rica at the moment. What I am doing right now in relation to street art, is that I have been creating masks and placing them in different cities that I have been travelling to. I have one in Ringwood, there's another in LA and there was one in Shoreditch, but that one got stolen. That's one of the interesting things about street art, is that nobody owns it and once you walk away, it takes on a life of its own and becomes public domain. I currently have some plans for new street art works incorporating text pieces and the ‘No Profile’ silhouette.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
Currently I am getting ready for Art Basel Miami. Also, I am planning by big solo show in LA in 2019 together with JM Art Management. It will be something very special. My main objective with this work is exploring the idea of personality. When the guests will put on the masks they will become anonymous. I want this to act as a leveller for everybody in the room and also to create a place for introspection in the gallery, allowing the visitors to become more submerged in themselves. Perhaps putting on a physical mask will help visitors to deconstruct the invisible ‘masks’ they wear daily? And who knows, maybe a new character will appear? And maybe you will see those characters soon in the streets of LA! Stay tuned!
Artist: John Paul Fauves
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