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Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico / Works in Dallas, TX
Juan is part of Curina's current virtual exhibition Taste of You.
"I come from a mid-lower class family. Everything had to be shared...Spaces and corners inside the house acquired special importance and became meaningful. We learned to cherish every object and me as a creative child understood the value of each one of these objects, its shape and its placing in the house.
In Puerto Rico's / Caribbean's weather cross ventilation is super important, especially in small homes. The Miami window place an important role in our everyday life. It wasn't only for ventilation, it helped with hanging the clothes to dry and it was also a communication system between neighbors. We would open the windows and communicate with each other, we would trade toys or share yesterdays leftovers. In my work, even when abstract, there are glimpses of corners, table tops, vases, glassware, Miami windows amongst other household elements.As part of my practice I explore my identity as a brother, as a son, as a Puerto Rican and so on by remembering and paying homage to the place I grew up in. With all this I have also started analyzing and researching events that formed and shaped Puerto Ricans, Caribbeans and Latin Americans oneness."
Hannah: The idea for the current exhibition Taste of You came from a larger vein of thinking of intimacy outside of romantic relationships. For example, food rituals with families and friends being a sensual experience yet aromantic.
You talk about how gardens were centerpoints for family bonding in your Puerto Rican home. In what ways does your art function like a garden? In what ways is it different?
Juan: My works are pictoric representation of any given garden. It is not a specific one but more of an intent of visually understanding the feeling I get or how I used to feel in the back patio of the house I grew up in. My gardens are homages to moments through my life. Memories of my father cutting the lawn, my mom doing the laundry and serenating me, about me and my sibling playing. It is a homage to my family, to how safe I felt, to the long conversations with the neighbors and to the healing force of nature.
H: Do you ever imagine what your works taste like?
J: They taste like coffee, like coconut and like the sweet drop of juice that comes out of the jungle geranium stem. Taste like mist and mango, like guanabana and sea water…
H: What is one memorable food-sharing ritual (holiday-related or not)?
J: I remember knocking down yellow coconuts from a short coconut tree we had in our backyard. My dad would open a hole on the top with a sharp machete and my mom would pour that sweet water on containers and put them on the fridge until cold. Then she would get some plastic cups and gave us all a cup of cold coconut water. Like a priest blessing his congregation.
H: Send me your favorite recipe!
Pork Pot Roast
On your process…
H: A lot of materials you use are reminiscent of domestic spaces. Are you affected by your own work environment? What is it like?
J: I have always been a very economical artist. I grew up with what was necessary. A roof and food on the table. So even when my parents did work super hard to get me my art supplies, I was always super aware of the sacrifice they were making. So, I guess I learned to improvise and repurpose. Which was a common thing for us. We all inherited the cloths from our older siblings and the butter container always became the "spfrito" container.
When I went to Dijon to complete the SMU/ENSA residency I researched for an inexpensive way to travel with my supplies from Dallas to France and ended up buying nylon shower curtains with floral patterns to work on top with spray paint. So, I guess that since Maria happened a few days before I left to Dijon, I was trying to somehow put myself in the position of everyone in the island which I knew thew where going to have to start getting creative with repurposing everything. So this is part of my process…finding other means to say what I want to say.
H: Are there parallels between plant growth and the way you build your paintings?
J: Not necessarily…I have some kind of plant-based pattern catalog and I just play around with it depending on the composition I want to create and the materials involved.
H: I see the “sprouting” or “spraying” shape across a lot of your series. Where and when did this come from?
J: I guess that it comes from me realizing how life works. It is a symbolic representation of growing and moving on, of finding your own way and direction and still be connected to the same roots.
H: How did your studying of printmaking influence your current practice?
From print making a kept, a serious sense of discipline, planning strategies, overlapping and composition.
H: What are some new things you want to try in 2021?
I want to spend more time outdoors and cook. Regarding my practice I want to be able to balance my intensely colorful work with some more sober imagery.
All images from artist Juan Alberto Negroni and his website.