Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Uranus/Pluto transit for 2015-20: An exciting time to be an artist.

As 2014 comes to an end and we welcome 2015, it is always good to look back at our own challenges, lessons and accomplishments for the year as well as look forward to what lies ahead with optimism and a mind full of creative possibilities. For me, this year represented change in many fronts. My wife and I moved from Savannah, Georgia to Houston, Texas so this has been the opening of a new exciting chapter in our lives. In my new studio I was able to complete the paintings that eventually went to La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles.. After having my first solo show in California I find new exciting horizons to explore and the prospects for the future look bright. Now that I'm about to become 40 I can feel the Uranus opposite Uranus energy in my natal chart slowly shedding its light onto my present creative spirit.  
Alchemista Rex. 2014. Oil and metal leaf on triptych panel 23 x 24 inches
Many of the greatest artists throughout history, from Michelangelo to Pollock have encountered their own creative breakthroughs around this age. In archetypal astrology this is known as the Uranus opposite Uranus effect. Others call it the mid-life crisis. It denotes the position of the planet Uranus in one's birth chart at the time it is exactly opposite to where it was at the time one was born, this is from the age of 38 to 42. The planet Uranus is the planet of revolution, technology, originality, inventiveness, creativity, the Promethean calling, radical new ideas, the power of the youth, breaking away from traditions and old rigid authority. This is the energy that moves artists to create their best masterpieces, scientists to discover new theories and revolutions and reforms that change whole countries. This kind of energy is also often compared to that of thunder as it is so sudden, unpredictable and it can either kill or start a fire. But it's also the liberating epiphany that enlightens and inspires the mind and soul of anyone who creates.

Detail of Surviving Doomsday. 2013. Oil and metal leaf on triptych panel 36 x 35 inches

At the present on a global scale we are going through a Pluto square Uranus transit. Pluto being the planet associated with the masses, terrorism, unseen forces, the wild, magical and occult aspects of nature. It is sex, death, regeneration and the possibility of alchemical transformation in all things. It's a dark, intense energy lying underground and within the darker side of humanity and also with money, greed and corporations. So it is not surprising at all to see how the world events have unfolded in the past years.  As we can see the notable increase of mass protests, police abuse, acts of global terrorism, historic changes in global policies and planetary changes at an environmental scale, the Plutonic and Uranian energies start to show their colors now not only through the news but in our own lives and in the art and media we feel attracted to. 

Detail of Mare Magnum. 2014. Oil and gold leaf on triptych panel 48 x 30 inches
 Of course as with any other  planetary transit, it is cyclic and it will pass. This specific transit is expected to fade out by 2020 but felt at its peak in the coming years 2015 and 2016. As an artist I have studied archetypal astrology and see how these planetary transits have affected my work. This knowledge has made me more consciously aware of the hidden energies that have influenced me as an artist not only in the past year but for my whole life. This is not to be taken as a Sunday newspaper horoscope reading. It is much more complex, deeper and meaningful on both a personal level as well as on a global scale.

Spraying Global Occupation. 2011. Oil and metal leaf on triptych panel 25 x 18 inches
As I look back 7 years ago when I developed my master thesis Iconsumer at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I can appreciate the growth I've had ever since. With what started as a series of paintings linking Spanish Colonial art and Catholic Iconography in retablo paintings with Consumerism, Pop culture and our present cultural neo-colonialism, in time it became more complex as I studied and added other subjects  to the pictorial discourse. From ancient mythology to modern archetypal astrology and from the Tarot to the study of archetypes, the work I have produced in the past years has been evolving with every reading, every experience and every self discovery I make.

Detail of The Gathering. 2014. Oil on canvas 60 x 36 inches
At the present I've been studying Latin, the ancient language of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. My journals are filled with notes from history, mythology, politics and religion to my own dreams and life experiences. I guess the work of an artist is to deal with all this information, put it together and try to make sense of it all while creating something "new and beautiful when creating a work of art. I shall delve deeper into many of these topics and share my insights with the world not only through my art but in future blog posts such as this one.  As the Uranian energy as well as the Plutonic continue to exert their influence in our lives and become more and more palpable in the world around us, it becomes important to recognize and channel these cosmic patterns and invisible archetypal energies that actively influence our art, culture and society. In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone and may 2015 shine the best of blessings into your lives.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Re-connecting to the Past (Part 2)

    As much as we may love reading about the ancient world, I firmly believe we are living in the best age so far for artists.  According to Stephen Pinker on his book “BetterAngels of Our Nature”, contrary to what the sensationalist mass media may want us to think, there is solid evidence demonstrating that we are at an historic low point in worldwide violence. On top of that, there has never been a better moment in history where we have been blessed with so much material and immaterial sources, from the green revolution of food production to the explosive overload of information accessible to anyone though the World Wide Web. 

               Detail of painting "Planet of the Apps" Oil on canvas 36" x 36" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Today there is still hunger, poverty, war and much social injustice but there is also a globalized consciousness and sense of humanity awakening that gives us hope for the future. To give an example, in ancient times, animal cruelty and public executions were the norm and an everyday event. Today animal cruelty can be captured in video and posted on you tube for everyone to see and even if it still goes on, it receives massive condemnation and people can unite and take action. Social injustice finds its way into social media and people empathize with the victims and raise their concerns which may become movements that can bring positive change. As the environment gets more and more attention people are starting to become aware of the consequences of their actions or inactions. 

"Tempus Fugit" 36" x 31" Oil and metal leaf on panel by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Of course there is still much to be done but gradually our collective consciousness is being awakened. This is a time of great opportunity and definitely the best time to be an artist, a Promethean agent of change. And we have all the necessary tools to make great art that reflects not only on the present but re-connects us to our past. This should be a powerful reason to make art. There is simply no excuse for conformists today. Everything happening today pushes us to have a conversation with our yesterday and to make art that responds not to a specific time or culture but to the human species and its place in the cosmos.

Detail of "MareMagnum" 48.5" x 30" Oil and gold leaf on wood triptych
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Now, with so much technological advance and new forms of making art, from photography to Digital art and 3-d printing, the question of “why paint?” seems inescapable. But for that I have an answer. I paint because it connects me with my humanity and history. By painting I re-enact history, for painting is the creative process of re-creating history itself. The ritualistic act of painting involves the use and application of certain materials that have been around us for millennia and since the very beginning, bringing us back to our origins on this planet. This alchemical interaction of materials has the potential of becoming a ritualistic and mystical dialogue with history and therefore it is a direct reflection of time itself. Also by allowing ourselves to be inspired by the art of the past and of distant civilizations and by integrating the iconography used in the past with the new, we may convey a continuous line that penetrates time and reminds us of our own evolution and transformation throughout the ages and how the meaning we assign to images has been carried and mutated across millennia. Painting re-connects us with the past while also giving us a fresh insight into the future. 

 "El Loco" (The Disneyrican Dreamer) 24" x 30" Oil and metal leaf on canvas by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s be thankful for painting and for the great masterpieces of the past that have survived the ages and inspired us today. Let us also be grateful for living in this moment of history when we have access to so many tools and resources that allow us to re-connect with that past while having a tremendously great opportunity to forge an even better future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Re-connecting to the Past (Part I)

Recently I had an artist talk at Tansey Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I talked about how we can learn, connect and have a dialogue with history through contemporary art. I used my work as an example in order to show how artists today can utilize and appropriate narratives from our collective past in order to comment on current socio-political and environmental issues. On this blog I'll share with you some of my insights and experiences from this perspective and summarize some of the points discussed at the gallery. Since there is so much to be said about this and I wish to expand a little further on the discussion, this will require me to divide it into parts. So this is just the beginning...

 Adoracion Capital (2014) Oil on Canvas 30" x 30" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz.
Available at Tansey Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico

When we travel around the world and specially visit underdeveloped countries that suffer from severe socio- economic inequality, a new sense awakens in our minds. We can no longer be indifferent to the world around us and if our sense of empathy is strong enough, our art and different ways of expressing our concern dramatically change. At least that is what happened to me when I visited Peru in 1998 and had my first hand experience with poverty and injustice in a country that is so rich in history, culture, biodiversity and natural beauties. From that point on, I could not go back to paint beautiful pictures without an irritating sense of guilt. I had a glimpse into the past but also into the future of humanity and this awoke a new inspiration that did not allow me to make art for art sake alone.  Even though I kept creating paintings like this, my personal art journal was filling up with ideas and concerns about the world around me that needed to be channeled somehow. Art had to be about so much more than beautiful landscapes, nudes or portraits. Art has to be about humanity and its place in this planet and in the Cosmos.

 Cuzco, Peru, 1998

Unfortunately when we look at much of what is done today called “Contemporary Art” it seems to be using a language designed by the elite for the elite. It often takes a view that is reflective of the 1% and not of the rest of us. It seems to have been infected by the corporate virus of market speculation and its prime interest of branding, making lots of money though influential names and mere theater. Even if it’s created with some socio-political or environmental concern in mind, it often seems shallow by its obsessive use of shock value, visual forms and conceptual pretense that ignore or even despise the many while serving the few.

Twin By Robert Ryman (1966) Blank White Canvas at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

When we look back in time, 30,000 years ago, Paleolithic artists used to make art in their caves that did not serve the interest of a market but rather obey the principles of the natural and spiritual world around them.  With the rise of the first civilizations around 3,500 B.C. artists would start creating art that would obey the laws and beliefs of the monarchs, priests, state and institutionalized religion. Later on with the Christian monotheism and the ruling monarchy, artists spread their art around a world that was starting to become globalized with the European conquest and colonization of the Americas. This art was created in order to serve the interests of the colonizing countries and their religion. With the advent of the Industrial revolution in the 1700’s, artists started to deal with the implications of moving to the city, competing against each other and working with machines and methods of mass reproduction that gradually re-defined the role of the artist. Modern art was born out of the reactionary chaos of revolution and increased speed that compelled artists to re-purpose their art and create an art that would set themselves apart from other artists as well as from the photograph.  The individual mark became the protagonist and hero in every painting. The notion of originality and the self-referentiality became fundamental indicators of the modern art and even to this day.

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 By James McNeill Whistler (1871) Oil on Canvas,
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

But we live in different times today. We live in an age of information plagued by a massive environmental crisis that could end our very own existence on this planet. Art should wake up not only to the realities of other peoples in other countries but to history itself. Contemporary art should be able to look back in time and see beyond its modern progenitors and to its distant ancestors and learn from the whole human experience. We have the right technology and right tools to expand our knowledge and understanding of our world and it’s past.  There is no excuse to remain ignorant and conformist as artists and as planetary citizens. And it is not just about us and our past but think about the environment, the planet and its history. Just think about it, we have been walking around as a species for just 200,000 years on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old and seen 5 mass extinctions. We are really an insignificant part of the equation that only relatively recently has made a significant change to this world. There are so many questions to address, so many issues to study and explore with our arts, culture and sciences, that there is simply no more time to waste. While self-exploration is good, the world is much bigger and older than we think.

La Papisa (2013) Oil and metal leaf on panel 24" x 47" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Available at Tansey Contemporary

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

12 useful tips for emerging artists... from an emerging artist.

Recently a couple of friends asked me for some advice on how to get into a gallery and make a living out of art. They asked me what art galleries I would recommend them to submit their work. This is something I hear so often from artists to artists and the question, I noticed, is often misguided. Instead of asking yourself how to get into a gallery, why not ask yourself first of all, what kind of artist am I, what defines my work, and I mean what really defines my work and sets it apart from the rest? What qualities does it share with others? This is something you learn by visiting art fairs, galleries, museums and open studios. Every artist path is different because every human experience is different and there are different sensibilities and different tastes and that is why it is very hard to even start recommending galleries to colleagues and friends. And finally where do I wish to have my work be seen? Then you can start thinking of galleries if this is what you want. And I always have a strong desire to help others but I also think every individual makes his or her own path and in the process discovers that there are no written set of rules really. You write the rules and you write your own story on your way and if you stick to it and believe it to the end that is where success often appears. But there are a few hints that may be common and agreeable among many of my artist’s friends in order to become successful as an artist. Here are just a few to keep in mind before you ask yourself where do I wish to have my work be seen and what art gallery is right for me?  :

1. Success, Define Success. Before wishing to be a successful artist, you should ask yourself, what do you mean by success? Is it having a solo show in an important gallery in New York, selling your work at a global scale or just being recognized in your own city? Is it about fame, money, live off your art or simply being able to keep it as a side job? Define Success, and then you'll know your destination so you can draw the map.

2. Find good role models and take a good look at them. Look at art and visit museums, galleries and shows as much as you can. Once you find an artist you really like, study him or her, learn about their career, where they studied, where they have shown their work. How does their work relate to yours? Do I identify personally with this artist and why? And can I see myself taking a similar path? Why? Meet them personally if you have a chance and listen to what they have to say. Like I said, everyone makes their own path but it doesn't hurt to have some inspiration on the way and learn from others different ways to walk.

3. Become a perfectionist.
Some artists reach a point where they are completely satisfied with what they paint, sculpt or draw. These artists are the ones that make a dozen or two paintings in a week and they all look the same. They discovered a formula to repeat themselves and stop evolving. At this point they stop being artists to become machines. A true artist strives for perfection and tries different things in order to become a better artist. His/her curiosity is that of a child, therefore he/she doesn't get bored and every new blank canvas represents a new challenge and an opportunity to make something new. Train yourself and work hard to become better and better each day.

4. Stop looking at the art world as if it was a reality show competition
We live in a sick society that idealizes competition and is obsessed with winning. Competition is a step towards violence and war and if we kindle this feeling inside, we will always see everyone around us as a possible threat. Instead learn, cooperate and help others because by doing so you help yourself grow even more in the process. If you really want to compete, compete against yourself, it will give you far better results. Art is so subjective to taste that it makes no sense to compare yourself to others so you better focus your energy and attention to making art that grants you peace and harmony within yourself. As a consequence this will be contagious and others will be positively affected by your art.

5. Train yourself with self discipline.
Instead of competing, it is much more healthy and effective to discipline yourself. If you really wish to be good at what you make, put some strong discipline into your work schedule. Avoid distractions and things that might keep you away from making art at the time you have assigned for creation. Keep a clean space or studio and make it a job. Once you start treating your creative leisure time as a real profession, it eventually becomes serious and people will eventually take notice and take your art with more respect.

6. Learn everything you can about what you do. Many artists are self-taught and it often shows in their work. Artists with serious art training also show it in their work. But whether you are self-taught or have some artistic training, never cease to learn everything you can about your passion. If your passion is to paint miniatures with tempera, then learn all you can about miniature painting in history, how to paint with tempera paint, the many styles and schools, the pigments, the mediums, the supports, the artists in history and their techniques, etc. By learning the most of your artistic discipline you will be steps closer to becoming a master.

7. Be open but also careful to criticism.
One often hears in school that one must be open to criticism and as much as I agree I should also add, be very careful with it also. It is very easy to fall into the trap of listening to all advice and criticism and abandon your own path in order to please others so be very selective about what you take and what you leave. Pay careful attention from who is it coming from. Ask yourself the following questions before you take any criticism too seriously. Is this person a model I admire and wish to follow, is he or she an accomplished artist? If it's a child, you'll often get the most honest and straightforward criticism you can find. If it's an elderly person, tradition will more than often strongly influence their judgment of art. Be aware of the source and learn from everyone considering their own background and accomplishments.

8. Make art with a strong sense of conviction
Conviction of what one does is one of the most important qualities that accomplished artists can posses. Conviction comes in time with experience in life and art coming together and justifying one another. There is a sense of purpose in life that is expressed in art that comes at a time when you discover what makes you, you. Make sure every line you draw every thought, every part of your energy goes into discovering your true nature because once this becomes clear, you become master of your own universe and conviction is just a consequence of this self discovery. Once attained, nothing stops you from doing what you do and in the way you do it. In time this is the art that gets most rewarded.

9. Know what makes you different and use it to your advantage
One of the good reasons for joining a group and exhibiting with other artists, besides making friends and sharing together, is that it is much easier to find what sets you apart from the rest. If for some reason you feel isolated and as an eternal outsider, don’t let this put you down. On the contrary, see what you have that others don’t and use it as an asset. Many of the greatest painters in history did not fit into the group but they exploited what made them different and used it to their advantage. With so much competition out there, the more you become good at something that everyone else ignores the more chances you have for success. So stick to yourself and what makes you different may be your most powerful weapon in order to stand out.

10. Make a killer presentation and keep a strong presence
Preparing a very strong portfolio and an artist website with your strongest work is no doubt one of the first things you should do before approaching any art gallery or anyone interested in seeing your work. Always carry business cards with you. Make these as professional as possible; they should say loudly that you’re an artist without even reading them. Once you get a very good artist website up and a solid body of work out there, make sure you keep a strong presence on social media and artist portfolio websites. Let the world know what kind of artist you are and what kind of art you are working on at the moment.

11. Know your audience, know your place.
As in life, one must learn to recognize where one fits, and where one doesn't. When I was much younger I remember trying to fit in and be accepted into certain groups that were obviously very different from what I now know who I am. Childhood and adolescent experiences usually teach us that piece of information. We then find our clan or our particular group that share our same interests and aspirations and we stick to this group. This is human nature and it happens in religion, politics and art as well. Before you start knocking doors on art galleries, you should know what kind of artist are you and what kind of gallery is right for you. I wouldn't waste my time as a pop surrealist painter trying to get into a conceptual art gallery and vice versa.

12. Carefully select your battlefields and get yourself and your work out there.
Finally, be selective of your environments, where you will show your work and how you will show it and participate in those group shows, exhibits and opportunities that better describe who you are as an artist. Don't waste your time participating in events that are not professionally curated or have little to do with the kind of work you do. Stay informed, meet people and find the right places for your work to shine. Being out there is as important as being in your studio/cave creating work. We are all social creatures and this is a big part of being an artist, like it or not, get used to talking about your work and experiencing the world outside the studio

Well, hope these ten hints are useful to my friends, colleagues and emerging artists out there that like me always look for more ways to emerge and improve as an artist. There are many more things to be said, like copyright issues and not showing it all at once, but I’ll keep these for my next blog posts. For now, best wishes to you all and keep at it!

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Disneyfication of history, culture and everything

 "When Paradise Arrived" (1988) Charcoal on Paper by Enrique Chagoya 
To see more work of this artist click here

Ever since Emperor Trajan ordered his famous column depicting his triumphs in the Dacian wars, erected in 113 AD, the history of art has focused its attention in making narratives out of events from mythology, religion and human history in general. Of course history painting and sculpture existed long before 113 AD, but this column certainly foretold things to come, mainly the art propaganda. 

 Emperor Trajan's Column, 113 AD

As we all know, the retelling of a story comes with an agenda and after all, history is written by the victors. Throughout the age’s kings, popes and the powerful elite decided what was going to be created and celebrated in art and today is no exception. Every artwork is subject to the economic forces of its own time. Any successful artist that pretends to live off his art, knows this and often has to paint or sculpt for a patron the ideas that indirectly of directly promote the power structures of their time. 

                                        "Chac Mool"  (1999) Stone scultpture by Nadin Ospina
                                           To see more work from this artist click here

Of course there is space for dissent and revolutionary art but as soon as this art is discovered, accepted and adopted by the powerful and elite, the art itself is transformed, re-packaged and redistributed by the same institutions it once voiced against and therefore the meaning of it is irrelevant as it becomes just another empty commodity. This is self evident in mainstream contemporary art. A good example of this in music is hip-hop, which once represented the voice of the marginalized urban communities; it then became corporately owned and as much of the mainstream music today is influenced more by the market than by pure creative spirit.

Pinocchio Heroin By Jose Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros
To see more of the artist work click here

It is not so different with the all too well known Disney re-telling of ancient legends, myth and Grimm brother’s tales. By this re-branding of the classics, Disney becomes the owner of its content, stripping the recorded place, event or person from its original meaning.  By repackaging and disseminating their own sanitized versions of the stories of Hercules, Pocahontas and Aladdin they sell a product that removed or waters down any vestige of the original narrative in question. In doing so they replace it with an empty shell deprived or any thought provoking content, serving a corporate driven agenda that intends to homogenize and generate passive consumption and cultural perceptions on all level of our society and at a global scale. Its success lies in the fact that they make beautiful pictures easy and pleasant to grasp that reach out to the masses in ways traditional literature or art cannot compete with.

 "Disneyfication of a Hero" (2010) Oil painting on canvas by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Acquired by the  Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

Its magic resides in its manipulation of beauty and distortion of values consolidating patriarchal gender roles, perpetuating racist views and always elevating the rich, glamorous and vain over the poor, disenfranchised and different, despite its claims to the contrary  with its "updated" revisions. It preys on the innocent spectators as well as on their parents who give in to the power of persuasion while selling us a “family oriented” experience or product. It is also not hard to find evidence of the mind stupefying strategies utilized by the corporate giant as it controls a big chunk of the mass media conglomerate and has been actively involved in political propaganda since World War II and disseminating its anti-socialist comics in Chile during the 1970's (How to readDonald Duck).

Disneyfication is a global phenomenon occurring not just in our understanding of history but at all levels of culture and society, from the suburban way of life to our consumer habits and what we watch on screen. The metaphor that comes to mind is that of the evil witch offering Snow White the poisoned apple. But an even better metaphor for this corporation is that of the magician apprentice played by Mickey Mouse in 1940's animated film Fantasia. But as those who have already seen the film know, the magical act turns against the mouse as he foolishly multiplies his "cleaning" operators and everything gets out of control in the end. 

 Disney's Fantasia: The Sorcerer 1940

A lesson we can learn from ancient Roman history is that every empire has its fall and it often comes with over-expansion and disintegration from within. Who knows how Disney will fall but be sure of it, It will fall. Perhaps future tourists will visit Disney's Cinderella castle but get a similar tour to the one we get today while visiting Trajan’s Column, and admire this powerful propaganda monument for what it really is.