by Juampi Andrade & Juan Cruz Molas y Molas
(Español / ENGLISH)
When I presented Franx Xarate's work to Subterráneo Mag, I had only one thing in mind: the aroma of the new, to transmit to those behind the screen, the strange sensation of being, at least for a while, in front of something different, intriguing, dark perhaps, but with interesting stories and reflections behind it.
Where do I know Frank from? I shared a job with him at an advertising agency. What I miss most about him are our talks when we left work on the green and leafy streets of Nuñez (Buenos Aires’s neighbourhood). Almost 20 blocks to take the Congress subway. Every day was a different conversation: religion, politics, art, nonsense, literature, history, there was no topic which he did not have an answer that made me doubt.
And since we are experiencing an unusual (and difficult) moment, it occurred to me to share his work as if it were a wildpaket. I don't know if you are familiar with the term "westpaket"? I learned it recently and I can tell you what it is about: it refers to the cold war Germany, when Berlin was divided in two and the residents of the Eastern side, eagerly received packages from their friends and family who lived on the other side of the Wall. A real madness. I speak of families separated by years, in contact only by the occasional trips of those who lived in the West and had permission to go. In those situations, Weskpakets were highly coveted for containing new products, distinct flavors, fashionable colors, and textures from a world completely unknown to many people on the eastern side.
The important thing in the westpaket, it is worth clarifying, were not the consumer products themselves: a soap, a mustard, a jean, no matter how modern it is, they run out. What is not easily exhausted is that feeling of discovering for the first time that there is another new world out there. That is exciting. That has real value. I liked the expression and stole it to introduce Frank's work. In their wildpaket you will also perceive colors, textures, smells, new connections and reflections of someone who, time to time, lives in a completely different underworld from ours. The warrior in the moon mask.
- Juampi Andrade.
Can you tell us a little bit about where your drawings come from?
It depends, most of it comes from dreams that I have, where the images are mixed in what I read and see, and then my head reinterprets them in a dream. A lot of them arise from some phrases that I read in books or I hear, it’s like a mix. Then there are others that are directly connected to my childhood, such as the masks series, which scared me when I was a child and now I create them.
Another food that nurtures my creativity, at this moment has to do with indigenous and black cultures and everything that has to do with ritual, with what can be created and endowed with an entity.
For example, this series of demons: could you introduce us to what it is about?
This small series was titled Selkfranks which is in a way a tribute to the selknam, an indigenous group exterminated in the 19th century, the first time I saw a photo of them, I was shocked, because the photos relate to the Hain ceremony. It’s incredible what each of the entities that they represent in that ceremony means and it is sad to know that they are no longer there. There are only a few images left and some books that talk about their culture. I think this is a tribute to them, from my perspective and respecting their culture. In this series I mixed that culture with the moon-masked warriors of Burkina Faso, since visually they have similarities.
We see that certain themes are repeated: the ancestral, the demons, the mythological, the pagan. Why do you use these themes in your work?
It's an idea with which I lived surrounded when I was younger, that could be related to something dark, as well as something bright. Also, I think that there is something that is being transmitted and I am not talking about something genetic, but rather from the story and it happens in a way in my head. And if I would have to say where they come from, I think that they come from my childhood and life I had in Buenaventura. In conjunction with everything I have learned, heard and seen so far.
And what was it like to live in Buenaventura?
Well, Buenaventura is located in the Valle del Cauca area about two hours from Cali (Colombia), it is a place surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, jungle and long rains that could last between two or three days. The mountains are also something that according to my experience, they mark you, in some way you feel that green mass presence crossing you and leaving you perplexed with its beauty, in short it is a place where you are very connected with the time of nature, despite the fact that it is also a very important port. I grew up surrounded by women, my mother, three sisters, grandmothers and two aunts. My grandmother Tere, is someone who believes in other planes of existence, as well as energies that surround us, you grow with respect for certain beliefs, and interpretations of dreams and facts. Buenaventura is a particular place, let's say a place where I still discover myself from a distance.
What was the experience of emigrating to another country like, from that small island to a city as big and cosmopolitan as Buenos Aires?
Well, it happened unexpectedly, I came to Argentina for love and then I stayed. When I arrived in La Plata I loved it, especially the fact of its construction, diagonal streets and ways of locating yourself, it took a while, and when I met Buenos Aires, where I live now, it was like a concrete tsunami, a beautiful tsunami.
How did this experience affect your way of seeing the world, your expression, your creative process?
I think it expanded it, Buenos Aires has the ability to absorb you and at the same time stay on its feet, it is where you start looking for your own way to focus and build yourself, to look for my own identity in this flow of visual information. The other fact that seems to me important is the cultural movement from the macro to the micro, I think it is a city that, like its river, is always in motion.
"Art is a question that questions us and makes us think about our existence. So it can be what each artist wants to point to, as long as it enlightens us."
- Frank Xarate.
Do you have favorite artists? Could you tell us a bit about people or references that have influenced you?
I have many references ranging from Kara Walker, Nick Cave (not the singer, the artist), Jean Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, David Lynch, Kiki Smith, Anselm Kiefer, Marcia Schvartz, Louise Bourgeois, etc. In short, there are many references with which I connect because I believe that they generated a universe in their own environment and that it has something dreamlike and political at the same time.
Also and essentially with that ancestral art, both indigenous and black in the world. And without underestimating the symbolic world of dreams and everything that happens there while I sleep.
How do you know that a work is finished?
When my head decides that enough is enough, I think there is a time for each work; although sometimes I look at them again and I remember something from when I drew it and maybe I add something.
What is it to be ‘human’ to you?
The human being is an infinite mixture of the universe, darkness and light like a black hole.
What do you believe in?
In various dimensions on the same plane.
Trystan Bates, a friend of mine who I also interviewed with Juampi for Subterraneo, says that "art with a purpose is always better art (...), art with a social or environmental purpose, for the common good, is supreme art " What do you think of this and why?
Art is a question that questions us and makes us think about our existence. So it can be what each artist wants to point to, as long as it enlightens us.
What remains of those days on the streets of your neighborhood? Friends, family, how do you channel the detachment from your culture and distance?
Many memories, textures, smells and shapes remain, as well as some friends who are, others no longer, the motionless mountains, the sea and my family. And all that story that's in my head.
I think that culture is what you are relating to and learning from, so I don’t feel detachment, since I carry within me a piece of that island that is my childhood and what saved me in many ways, that doesn’t makes me forget where I come from, and where I sometimes come back in dreams.
Frank Xarate was born in Buenaventura, a small island in the Colombian Pacific. He resides and carries out his profession in the city of Buenos Aires. He is a designer in visual communication, graduated from UNLP BELLAS ARTES. He is currently studying Conceptual Design postgraduate course at the Tres de Febrero University (UNTREF). Frank is an images creator that arise from the interaction between art and design, and an ancestral baggage. He is interested in the relationship between digital and manual technique, the constant fluctuation between these approaches characterize his work.