THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
Every artist is a reflection of the society in which he lives and in turn contributes to a greater or lesser degree to shape the physiognomy of his time, in his case that double relationship acquires a deeper connection. His life coincides, exactly with the tunnel that took us from one century to another, a very rich time in all kinds of events. He is not a withdrawn artist and absent from the problems of his time. On the contrary, he entered it with insatiable curiosity, with inexhaustible eagerness for knowledge and the characteristic generosity of a reformer. Subterráneo tries to formulate a complete and authentic description of its personality, a definitive interpretation of the deep meaning of his work. The enigma is still standing and will probably never be revealed completely. An artist who allows us to explore time and light, because we believe that, at the end of the day, it is almost always the same thing that concerns us. Good stories always have to do with love, death, desire or fear. We are left with those stories, that novel postcard, that Search, as a detective of sensibility, of the gaze of others.
Trystan Bates exclusive with Subterráneo.
I want to know at what age you started to think in a graphic way? Where you really young?
Always. I was always really visual and graphic.
My mom was an art teacher, and my father owned a bakery, his specialty was making oversized cakes that were like sculptures. Art and creating was always in my house, it was always around me. The first things I remember playing with were art supplies. I remember being really small and my mom giving me finger paint and putting me in the bath and being like… do whatever. Just making a mess, creating, seeing what happens, the understanding of taking something and making something else out of it started at a really young age. Like, maybe two, or three. So it was at a very young age that I connected with art. In my home.
Then with something more professional, I don’t know… maybe later around 20.
Were you a teenager when you got into art or…?
No, I always loved and was into art. I think that when I was getting out of college, and faced with the question “what are you doing with yourself?” my connection to art became more real and cerebral rather than romantic. I started drawing from all of those experiences that I had in the past and started to think of how to apply my love of art to everyday life. Drawing in the bathtub when I was really young, seeing my father making this cakes, seeing my mom teach her classes allowed me to start developing my own language and way of producing art that was specifically mine and deeply personal.
I am still rediscovering art. It is a process and my language is it’s always developing. I think it’s important never to feel like “this is it”, once you do that you become a brand. For me the change and growth from drawing on new experiences is really important. I think that if there is no change there is a problem. Something is not right.
When I was younger there was a 60 % of my focus in my work, the remaining 40% was distraction… what I was doing that night, who I was hanging out with, what assignment I had to do for the next class. This slowly started to shift when I began studying formally. Parsons was a ridiculous amount of work, we had to complete about 6 projects per week minimum, it was a very heavy work load with strict deadlines and I think it was planned this way intentionally to get people out of the school that weren’t supposed to be there. There was a huge amount of pressure placed on us that gradually became less as you stayed with the program. I didn’t understand it at the time but the pressure is part of the reality of the career. They were training us and getting all of those people that can’t handle it out of the game because later on the pressure and deadlines is what you deal with. I understand it now but at the time it seemed hardcore and crazy.
But, when was the time you realized you where an artist? When did you realize you had that click, from adolescent or naïve to a more serious artist?
I think it was the moment that I began to feel that art was my life, when I had a problem imagining what I would do if I wasn’t creating. It became something I had to do every day, it was my release, my filter, the way I got shit out of my head, my way to speak.
I think that when I was able to sell that first piece of work there was another shift. Everything seemed more legit for some reason. There was definitely an emotional change, not in the way that I created, not in the way that I felt about what I was creating but rather in the way I saw my work and its ability to effect people. There is difference between producing art for personal reasons and feeling you can be able to sustain your life through your art. More important still is the idea that someone would want to live with something you have created.
As I've matured I have arrived in a place where public approval in terms of sales doesn't matter much to me. I try to make pieces that are understandable and universally relatable no matter where you are. I try not to put cultural references from one place in my work because it dates the work and narrows the audience. I want my work to be timeless. I want my work to be viewed now and in a hundred years with the same relevance because it’s functioning on a level that’s deeper than making visual connections to trends or things that people are related to right now, in this moment which will eventually fade. Diversity within my work is also something I think is growing as I grow older. I don't want to have my work categorized as one thing or the other.
I don’t really like categories, I don’t think it’s a good thing.
And in Buenos Aires? How was it here at the beginning?
When I came here I visited “Furia” and asked to speak to who was in charge. Mostly everyone I’ve worked with in BA has been a result of me asking “can we talk, I have an idea” Guillermo Tragant from Furia was so open to meeting and seeing work it was awesome and a great contrast to the faceless portfolio drop offs I was used to. I started doing illustration with them and then was lucky enough to meet Gabriel and Itati from “Puro” who welcomed me and my work and really gave me a chance to connect to the city with my art and grow. Illustration still had its limitations though and locked me down to working in a specific way and having to alter an idea to fit a client’s request was increasingly becoming difficult to swallow.
Yeah… because it’s like a piece of art…
There is a very fine line separating the two for me. Illustration is art, it is the same work that you’re doing, it’s just that you are accepting and allowing someone to tell you to change your work. There are tons of illustrators that are incredible artists. They are only labeled illustrators because they were working with a guideline of what they have to produce and giving someone the ability and the right to suggest that they change their work, to adapt to their (the clients) vision. But his amount of work that goes into producing the image is exactly the same. The process is the same, it’s the same thing. For me the main difference is whether you are okay or not with someone telling you how you should change your art and what you should do with it. Sometimes I will see an illustration and see it as pure art. Maybe it doesn’t belong on a label, maybe it belongs on a wall in a museum and more importantly if it wasn’t on a label it could be there but it’s the choice of the creator as to where the art goes.
For me I’m glad I did both illustration and fine art because now I know the difference between the two. They are different realities. Creating art is different when you know you’re producing it for someone else, it’s not as organic, it’s more computerized, and feels more robotic, on the other end, when you’re doing art for yourself, you pour yourself into it. It’s you 100%.
When did you realize that you wanted to have a gallery in BA and why? Is it connected to these things you are talking about?
I think everything it’s connected. There are a couple of reasons why I had the desire to reach out to other people in here in BA. On a really personal level I felt like I was coming from New York where I was surrounded by a lot of people but there was a very small percentage of those people that were true friends that I would want around me all the time, there was a lot of distraction and noise coming from other places, a lot of stress that I was feeling and at one point I realized that any stress I was feeling wasn’t actually my stress. It was the stress of other people that I was listening to all the time. This led to me needing a break from New York which is what in turn brought me to Buenos Aires. So when I got here I felt like Ok… this is my break, this is my breath of fresh air.
I came on vacation for a month with one of my dearest friends María Porcaro, my first two weeks in Argentina was spent with her and then she returned and I didn’t. I’m still here, it’s been almost fifteen years.
After a little while I realized that although I had quiet, I had no community, and no friends. I was alone here. I luckily made two friends from Argentina that I still have who have become family to me here, but I still felt like I didn’t have an art community here that is crucial to an artist. So I started walking the city and doing research for my own work thinking of where I could begin exhibiting my work. The options were slim and I felt like there was nothing here for young contemporary art. Everything tI found at that time was too dry and formal. Then I found a gallery called Crimson that ended up giving me a show. That was my first one here. After that I began looking again, and it was the same situation. It was a problem, there were no venues open to looking at and exhibiting younger work. It was weird. The formal galleries were exhibiting mid-career to established artists, but young artists? I didn’t see galleries for them anywhere.
So, on one side I had the desire to connect myself with an artist community and on the other side I wanted to address the issue of being able to produce something or grow something where people that were in my situation who were younger and starting out would be able to show their work. And those two things combined were the genesis of Honeycomb.
"Creating art is something that nourishes the artist. It is like food or water, it is the way we speak, the way we process the world, and the way we experience and filter the human experience.".
THE BEGINNING OF HONEYCOMB ARTS.
I found myself wondering how can I build a community of creators around me, of people that I would want to work with, grow with, and create with. How would I build that?
That’s how it started. Thinking about how to construct my life in Buenos Aires in a way where I could create for myself and promote my work while connecting with a group that I would want to be around on a personal and professional level. A group that could allow me to create opportunities for young artists that wasn’t being shown in more than four spaces in the city at the time.
That was the beginning of HONEYCOMB for me.
Sitting down and doing some research on who the first people on Argentina that I would like to connect with was the first step. I was looking for artists who I saw as having massive potential. The people that I could envision paving the way for everybody else? Those were the people that I contacted, that “dream team” of six artists. And from that stuff started growing. Eventually I felt like we could open this group up wider, globally. And that’s what I did. It grew like that, little by little to other countries. I started with six people from here, and two or three people from New York and then on the next project were 30 people, and on the next like a hundred and it kept evolving.
Oddly enough I now find myself moving in the other direction, filtering and tailoring the group realizing that it’s not about quantity and it’s not always about quality. It’s about synergy and getting the right people that are able to repeatedly form a flow of energy and creation with the entire group you’re working with. These are the artists I hold on to and are always on the lookout for. People that have the capacity to grow and learn, that are inspiring to be around. Unfortunately not everybody is like that. It is hard to find.
So my path with Honeycomb has in a way been circular. Going from a small group, to a large one back to a small group. I have a clear vision regarding the future of Honeycomb. I feel like in order to produce substantial long term work in the way that I want to I need to collaborate with a tailored group of artists that have a specific set of skills and the personality that I’m looking for. The people that I have really plans to work with in the future are in my opinion the best there is and they have at this point, to me become family.
That’s why you went to that Island in Panama? (Guna Yala)
Yeah, it was part of it. That trip was the first of the type of projects we will be continuing with.
The artists that participated in the residency (Luz Peuscovich, Santiago Carrera, Cern) were all people that I’ve known for a while, that I respect and have faith in, and that I knew were going to produce and take the experience seriously. It wasn't an environment where I could be taking risks with artists, I needed to know that the people that I would be working with were solid when stepping into a place like that… it was a very hard selection process. Knowing that I could pick four people out of a lot of people who would wanna go is not easy. It wasn’t just about the work, it was also about their physical capability of being able to deal with the extreme elements there. How they would respond and treat other people that they don’t understand, and can’t communicate with. Would they be able to be without a cellphone and not connected and don’t freak-out? There were other things at play that not everybody would be ok with.
Everything was collective. We focused a lot on workshops with the children from the tribe. The island is far from the Panama City and the trip to get supplies for costumes is expensive, because of this the tribe was having trouble with the activity and was ready to cancel. In response Luz and I used to spend mornings and evenings collecting supplies from found in nature and figuring out how to transform them into animal suits for the kids. When it was time to go and interact with the tribe. Santiago, Cern and Luz were all on board and we were a real unit, we complemented each other so well. One person’s need became four people’s project. It worked beautifully.
Everyone was so happy and being told that if we were able to change the way the locals looked at their surroundings and the potential of where they lived was intense, emotional and amazing.
We are now trying to raise funds to assist with the water shortage that has come about because of climate change. So our connection to this incredible group of people on an island in the middle of the sea that was forged through art is still in place.
How do you see your situation right now? Because I see you expand to other places but you use a tiny group of people… and I see you don’t need a physical place…
I think I’m in the middle of a lot of projects and things that are forming. It’s a fluid moment for me, there is no solid place. I always look for what’s next. Always. For me the ultimate would be to produce art that has the ability to generate positive change, for me that’s the ultimate type of art. Art that has the power to bring about positive change in negative situations. How can we work together in a positive way, with a purpose? That is the key.
Do you think art needs a purpose?
I think art should have a purpose so that it is elevated from being solely decorative. Art with a purpose is in my opinion always better art. Art with a concept is always better than art without a concept, it is much more interesting and has a clear reason for being. When I was younger and I used to go to a place and see (let’s just say…) a white piece of paper on a gallery wall and leave quickly without taking a second look. But now I take the time to find out why that paper is white and why is it there alone? The content and concept that accompanies the physical object makes it infinitely stronger. So, for me, the strongest art is art that has a strong concept behind it with a reason for existing, if it also addresses a social or environmental purpose, a purpose for the greater good then its supreme art for me. Above all else, I think art should be used as a language to communicate and bring about change.
Do you think that goes to the aborigine communities, to the ancestral, to the first images that were drawn?
Yeah, of course, it’s the first language. It’s the most powerful language. An image can lift someone up or bring them to tears. It’s very powerful. I think that if everybody made art as their primary means of communication it would be much better world.
With Honeycomb I made it a real point not to work with people that used overly sexual or violent imaginary.
If we are artists, and art is a language and we are thinking that this is a universal language that everybody should be able to understand and we are presenting to the public, why are we putting things out that aren’t positive? Why are we putting images out that are going to generate negative or aggressive reactions? I feel like I should be conscious of who will see my work. You don’t know who’s gonna be viewing your images. It’s not the same thing if and adult sees dark or violent imagery or if an eight year old seeing a dark image, I have seen kids frightened by art and I don't understand the reason for it. I’m not about censoring but I think that there is enough darkness around and we don’t need to use our talent to promote more of it unless there is a purpose. Create responsibly so that the work is something that’s positive and inspiring for the community.
Moebius used to say that all the drawers have like a certain gift, certain powers and not all of them are aware of that…
I really feel like that. It is a power of sorts. You also have to think where your work is going. For me it was always about generating positive creation, energy and imagery. It is about creating beauty and creating things that open people’s minds and enlighten. It’s totally a personal choice what you do with your time and talent.
What does it take to be an artist?
It’s a hard job. It would be much easier to follow a schedule, from 9 to 5. Go into work, bang out your skill set for the time you have to be there and then go home. That’s it, your day is over, you go home, you sleep, and you wake up and do it again. For me it would be an unbearable situation but it’s a more secure for sure. With art you don’t know what you’re gonna get. You work all the time. There are no vacations or weekends .You don’t know if your work is going to be received well, you don’t know anything other than the fact that you have an internal need to make things. You have to be okay with the insecurity of it all and with the possibility of being a “failure” in the eyes of the public before you step into the career of an artist. You have to be okay with no one liking your work, much rejection during the start of your career and still feel confident enough in yourself and your voice to continue. When I complete work I hope it is well received but while I’m producing it I don’t care if anyone gets it. I’m in it, part of it, and losing track of everything else except for that piece I am working on. I think that this resilience and dedication to producing no matter what are the things that are most needed to be an artist.
For me the things that clock in as the most important are:
1. Work every day no matter what it’s on. Keep the fire burning because that is how you get better and grow.
2. Don’t be afraid of shit not working, try new things and explore. The only failure is not trying something because of
3. Have passion in what you do, without passion and the desire to create and grow through work a person (in my
opinion) is not an artist, it should be more than a job and something that you absolutely cannot live without. Art for the artist should be more than getting a paycheck or working. It is a way to live, a lifestyle and something that permeates every part of life.
4. Last but not least is to maintaining control over your domain and not care too much about public opinion. Artists should stay true to their own voice without trying to copy others successes, with this often comes harsh criticism or unpopularity but in this business one needs to develop a hard outer shell and let all the nonsense just roll off while continuing to stay true to yourself and your craft. Being honest with yourself is fundamental.
5. Don’t recycle artwork, create something new instead.
6. Form a language and a dialogue between your artwork so that they have presence and energy.
7. Learn to edit. I personally don’t show art unless I feel like it’s supposed to be shown. I sit here and produce art every day all day, it’s an ongoing ritual for me but not everything that i create makes it into the light of day. It’s not art to show, it’s my meditation. It is a visual record of my process of getting from one place to another. It’s private. I have a huge collection of art that no one will ever see, and then I have a smaller collection of art that has been shown and art that I’m working on now that will be shown.
8. Persevere and don't give up. I think being an artist is the best career there is but it is also one of the most difficult mentally and emotionally.
In what way?
You go through a lot, there’s a lot of rejection and the beginning process is heartbreaking. It’s difficult. It’s not like you take your work into a gallery and everybody is amazed and the younger you are the harder it is. I remember being 17 in New York, starting like that, dropping off portfolios all the time with no results. And then when you make it, and you start showing your work you start to think about the public. Will people be interested? Will the critic write the right stuff? Will work sell? It is a slow climb and the beginning years are tough.
It’s like that until you form a shell. Eventually if you stick with it you do. You learn the ropes and learn to network minimizing the rejection and wasted time but I can see the career breaking someone down mentally.
There is a huge amount of pressure on the artist to be able to sustain their lifestyle through their artwork. And realistically it all comes down to public opinion, what people think of the work and if they wanna buy it. You’re putting everything that you do, your soul, your time, your energy, your money, everything, into producing artwork to then send it out into the public and it all see what they think. That’s the career.
It’s hard and jolting, unless you have that other underlying greater purpose behind your work, then it doesn’t make a difference anymore because whether they buy it or not, there is a more important reason for your work existing.
I’ve ridden many high and low waves since college to now and still feel the anxiousness now and then because underneath it all you want your efforts to be well received, but it has taken a back seat to me staying true to myself and realizing that for every person that says no there is another somewhere else who will say yes.
But for you is more about the process, right?
For me process is really important and presentation is really important they go hand in hand.
How do you know you are an artist?
When did you say, ok, I’m an artist? Like that magic thing.
I think you know you are an artist if you feel like you cannot breathe if you don’t do art. For me there was never a question as to what I would want to do with my life or become. Creating art is something that nourishes the artist. It is like food or water, it is the way we speak, the way we process the world, and the way we experience and filter the human experience.
I remember one time you were making collages tearing apart your own art and restructuring them into a new piece… I thought… that is really cool, I could do the same thing with my music…
That’s my box over there with all the paper that I use to do the collages… It’s like my reject painting box that I turn into new stuff.
It’s been a strangely enlightening, sometimes difficult and very beautiful trip for me so far. I feel the second half of my life as an artist will be much more fluid and pleasant because I have the network and community I have built over the years in place. I have the confidence to protect me from the negative, a clear focused vision and a higher understanding of art and its true potential as well as my role as a creator.
Introduction by Marcio Parks.
Interview by Juan Pablo Andrade & Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.
Editing & design by Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.
Photography by Juan Cruz Molas y Molas.
Panamá Guna Yana Photography courtesy of Trystan Bates.
Artwork courtesy of Trystan Bates.
Una mirada auténtica sobre la subcultura.
(an authentic look about subculture).
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