Thursday, February 25, 2010

HOMECOMING: Artist Hugo Crosthwaite returns to San Diego for his first museum exhibition

By Alexander Jarman, Manager of Public Programs

Brutal Beauty: Drawings by Hugo Crosthwaite opens tonight at Museum.  This exhibition is particularly exciting because we will have the artist composing a work in the gallery space for all to see for the next few weeks.  I sat down with Hugo over some Mahi Mahi tacos recently to talk about his work.

AJ: Hugo, you were born in Tijuana, went to college in San Diego and now live and work in New York City. Do you consider yourself more of a Mexican or American artist?

HC: For me, that question doesn’t enter into my work that much. New York is so cosmopolitan that being from somewhere else doesn’t matter much. My drawings often reflect to some degree the place that I am living at the time, though I don’t think the Tijuana landscape will ever leave the work.

AJ: Tell me more about making it as an artist here versus New York City.

HC: I try not to think about being a smaller fish in a bigger pond. New York is the heart of the industry, you can’t throw a rock in that city without hitting an artist. But there are lots of people there trying to just make a living with their art and a lot more opportunities for them to do so. More NYC institutions are paying attention to emerging artists, which is why it is so gratifying for me to come back and participate in the Museum’s exhibition here. The San Diego Museum of Art was the first museum I ever went to growing up. It was the only place I could actually see works by all the artists I was interested in- Giotto, Rembrandt, Sorolla, Goya.

AJ: You taught yourself to draw by copying illustrations from Don Quixote and the Divine Comedy at a very early age. What attracted you to such serious and heavy subject matter and has that stayed with you in the work you continue to make today?

HC: I was captivated by the very dramatic images of naked bodies in poses of suffering. I mean, the Divine Comedy has all of these images of people writhing in hell, but the drawings were full of beautiful lines and compositions. That dramatic aesthetic was the first thing I fell in love with in art and I am still drawn to it. But I never looked at the whole figure or the whole picture when I was redrawing it. I would copy one detail and then move on to the next detail, which is what I still do today. I am a collage artist in the sense that all of my figures are made up of body parts and details from various sources. I might draw an eye from a glamour magazine, and then a mouth from a movie still and then a body from an advertisement. So the drawings are just created detail by detail, I never have any idea how they will look when they are done. I can’t sketch out an entire composition ahead of time because I’m too obsessed with the details.

AJ: So let’s talk more about your drawing process, in terms of how it is structured and when you know the piece has finally come together.

HC: Well, the drawing I am working on in the galleries for this show is the fourth time I have proposed working in a public space on a strict deadline. I have to give myself a schedule in order to finish in time, since I only have a couple of weeks. For all of the other works in the show, I have been able to work for months on them at a time or even a year if I need to. I did one of my first big public drawings at a gallery in New York. They invited me to be in a show but all of my work had just been shipped off to another exhibition, so I thought I would make a drawing, sort of as a performance, in the space during the run of the exhibition. In that instance, I have a deadline, so the drawing is done when it has to be done. But when I’m in my studio, I know a work is finished when I can’t possibly think of adding anything else to it….the drawing has run its course and it’s not taking me anywhere else. That’s usually when the title comes to me too. But finishing the drawing is easy, tackling that empty canvas is the harder part.

AJ: Tell me quickly about your drawing here at the Museum, both the actual piece and the process of being ‘on view’ while you create.

HC: Well the invitation to do this show came just as I was reading A Tale of Two Cities. And coming back to the border region, I thought I would make a drawing with two figures, one representing Tijuana and one representing San Diego. I like exploring the duality, the points of embrace and of conflict between these two cities.

I’m looking forward to drawing in front of a Museum audience because I think it demystifies the artistic process. I would always wonder how artists worked in their studios, like how did they hang their canvases, what kind of easel did they use, what kind of techniques were they using? Why was Francis Bacon’s studio so messy but his paintings so pristine? What you’re seeing when you come to watch me in the galleries is exactly what you would see me doing in my studio- except I won’t be listening to music! Usually I have my iPod or NPR going. I didn’t want to bring my iPod with me into the galleries because I want to make sure I can hear someone talking to me if they had a question.

AJ: So you’re not worried about people coming into the space and trying to talk to you while you’re working?

HC: No, I like talking to people about the work. If I didn’t, I never would’ve proposed doing this project.

AJ:Now that you’ve seen the space, how do agree with Amy’s [Amy Galpin, Project Curator for American Art at the Museum, curated the exhibition]  vision for the show?

HC: I am very happy with all the work Amy picked and arranged. These pieces represent my working in San Diego from about 1998 until 2004*, when I moved to New York. So for me, it is a chance to reacquaint myself with some of my past pieces, it’s kind of like a time capsule. But that’s why proposing the mural was so important for me, because it gives the audience a chance to see what I’m up to right now. It serves as a very nice little retrospective.

Images: Top, Three Graces, Collection of Debra Dold Trust
             Lower, TWINS, Courtesy of Van Cleve Fine Art

* Brutal Beauty contains works from 1998-2007, and includes a commissioned work--constructed by Crosthwaite on site February-March 2010.

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