In June 2022 whilst in New York, I had the pleasure of attending the studio of multidisciplinary artist Carlos Rosales-Silva in Brooklyn, who had been commissioned by Acrylicize to paint a mural on the Empire State Building in New York for our client LinkedIn. During our conversation, he expressed his fascination with the symbiosis between the natural world and humans. The artist used a saturated colour palette for his commission on the 14th-floor elevator bank. Pajarito (2022), also incorporated his signature texture, sand, into several panels of the MDF board. Upon entering the hallway from the elevator, bulbous and sharp shapes abstracted from sketches of the outdoors immediately catch your attention.
Martin Mayorga (MM): Growing up around artisans in El Paso, Texas and working in construction, you were surrounded by materials such as stucco, cement, and lime on a daily basis. What impact have these experiences had in shaping the development of your work?
Carlos Rosales-Silva (CRS): My family immigrated from Northern México in the 1970s and I am part of the first generation born in the United States. We are working-class people. I really do believe that the combination of these experiences, mixed with a healthy dose of curiosity, necessity, and even spirituality has created a really special kind of creativity within me. This is a kind of creativity that manifests in Ingenious solutions for building homes and businesses, making furniture, decorating, sewing clothing, and really functional things that have a spirit and life that is unique. I feel really lucky to have grown up in the environment I did. I’ll add that it was not just unique to our household. So many families were similar and to then be in a community that had this kind of creative spirit was lovely and made for a really rich foundation for me as a burgeoning artist.
MM: Can you begin by describing your artistic process?
CRS: All artists are researchers, whether we acknowledge it or not. For me that means I am always searching for a few semi-specific references that excite, intrigue, disturb, and delight me. I am really intrigued by brightly painted buildings, ornate gardens, visionary modernist and postmodernist architecture, and organic and built landscapes. I am also very interested in the ways that these semi-specific interests have been affected by and result from the colonization of North America. A decolonial understanding of our world is always at the forefront of my practice. I want to know how our world is and was built and what was lost, gained, and erased in the process. I learn the most by visiting places, experiencing things for myself and then sketching what I see. This then leads to more meditative abstract drawings that then translate to colleges and then sometimes translate to paintings on panels, installations, murals and sculptures.
MM: In what way has the natural world helped shape the composition of your abstract works?
CRS: I think the most important and simple thing that shaped the works in this regard is an understanding that the binary between the natural world and a world that was built by humans does not exist, they are intertwined. This kind of understanding physically manifests in the architecture where I grew up. Buildings are built out of adobe bricks which are mud, manure, and straw, and coated in stucco which is made from sand,lime and cement. Both are great materials for insulation, keeping the harsh heat of the desert at bay. These materials make for a rough textured exterior which is then often painted. That is the kind of textural surface I was drawn to when I started making my works.
My hope is that by making a work where ambiguity exists that the entire image becomes interdependent and nothing is unimportant.
MM: During the studio visit we conducted in May 2022, you expressed how excited you were in regards to the confusion of “negative and positive space” within your drawings. How is this ambiguity reflected in your aesthetic decisions?
CRS: As artists, we are generally trained to consider things like negative space and positive space and other design elements. They are tools used to create an image that communicates an exact idea or instructs the viewer on what the focus of the work is. As I started making my work, I was more interested in what happens when you disorient a viewer, what happens when the subject is unclear and keeps someone on the edge of understanding. There are lots of ways to do this, but for me the most productive was through abstraction, finding depth in flatness, confusing the spatial relationships between shapes and then using that confusion and disorientation as a place for meaning and reflection. This idea is related to what I was talking about earlier, not thinking of the natural world as separate from the world humans built, everything we see is contextual and dependent on what it is surrounded by, on top of, in front of, behind. My hope is that by making a work where ambiguity exists that the entire image becomes interdependent and nothing is unimportant.
MM: What drives you to use such a stark color palette? Are you ever surprised by your combinations?
CRS: One of the goals in my use of colour is to be playful and surprising. I spend a lot of time in my studio experimenting with colour combinations that are strange or unexpected. In earlier works, a lot of the colours I was using were absorbed from my upbringing along the US and México borders. The interior and exterior of buildings were often painted with bright colours and murals of advertisements for businesses or local neighbourhood histories. This led to a curiosity about these colours and their interactions with each other, which in turn, led me to Josef Albers’ seminal and instructional text from 1963 called The Interaction of Color. Albers’ book is a series of lessons on colour usage with the main idea being that colour is contextual, and can only be seen because of the adjoining and surrounding colours. This was the first moment I encountered this idea of contextual seeing. Later on, I would learn that Josef Albers and his wife Anni, who is also a great artist, had taken something like 30 trips to México in their lifetimes, and were highly influenced by these trips. This created a nice feedback loop for me, one that I think of often..
For me the most productive was through abstraction, finding depth in flatness, confusing the spatial relationships between shapes and then using that confusion and disorientation as a place for meaning and reflection
MM: Acrylicize commissioned you to create a mural on the 14th Floor of the Empire State Building, arguably, the city’s most iconic building. How were you able to respond to this building and location? I am thinking of the everyday challenges you had to confront, such as the movement of office workers and the unexpected architectural elements inherent to the space.
CRS: I was always excited by the possibilities of the location. When I got the elevations for the elevator banks, I treated the available wall space as specific shapes. I printed out the elevation drawings as large as I could and drew directly on top of them for a few days until I had some pattern options. I was always thinking about people moving through the space and wanted both the mural shapes and the colours to be both exciting and welcoming. The building itself is so iconic in the city. I was really happy to see that the art deco interior of the building extended to the interior of the elevators, and was thinking of those doors opening and you being able to see the mural along with these iconic elevator interiors.
MM: While the initial idea of “Pajarito” was to produce a 2D wall work, you ultimately incorporated 3D elements made of orange colored sand on top of MDF boards. Why were these elements important to include?
CRS: I had originally pitched the idea of including some more modular works, maybe a painting on a panel or something like that, on top of the mural. However, through discussions with the Acrylicize team, I was encouraged to get a little experimental and include some of the textural elements that can be found in my panel works. I found that refreshing and really appreciated the opportunity to expand the language of the murals.
MM: There are bulbous, fluid and rhythmic motifs within the work that I read as trees, wings and waves. How do you interpret these gestures?
CRS: The wings and fluid shapes were intentional. I liked the idea of the elevators lifting people up and down and the shapes sort of changing as you moved throughout the space. The elevator bank is a narrow space, one that is meant to be moved through, so I wanted the shapes to be active while moving through this transitory space.
MM: You referred to this commission as “a big collage.” Could you detail how you worked with the architectural features of the elevator bank?
CRS: I often think in terms of collaging or layering, probably because I work with big shapes that have defined edges and shapes that are interlocking and not rigid. I thought of the architectural features as shapes in themselves, rather than obstacles. One of the best parts of making a site-specific work is having the constraints of a space and turning those limitations into strengths rather than weaknesses. With this in mind, I thought of all the architectural and even the functional components of the space.
MM: Throughout your practice, you incorporate illusory patterns and embedded information that reminds me of art movements from the 1970s, including Art Deco, Op Art and Psychedelic Art. Where do you find inspiration?
CRS: I am really drawn to Op Art and Retinal Art because of how direct and adventurous they are. I mean, to have works that physically disturb the way one sees just by combining specific colors and patterns is so exciting. The first time I saw an Op Art/Retinal Art combination of blue and red or green and red or a black and white pattern that made my eyes involuntarily vibrate was unforgettable. Psychedelic Art is similar but a little more connected to a broader cultural movement which is fascinating. Art Deco, which is more of a 30s and 40s movement, although it carries through into the now with varying degrees of popularity is basically the commercial, like patterns for fabrics and furniture etc, and popular form of Modernism. The throughline with all of these movements is that they were hugely popular with the general public, which is so lovely to me. I think there is value in communicating with color and shape, and these forms are great examples of the reach and effect this idea can have.
MM: Over the next six months, your work will be displayed across the US in Texas, California and New York. Any advice for balancing your home and studio life, on top of your busy exhibition schedule?
CRS: I think it really is important as an artist to take breaks, live life, and not work ourselves into dust. Having space for living a life is part of a fruitful artistic practice. I found that the idea of unlimited growth in one's art career is not helpful, things expand and contract but the challenge of keeping a studio practice is just that, keeping it going even when there is no one knocking at the door. There were so many years here in New York City when it was just me going to the studio, me drawing at home without any studio space, me with no deadlines in sight. That was tough, but it taught me how to hone in on why I enjoy and need to make art. I think the other advice I may impart is that no artist does any artmaking alone. We might have our individual practices, but a community of like-minded artists is so important for support. Making time and being present for each other is crucial.