Interview with Rodrigo Carapia, young Mexican artist in Madison that, despite all the difficulties, still believes in art as an inspiration for a better life and a resource to educate both other people and yourself.
> Hello and welcome Rodrigo! Thanks for allowing me to interview you. Tell me about you and your story. Where are you from, how many years have you been living in Madison? Why Madison?
My name is Rodrigo Carapia, I come from Mexico City. I am 26 years old, and I came to Madison 9 years ago for no reason really, just by chance. I didn’t choose this city, I came here because my brother was here. I am the youngest of five children. At first, living in Madison was not easy. I worked hard to help my family and the language was a great barrier.
I am an artist. Now, I paint with acrylics, but in Mexico I used to paint murals. I’ve had to adapt and learn a new way of painting. I like to paint anything when I do it for fun, but I like to focus on my traditions and culture. I try to give messages in my paintings, but I don’t always do it. Sometimes it is for fun, at times, it is to transmit something deeper. You could say I don’t have a specific theme of focus.
At what age did you start to draw?
I think that I always wanted to paint, at least since I was nine or ten. However, I realized that I was talented when I was twelve to thirteen years old. That’s when I focused more to improve. I liked what I was doing and people liked it as well.
What are your themes?
Honestly, I’m pretty diverse. I don’t have a specific theme I explore. It depends on the mood I’m in or on the desire to communicate something to the people. I can focus on a specific topic when I want. I really like Aztec culture, I like to speak about education and promote it through my paintings; the connection between people, peace and respect. I feel good when my art transmits something positive. In addition, I love animals, I can paint them both realistically and abstract, provided that the essence of the animal remains.
How do you define your art? What is your style and what techniques do you use?
It is a combination of different techniques and styles. I grew up making street art, so you can feel the essence of this type of art in my work. The truth is that I don’t have a style or a specific technique. To me, it is just art and it makes me happy and makes other people happy!
Why do you paint?
For the desire to move forward, continuing to paint and see where it goes.
What are your inspirations?
Everything that surrounds me. From the colors that I see at daylight, to those I see at night. I get a lot of inspiration from the colors of my region in Mexico, which is colorful and seems to be a mural itself. Mexico’s landscape is a constant inspiration for me. In comparison, Madison is smaller, compact and peaceful, and with fewer colors. I think that my art is a combination of the two cities.
What do you want to convey with your works?
I want to inspire new generations, to inspire them in the same way I was inspired when I saw so many murals by anonymous authors. I never knew who made the murals I saw in the streets.
Also, I want to convey a sense of fighting for a better world.
Which of your works is your favorite, the one that represents or has represented yourself?
There is a work that I paint, which is called the Aztec Warrior (The Aztec Warrior) that, basically, is a skull with an eagle on top. I have a special affection for this painting. Many people have wanted to buy it, but I never sold it. It represents me, because the Aztec culture represents my country and because we Mexicans are warriors. The skull has no color, so it is neutral and it can represent anyone. I had done something similar in Mexico, on a wall, but you can’t take a wall with you! It is one of my classics and, still, continues to surprise the people who look at it. Perhaps because it has so much power.
Another work that represents me, is On My Way (En Camino), which shows a man who is a little inclined and is carrying the whole Latin American continent, as if he was carrying a weight. It was an experiment that was born from a real image. Once, I saw a boy inclined that was carrying a big stone, and I imagined giving shape to the stone. I thought of myself as an immigrant, so I decided to paint the American continent. However, I did not know whether to paint the whole continent or only Latin America. After, I thought that this person, perhaps, was walking toward the United States so I drew only Latin America, because it was like an immigrant who was carrying his own culture to another country. It is important to maintain traditions so that we don’t forget who we are.
What exposure or events you have participated recently?
At this moment, my works are exhibited daily in two Madison locations. The Yellow Rose Art Gallery, which is located in 122 State Street #201; and the coworking community 100state, which is located at 316 W Washington Ave #675. I also have three murals in the Juvenile Detention Center of Dane County, Madison. I’m very happy to have been the first artist to achieve that his murals are in this center for minors. Actually, so far, I have three murals there and I am very proud of it.
Are you working on any projects at the moment? Do you have ideas for the future?
Yes, I have a long-term project. I want to open a gallery that’s one hundred percent Latin American, where latinx youth and Madison artists can support each other to make their own art, and which can function as an incentive to make art. Also, I would like to bring in the art of my city, Mexico City. There are talented people there that didn’t have the opportunity that I had to come here. I want to be their connection so that they can export their art and have another resource.
Also, I’m developing a clothing brand. It’s a more concrete project than the gallery or, at least, I think it’ll be sooner that the gallery. I’m a little delayed, but it’s moving forward and I hope to realize it soon!
What other forms of art have a big impact on your own art?
Music, of course! I can’t be without music for a whole day. I listen to it while working all day. I listen to different kind of music, which helps me to visualize what I want to see and paint. I probably wouldn’t paint without music. I can listen from just a single piano to a Mexican band or a typical Mexican mariachi band. The mariachi, for example, may be happy or sad. It can make you cry or laugh. It depends on what you feel and what you want to paint. Usually I decide what I want to listen to depending on my mood, and then the images come out when I paint.
To what extent does the subject of the immigration affect your art and your life?
At first, I really felt the lack of support and security, because I didn’t know where to go and there were no opportunities. Or, they were there but I didn’t know where to look. It’s important to guide immigrants and help them. That’s one of the reasons why I would like to have a gallery. That way I could help orient everybody, especially if they have talent.
Somehow, the fact of being a migrant has affected my art positively or, at least, has helped me. I have surprised people by showing them something new by coming here with my way of making art.
Also, I went through a stage of depression. I didn’t want to paint and I was without ideas and imagination because I didn’t think it was worth the time. However, I listened to a lot of music and, without realizing it, it affected me. It helped me out when I started to paint again. There was also the part that in Mexico, I used to paint with a group of street artists who supported me, but when I came here, I found myself alone.
What is the relationship between your works and your Latin origins? In what way do your Mexican traditions affect your works?
You can tell by the colors! People don’t even need to see my face to know that my paintings are Latinx, more than that, they’re Mexican. When a Mexican paints, you can tell that it’s by a Mexican. I’m not sure if that happens with every country, but the essence of Mexico is in the colors! I couldn’t devote myself to drawing in black and white. I did an experiment recently, a charcoal drawing. It was a Mexican god, the face of a feathered snake from a relic that was recently discovered. I tried to paint it in black and white, but, in the middle of the process, I realized that I couldn’t do it, that I had to use colors. If I didn’t I would be going against what I do and who I am. So I left face and tongue in black and white, but I colored the feathers.
Besides painting, do you teach as well?
Yes, I do workshops from time to time. Someone discovered my art and commented it to a person who is responsible for educational projects, with the idea of bringing art to places where it can be used to educate and convey positivity in a constructive manner. The idea is that artists bring their own art, sharing their knowledge and abilities with people who need to steer their life toward good things. These projects are developed in places like shelters or prisons for minors, as a form of therapy and to have a skill once they get out. When I do this, my main job is to talk with them, inspire them and teach them. For me, it has been and it still is an enjoyable experience. I enjoy it a lot, and every time they invite me I am very happy to participate.
There’s also different projects in schools and libraries for young people interested in painting. I’ve also taught workshops in nursing homes (I call them abuelos affectionately). In this case, painting also works as a therapy for them. My style of teaching is to give lots of freedom to the students. I’m not the type to tell them what they need to do. I just show them how to make it and the process, that way they have the liberty to express themselves.
I am not a teacher and I prefer to be seen as a friend and tutor. My students respect me as a person and this improves communication and creates a strong connection. After all, I am there to help them learn something new.
Is being an artist a job? Do you do other jobs?
No, I don’t think so. Painting is a resource, a need. I have tried to quit several times, challenging myself to see how invested I am. To see how much art controls me and if I can do without it. And I can’t, because my head is always thinking about works of art. I can stop painting for a month or two, but I keep having ideas. So, if I stop for a while, all of a sudden I need to do something little, that always becomes something bigger. And, in truth, all the times that I put art to the side, I received a call with a proposal for a new project! And I have never refused a new project. So art bothers me, and I bother it back! We don’t leave each other alone. Art is going to be to you what you are to it. It’s a love/hate relationship.
I work as a gardener during the day, which helps maintain my desire to keep painting. They’re two totally different things and, many times, it happens that, while gardening, I think that I should be painting. Then I go home sometimes and paint after work. Gardening is very solitary, although I fill all my time listening to music and watching views and landscapes that inspire me. I take a lot of pictures of flowers and other elements of nature.
At this time in your life, what do you wish to fulfil the most?
Regarding art, I want to transform Madison’s latinx art. This is in the sense that I want it to grow so much that it’s impossible not to see it. I want it to be shared so that many more people are interested in Latinx art. We have a lot of talent but Madison is really behind. In Chicago, the situation is different. There are many centers devoted specifically to Latinx art. I want to push Latinx art forward, not by steps, but by leaps and bounds. There is a Latinx art fair once a year in Madison, in October, but how can it be enough? It’s not inspiring for any artist. It’s not enough stimulation. A Latin American gallery, just for Latinxs, would ensure competition. And when there’s competition, there’s progress.
On the other hand, in relation to my personal life, I wish to see my parents. I haven’t seen them in nine years. This is my greatest desire at this point in my life.
Thank you Rodrigo! It has been a pleasure talking with you and I hope that it will soon be possible to visit the Latin American gallery that you desire so much. It would be a critical resource, a support for Latinx artists of Madison. I am not an expert in art, but I know your art transmits something positive. I do believe in the art as a therapy and as a cure. I am sure that you and many other Latinx artists are a great resource for the Madison community and you could do much more if only you would have the opportunity.