Ricardo Morales is a self-taught painter from Guatemala who lives between there and Madison. Jan B. Juárez, in a very well-written article published in La Hora, affirms, with reason, that “Despite being attached thematically and, at times, anecdotally to Guatemala, Ricardo Morales’ images have, regardless, a universal dimension that allows them to be understood in all parts of the world”. His artwork is based on reality, touching, profound and leaves those with a conscience with much to think about.
Let’s get some biographical information. Where were you born? Where do you live? How long have you been in Madison and why did you pick this city?
I was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala in 1971. I was in Vermont the first time I came to the United States, where, in 2012, I had an opportunity from a grant to do an art exhibition in the Vermont Studio Center. This was the period that I was talking about the Conflicto Armado in Guatemala ( a civil war that few people know about and affected much of the country). It was an interesting experience, and from there to here I’ve attempted to connect myself by reaching the next step on the ladder. I’ve got a friend in Madison that got connected with Mario Garcia Sierra, the president of Centro Hispano. My first time in Madison was two years ago to paint a mural. I got to know some people, opportunities opened up, one thing led to another, and here I am!
How long have you been painting? Why this art form and not another?
For as long as I can remember, Chiara! I’ve got a really bad memory, so for this reason I’ve saved a lot of drawings from my childhood. I remember the moment when I made them when I run into them. I always drew and soon began experimenting with colors. I think I have a love affair with painting, she seduced me and I fell in love with her. It’s a spiritual connection.
What are your themes?
The themes that affect me personally. I come from a violent reality. I grew up in the midst of violence and painting has always been a mirror to that reality and a way to generate a change. Big changes can be generated by little things. I want to activate consciences, to make people see what cannot be seen or what is seen poorly. To make sure that they are seeing correctly. I know that there are people that think like me, and that consoles me. There’s something really interesting that Oscar Wilde said, that a work of art doesn’t present any point of view, because the point of view is from the spectator and not from the work. I think that’s really valid and totally true. But I also think that there are artworks that don’t say much, that don’t cause any discomfort. Honestly, I like to cause discomfort through art. It’s necessary, because the shake-ups and punches of life have made me react. From there I’ve risen stronger and with greater clarity.
Where does your inspiration come from?
From reality, and like I said earlier, what affects me.
What do you hope to transmit with your works?
I enjoy landscapes, water, the beautiful things in the world. I don’t want to only talk about the tragedies. But, in this day and age, we are living in a manner that’s practically impossible to sustain at this level of production and consumption. The world is ending on us. We are living an infinite lifestyle in a finite planet. There’s two ways to react: by rationalizing, and bypassing the problem, or admitting that catastrophe is nearby.
Many people, especially those with money, aren’t capable of looking deeper. They have their air, their food, everything they want, all the commodities, and don’t think beyond that. For example, I was observing the process of making a sandwich at Subway. There’s an incredible amount of waste, of paper on top of paper and plastic, which we call ‘good service’, which is not good service at all, if you look at the impact on the planet. It’s all really complicated.
What’s the piece that’s represented you the most or that still represents you?
Most of my works talk about violences of all kinds, so they all represent me in different ways. The one about the armed conflict in Guatemala represents me in a particular way, however, because I’ve lived in a town where many massacres occurred. Excess consumption is also violence against ourselves.
How can your art be defined?
It’s an art based on reality. I want to represent the external reality while looking at the insides of people, to paint the scars that aren’t seen from the exterior, but lie within. That’s why I deform people, to represent internal pain, even though it cannot be seen from outside.
A collection of pieces presented in Chicago, Narcoleptic Consumerist, particularly attracted my attention. Can you share with us your reflections about it?
I usually allow myself to be affected by situations and circumstances, and when they affect me a lot, I paint. It’s like a form of healing yourself. It’s like letting a snake bite you, having the anti-venom nearby and then using it. It’s kind of like a drug. In this case I was too affected by the problem of consumption. The United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but consumes like it was 30%. And every country wants to imitate this lifestyle. The United States changed the world and unfortunately it wasn’t for the better. We are all slaves and we suffer for it. If we don’t have anything to buy with, we suffer. We suffer for something that isn’t necessary, and it’s sad. Observing others, I notice that they’re not happy. It’s a dependence. The moment of happiness is reduced the moment of a purchase. It’s a pure form of violence. Think as well about how, in this exact moment, while we’re talking, there’s lots of bad things happening to sustain this way of life. This way of life has already hurt, and still hurts us. It’s an infernal chain.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m still working on consumerism, and I’ve got some additional projects in mind. I’d like to redefine, to rescue Latinos and say that we’re not just drunks, or drug addicts, but people like anybody else. Because it’s a matter of the human condition to be good or bad, it’s not about a specific race. I also want to redefine the economic contribution of immigrants, not just Latinos, in this country. But it’s difficult to draw the essence of a person. Sometimes it’s so frustrating because I start a portrait, erase it, and start all over again. It’s really important to connect oneself with the person that wants to be represented. Because of that I asked some Latino friends to get involved with my project as subjects to be painted. I want to accompany the works with a video that tells their stories. People here come fighting. There’s people that cross the border in a really hard way, without thinking about what they’re leaving behind, like their histories, their cultures, and the ignorances that they bring with. My hands are sweating from thinking about it, because I already want to start!
I know that you’ll be starting some workshops soon, going until June, for Latino children and adults. What will they be about? What do the phrases “We’re in Wisconsin” and “We’re growing up in Wisconsin” mean to you?
“We’re in Wisconsin’ is for adults, and “We’re Growing Up in Wisconsin” is for kids. I think that people establish themselves here and want to be part of this country, of this city. SInce art is a way of speaking, of channeling emotions, these thoughts could be shared. I believe in the importance of mining your own experiences as a way to heal. These workshops want to be an instrument for Latinos to heal themselves, and to share their experiences living here. Sometimes there’s no time to go to the psychologist. These workshops could be a valid substitute! They won’t be painting classes, but moments to experiment, propose, talk and share thoughts, and to have a good time. The workshops will be a “space for self-exploration, dialogue and painting”.
What does it mean to talk about one’s own ‘life story in Wisconsin through the lens of social justice”? How much does this relate to the theme of private violences that you talk about so much?
I want to hear about this from the participants! Because I’m pretty new here, and so I want to hear about experiences with social injustices. So in this sense, I’ll be learning. I want to learn more about the movement in Wisconsin and how Latinos are related to all this.
This is the only way we can change things for the better, and attempt to be happier. From little changes come the big changes. We are all crewmates of the same boat. We have to help each other to survive in the best way possible.
Thank you for an enjoyable interview rich in ideas to reflect on, Ricardo!
Thank you Chiara!