In 1995 San Antonio native Jesse Amado was one of three residents inaugurating Artpace San Antonio’s International Artist-in-Residence program. Twelve years later, the now New York- and San Antonio-based artist returns in this exhibition of his conceptually driven sculpture and two-dimensional works. New projects are combined with seminal pieces from the past, tracing the artist’s investigation of text, repetition, and communication. The works present a minimalist aesthetic endowed with cultural and emotional inquiries into how ideas of art and beauty are transferred and coded.
Jesse Amado was born in San Antonio, TX, in 1951 and received his MFA from The University of Texas at San Antonio, TX, in 1990. Since that time he has been awarded a visual arts fellowship grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and artist-in-residence grants from the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia (through the NEA) and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Nebraska. He has had solo exhibitions at Finesilver, San Antonio, TX (2003); McNay Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX (2003); and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (1996). Group exhibitions include Never Leaving Aztlan, Museo de las Americas, Denver, CO (2005); Visualizing Identity, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX (2003); and Film Revival, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Program, Long Island City, NY (2003).
Frances Colpitt: Could you talk a little bit about your installation and how you conceive of its unfolding?
Jesse Amado: Well, I think I should be able to. I want to attempt to get through a lot of things that I feel are trapped inside. It has to do with a societal syntax and with a personal syntax, and most of all with a visual syntax. The theme is the washing and the cleansing of all of those things. So, I want to go through the process of cleansing, and more importantly, I hope that the poetics of the works will also be something much more, ultimately.
FC: One of the main ingredients in this exhibition is soap, and it seems very much like the kind of material that you would choose. Were you attracted to the soap because of its smell and its sense of waxy tactility?
JA: The idea of the soap is for all those reasons: the tactile quality of it, the smell of it, particularly this soap that I am using. Just taking it out of one box and putting it into another was quite an experience because it is an incredibly strong smelling soap. Then, there is the whole notion of washing, which is something I like to do. I like to wash up. Another thing that sort of was a revelation was a botanica in my new neighborhood. I told you about the place that I am getting ready to move into. My neighbor is a botanica. So, I went in there and there was a wonderful display of about one hundred different soaps that one can get in order to wash oneself with the hope of, perhaps, having a better love life. There are so many soaps that are available through this botanica to use to cleanse yourself, and to wash away the things that are impure and that are keeping you from being happier, I suppose. And the packaging of this soap is really beautiful too. So that convinced me once I saw that. I was wanting to change my work, to reevaluate it, to see what was wrong with it and what was strong about it. I thought the perfect metaphor for that would be to just wash away everything that had ever been accumulated in my work.
FC: One of the things I was going to ask you is whether your work responds to the place of its making. And now I see that although the work appears very cool and conceptual–and it appears to be homeless in a way–there are reference points in your living in San Antonio.
JA: Yes, that is very true. I am essentially tethered to this area for many reasons: because of my family, and because of my job most of all. I made the commitment to stay in this town a long time ago, but I also made a commitment to art and so I had to find a way of making a substantial art or meaningful art. One way of doing that was to refer to what San Antonio is and the pleasures that San Antonio has to offer in terms of its imagery and in terms of the kind of things that surrounded me when I was a child. You know the iconography of San Antonio is very prevalent, and I know that this plays an important part in my work even though it is not very evident, but it does derive from that.
FC: Maybe it is more metaphorical than it is formal. Your work does not reflect what we would call the indigenous style of San Antonio.
JA: The formal part of the work is important. So I do not forget about that, but I also want to stress the metaphorical aspect of it. I think of my work in very poetic terms. Poetry is very important to me….
FC: In this particular work or installation, the soap is the generative object–the motif of the show–and then you will also be using mirrors and glass.
JA: Real shiny, reflective kind of things.
FC: And the sink in the middle.
JA: It will actually be mounted on a table. And that will drain into a trough, where the soapy water will accumulate. So it will be a whole process of having the soaps in their boxes, I think, and then maybe having soaps out of their boxes, then the soaps being picked up and used to wash with, and put into another compartment. There is a ritualistic, ordered aspect of the washing that I hope to accomplish. The reason that I have the mirror is because I want to see myself going through the process of washing during the installation. Also, because of its reflection, the mirror emphasizes the duality of things. If I can see my “dual” self, I can remove myself instead of focusing on myself. If I can be beside myself, by using the mirror, and see myself doing what I am doing, it will probably help me get to the place I am hoping to get to.
FC: Is it an autobiographical exhibition?
JA: Of course it starts there and I am the author of what is going on there. But I am trying to distance myself as quickly as I possibly can, and through the mirrors I will be able to achieve that. Hopefully when the act is finished and when the viewers come in, they can see themselves as well, and possibly see something more than themselves. They can see how they are when they are beside themselves.
FC: Something that I have noticed about your work is that it is not just the objects, but the space between them that is very important. So even though there are individual pieces, there is an activation and utilization of all the space, which becomes charged.
JA: Yeah, I try to put myself in the place of the viewer and I try to create a distance between myself and the work as soon as I possibly can. I try to become the viewer suddenly, instead of maker. I try to go through the movement that a viewer would, and I kind of like that part of the process. I think about activating the viewer, whether I want to keep him still or make him move. There has to be some kind of movement. There has to be some kind of outside force that I think that the art work needs to complete it. The activation is essentially important. I try to come to it as soon as possible.
FC: Are you shifting roles? Are you artist and then viewer, and then artist and then viewer?
JA: Yes, and gradually I remove myself almost completely as the artist. I just want to give up the work as soon as I possibly can. I feel much better about the work if I can do that.
November 30, 1994