An interview with Cisco Jimenez by Laurence Miller
LM: Tell us a little bit about yourself and about Cuernavaca, Mexico
CJ: I always consider myself an outsider, even in the place where I grew up. Most of the people who live there are not from there. Cuernavaca has no real identity. It is a mixture of many things, and I think that is what I reflect as a person and in my work. It is full of contradictions.
LM: Explain what some of those contradictions are.
CJ: Well, Cuernavaca used to be the weekend home for rich people from Mexico City. And on the other hand, we have all the campesinos who have nothing.
LM: And how do these contradictions resolve themselves in your work?
CJ: In this show, for example, I used Mexican comics that you can find everywhere and everybody reads all the time. I tried to make a sophisticated work of art in the tradition of Mexican culture but mix with it ideas of contemporary art.
LM: Who are the artists in Mexico that you look at the most?
CJ: I look at Colonial art, popular art.
LM: And when you say popular art, do you mean artists like Posada?
CJ: Yes, and people that never sign their work, people that make crafts, but also Tamayo or Diego Rivera or even Cuevas.
LM: One of the things one might see in your work is a kind of pointed criticism of contemporary Mexican life and politics.
CJ: It is very normal in the middle and lower classes to always criticize the government, society and religion. I used to take ideas from the street that people [would] say all the time, and I would put them in a painting or an object.
LM: When did you first know that you were going to be an artist?
CJ: My father used to be a landscape painter. He gave me all his brushes and oil paintings and some canvases. Now, he works hard to support the family. He thinks about machines, tools, and technical parts all the time. That is another influence on my work. My father is a practical person. When he tries to fix something and he doesn’t have the right part, he makes it.
LM: Tell me about your training as an artist. Are you self-taught?
CJ: I went to art school when I was fifteen years old-the local art school in Cuernavaca-and after that I spent three years at the university studying industrial design. I used to travel daily from Cuernavaca to Mexico City by bus, but sometimes we would hitchhike to save the money from the bus, so that I started to have savings. So when I left the university, I had some money and I decided to go to New York.
LM: When did you decide to go to New York?
CJ: At the time, I had just gotten to know Jimmie Durham, who was living in Cuernavaca. In the beginning, I saw gringo art as stupid – conceptual art that goes against the tradition of painting and things like that. But, with time, I started to recognize the smart things Jimmie said when he was in Cuernavaca. That was the first time that I realized that an artist can be intelligent.
LM: How long were you in New York?
CJ: Six months, in 1991.
LM: What kinds of things did you look at there?
CJ: Mostly the street, because I really had no idea what the city was like. I came to know the culture of the street. And stores, any kind of stores. I was impressed with things like that.
LM: What do you think emerged in your work when you went back to Mexico?
CJ: Before that, like everybody, I used to go to the store to buy art supplies, but after New York I started to take things from the street. I started to make my own paper and to carve my frames.
LM: One of your colleagues here at ArtPace, Leonardo Drew, used the notion of recycling in his work, taking things and transforming them into something new. Do you share that concern?
CJ: No, I want to take things from the level of poverty and bring them to the level of art. It’s like subversion: something like in Mexico where Indians in the past used to make images of the Virgin. They put Indian figures inside and when they prayed to the Virgin, in reality they were praying to the idols. It is subversion, yes, and it still deals with the issues of poverty, you know?
LM: Cisco, let’s talk a little bit about your experience at ArtPace. Did you come here with a clear intention of what you wanted to do, the work that you wanted to make?
CJ: Yes. My idea about the residency was to take some time to think more about the things I used to do in Mexico, to take time to find the right stuff, the right objects to create the focus for my exhibition. I wanted to know how Mexicans are living here and are treated. I found some great comics, and they do that in a naive way. And maybe, I thought, I don’t have to say any more than that because the comics are a more powerful expression of what ordinary people say about immigration, for example. I want to make something more sophisticated than the comics, but with the same level of criticism.
LM: So do you consider yourself a kind of social critic?
CJ: I consider myself a kind of postmodern Pasada. I think that a good artist and a smart artist should consider the good things that he can do or he can express. Talent is only half of it. There is another part, a dark side, an awareness of anxieties and obsessions.
LM: So what you’re saying is that you think it’s important to go to the dark side of yourself. And why is it important to do that?
CJ: Eso te da equilibrio.
LM: Oh, so there can be equilibrium in your life.
LM: Can you imagine a time, Cisco, when you give your paints and brushes and carving tools to your son?
CJ: I don’t want to have a family or sons.
LM: Why not?
CJ: Because of the future.
LM: Because you’re anxious about the future?
CJ: Yes. I am Mexican and I will, I think, always be, even if I’m here. And in Mexico, we have no future. We have no hope for the future.
LM: But at the end of this work at ArtPace with the exhibition upstairs, are you happy?
CJ: Oh yeah, absolutely.
CJ: Because it is the second time that I have had the opportunity to see the country from another perspective. When you are not part of it, you can keep your distance and everything is different, more clear and more objective.