ArtBlitzLA stopped by Claremont Graduate University’s ongoing MFA thesis exhibitions to chat with MFA candidate Johnny Guerrero. Read the interview below:
ABLA: When people ask you what your work is about how do you respond?
Guerrero: I don’t necessarily see my work as being “about” something. It is something. The pieces are unique entities with their own personalities and moods and attitudes. And when the viewer stops long enough to interact with them, to have a conversation, that’s where the real art happens.
ABLA: You described the works as being “experience generators,” what do you mean by that?
Guerrero: My process in the studio is highly improvisational but my driving intention isn’t, it’s set in stone:
I want to create work that has an irresistible pull on the audience. I want them to be drawn in and held there long enough in front of a piece that they can’t help but feel something, to have a genuine, personal experience. And I don’t dictate what that experience should be. For example during the opening last week, a viewer pulled me aside and told me that one of the pieces was “freaking her out.” She couldn’t even look back at it, as if it was an entity hovering in the corner staring at her. She said if that was what I was “going for,” that it was working. I assured her that no, engendering terror wasn’t my specific intention but that her feelings were valid and meant the piece was working and I thanked her for sharing them. Then she looked at me skeptically and walked out of the gallery.
Ironically, within seconds another viewer came up and wanted to talk about the exact same piece. He said he couldn’t explain it, but it made him want to hang out there right next to it because it made him feel happy and safe.
Needless to say, that was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
ABLA: You have a background in music, how does that influence your work?
Guerrero: The approach to making visual work borrows heavily from how I operate in the recording studio.
When I launch into a new song, I might start by recording a bass line or laying down a particular rhythm on drums or a chord progression on keys, and then I build the song from there. It’s a fluid, intuitive process–but it’s very much informed intuition. I know that a particular high-hat cymbal will bring that perfect sizzle the song’s begging for, or that I need to bring in this certain musician to lay down the guitar track.
It’s the same when I’m producing a visual piece. I sit there quietly until something starts “speaking” to me and then I just go. Totally improvising but within the parameters of knowing who’s in the studio with me (the materials) and how I can be sensitive to their quirks and tastes, abilities and limitations in order to draw out the best from them.
But the goal is the same for both–make the audience feel it.
ABLA: How does your material play into your overall concept?
In order to create work that makes the viewer feel something, I have to feel something first.
I think that’s why I like working with found objects, particularly things that have been broken or forgotten or thrown away. My studio is like the Island of Misfit Toys, crowded with all these random objects that hum with a sort of vibrational memory of their original purpose, how they were designed and manufactured, where they were used and by whom, and at what point in time they were tossed out, and considered “useless.”
I haul them in, listen to their “stories” and struggle to give them a new life, a new reason for being.
It might sound nuts to personify these inanimate objects to such a degree, but I get them–their personalities, their histories, their sensitivities. They can be stubborn, funny, helpful, proud, shy. And even after they’re clothed in their new form, they still bear their scars, they’re still telling their stories and will tell you if you stop long enough to listen.
They are the core of the work.
ABLA: Who are some of the artists you admire most?
Guerrero: Just the tip of the iceberg but here are a few across the board…
Daniel Day Lewis