Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Q&A: Arterpillar talks with Eduardo Mendieta about Fragmented, his show at Gallery 2014

Fragmented will open Thursday at Gallery 2014 in Hollywood (Image courtesy of Eduardo Mendieta)

A few months ago while walking around downtown Hollywood, I spotted a really big mural on the side of a new gallery. I instantly recognized the scene, which depicts giant faces with big brown eyes amid trees, as the work of Eduardo Mendieta.
Eduardo Mendieta (Photo credit: Emilee Rose McGovern)

I encounter Mendieta's paintings and murals frequently. I've seen his work in Wynwood, on outside walls in Fort Lauderdale's FAT Village, at Lake Worth Street Painting Festival and even at a recent book signing I attended at Ink & Pistons in West Palm Beach.

But the Hollywood mural is huge, taking up the entire side of Gallery 2014, and has now led to even bigger things.

Fragmented, the West Palm Beach artist's biggest exhibition to date, will open inside the gallery on Thursday night. The show will feature Mendieta's recent collaborations with fellow artist Jay Bellicchi, as well as other works including Mendieta-style portraits of people and animals.

Earlier this month, Mendieta, who's been juggling long painting hours with his graphic design job, took time out to discuss Fragmented, the show that will open Thursday night (along with Magoz's Animal Nature) at Gallery 2014 in Hollywood.

Eduardo Mendieta's mural on the outside of Gallery 2014 in Hollywood (Image courtesy of South Florida Daily Blog)
Arterpillar: Congratulations on the upcoming show. That's really great. I saw your mural on the outside of 2014. It's beautiful. When we talked awhile back, you told me how you frequently painted your daughter Amira's face in your works. That's her in the mural?
Eduardo Mendieta: Yeah, one is her and the other is my nephew.

Arterpillar: She must be like famous now.
Mendieta: She likes to thinks so.

Arterpillar: When you were painting on the outside of Gallery 2014, did you know you would eventually be having a big show inside of the gallery?
Mendieta: Well, I did the mural through the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project so I didn't actually know the owners of the gallery or the building at all. I mean we had talked once and they mentioned that there would be a gallery opening up, but they never mentioned anything about having me show there. That happened after the fact.

Arterpillar: Can you tell me how the show came about?
Mendieta: Well, they just opened up like four months ago and they were looking for artists, so Jill [Weisberg,] the lady that ran Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, said I should ask them since I have my mural on the side of their building. So I did. I asked if they would be willing to show me and they said "Yeah absolutely." So I think they've taken in like 15-20 artists that they are going to try to represent or push and I'm one of them.
The Fragmented series is a collaboration between Eduardo Mendieta and Jay Bellicchi. (Image courtesy of Eduardo Mendieta)
Arterpillar: That's great. Can you tell me a little about your upcoming show?
Mendieta: It's a pretty big space. I don't know if you have been there.

Arterpillar: Yes, I have.
Mendieta: I'm showing pretty much everything I have to fill the space. I'm not taking up the whole space. I'm taking up half the space. The show is called Fragmented, because I'm collaborating with a friend, Jay Bellicchi, and me and him are doing these pieces that we have done before where we paint on slats of wood and we kind of mismatch them after the fact. So we'll paint them together sometimes or we'll paint them separately. We'll just tell each other "OK, we're going to be in this color range" or whatever, and basically we work our whole piece together as two separate units and then since they're on slats of wood we kind of mismatch how they fit together and then we'll rework it after we've kind put them together and stuff.

Arterpillar: He's painting half the piece and you are painting half the piece?
Mendieta: No, our styles are totally different. He's more of like an abstract, I mean he basically started with straight-up graffiti and most of his work is a play off the motions of letters. ... So basically I do my faces and he does his abstract kind of letter motions and it basically turns into kind of a flow. ...

Arterpillar: So you start it and then it goes to Jay and he does his thing.
Mendieta: Basically, I'll come up with a drawing ... a couple of designs and stuff, and we'll go back and forth on whether he wants to work with this one or that one. We'll decide on what the portrait is going to be, which is my half of it, and then we'll decide what our color palette is going to be. He does his thing separately and then we work it together once we decide how we're going to be putting each segment, each fragment, of our pieces. So it kind of goes back and forth and back and forth from his to mine and then once we decide how we're gonna work it, we embellish onto it to give it a little bit more continuity.
"Icon" 30" x "80 (oil on canvas) by Eduardo Mendieta

Arterpillar: So will the show be all collaborations or you will show other work as well?
Mendieta: Well, we've been kind of working on our pieces. We are probably going to have about seven to eight of these Fragmented pieces, and they're pretty big pieces -- anywhere between five feet long and eight feet long. The height changes. Since it's slats of wood, you can rework them and shift them up and down and it gives the whole thing a very interactive feel. With a big piece you could actually work it into a corner because they're separate pieces and all hung separately, or basically work it around a room ...Like I said, it's a pretty big space in the gallery so the rest [of the show] will be bits and pieces of everything that I've done and everything that I have.

Arterpillar: I know you've done many outdoor murals. What's your ratio of outdoor painting on concrete surfaces vs. painting things that can hang on a wall?
Mendieta: I mostly do murals. That's what occupies most of my time. I've done several commission pieces [for people's homes] for people who specifically asked me ... and I've done several kids' portraits because I do my daughter and people see it and they're like "Oh, I want you to do one of my kid." But as far as a large amount of gallery work, this will be the largest I have shown at one time ... what me and Jay are doing together. I'm hoping to get a large series out of it and trying to push more gallery work which I want to get into.

Arterpillar: Where are you doing your painting for the show?
Mendieta: Between Jay's studio, which is down in Little Haiti, and I just work out of my house also.

Arterpillar: I'm always seeing your work, whether I'm in Palm Beach County, Broward or Miami. You seem to be an artist who creates a lot of opportunities for yourself.
Mendieta: Yeah, I just try to get my name out there as much as possible. I mean I love to paint on open spaces, murals, public work, whatever you want to call it. That's my passion. As much as I can get on a wall, I'll try to.

Arterpillar: As opportunities increase have you had to become more selective about what you take on?
Mendieta: It's funny. It's like sink or swim sometimes. Sometimes I've got more work than I can handle and other times I've got nothing to do. So it depends on when someone hits me up. Anything I do, I'm going to do it in my style. ... If you want someone to just do a straight-up picture, an ocean scene or some sort of fish thing or more traditional kind of stuff like that, then I'm not your guy. It's gonna be more of what I do. ... I'll have people call from restaurants and stuff like that and I explain to them, "If you want what I do, I'm going to do my work. It's not going to be 'Well, I want it to look like this person.'" So in that way I am a little particular about what i do.

Arterpillar: What sort of schedule do you keep while getting ready for this show?
Mendieta: It's pretty crazy. I'm painting every day. I still have a regular 9-to-5, so I paint at night and every weekend on top of the mural work I'm doing, which I have two going on right now and another two that I'm waiting to do ... so basically all my free time.

Arterpillar: And you're still doing graphic design - is that your 9-to-5?
Mendieta: Yes.

"Raw Series," 40"x60"mixed media wood on canvas (Image courtesy of Eduardo Mendieta)
Arterpillar: You work on several paintings at a time?
Mendieta: Right now I am, because I'm getting ready for the show. I have I'd say another four paintings I'm working on right now all at the same time but normally I'll work one piece at a time because I'm not in a rush, but this time I am.

Arterpillar: What are you working on right now?
Mendieta: Well, it's part of the Fragmented series that were doing. Right now I have three portraits. Theyre just extreme closeups of faces, cropped off. Since it's on wood I kind of play with the background dripping paint, splattering back and forth and then I do the foreground of the face, still showing some of the background and then I'll distress it. I'll sand it down bringing back some of the wood in some areas, bringing back some of the paint and then it's a back and forth -- I put some on, take some away, I put some on, take some away.

Arterpillar: You have a lot of faces in your works. Who are some of your most recent?
Mendieta: I do mostly people around me, so I do my daughter a lot like you said, and my nieces and my cousins, friends, just anybody around me, like if I take a snapshot and I like the way it looks I'll go with it. Sometimes I work with friends who are photographers and look over their images and try to get stuff off of that.

Arterpillar: Have you portrayed any local artists in your work?
Mendieta: No, not artists, just friends. I usually take a photograph or I have friends who are photographers so I'll work off their photographs. Sometimes I work off sketches, but mostly photographs.

Arterpillar: Can you tell me a little about how your work has evolved since you began painting?
Mendieta: Well, actually when I first started painting back when I was 20 and actually trying to show in galleries, I was a lot more painterly and once I started working in graphics my work started looking more [graphical] -- with more straight lines and black to gray to white, whatever -- but now Im kind of merging them where I'm trying to be very loose and sketchy. I work mostly with spray paint when I'm doing my murals so I'm trying to get away from the straight up (graphical) look and have an almost sketchy quality to what I do with the spray paint instead of more like a cartoon look ... What I do ends up looking a little bit cartoonish but it's a lot more loose and not so tight. I mean like straight-up graphic people would look at what I do and just be like "Oh, this is way too sloppy because they're going for a very tight clean look to the whole thing, where I've kind of let that go and I'm just going for a feeling overall, not focusing on how clean the line is but the overall.

A mixed media on wood piece from the Fragmented series (Image courtesy of Eduardo Mendieta)

Arterpillar: I would imagine that some works are far more difficult than others. Can you think of any that have been particularly challenging, things you struggled with?
Mendieta: Struggled with technique-wise?

Arterpillar: Yes, or maybe just there was some hurdle to overcome, but something where when you got done you're like "I cant believe I got through this."
Mendieta: More so, it's time. I've taught myself to work really fast because I have such limited amount of time. So a lot of times I'll look at how much work I got done in one day and I'm shocked and I'm like "Wow." Like the Hollywood mural ... In the time I had I was painting on it for a month but in actual work I did that whole wall in about two and a half days but they were long days. I mean I would go there and do like the 12-hours sessions of painting and since it's kind of far from where I was at, I tried to get it all done in lumps of time like that so it was like two and a half or three days for a pretty large wall and I was pretty shocked that I was able to get it done that quick.

Arterpillar: Right, that's amazing. It seems so rewarding, taking this big blank wall and then doing something like that on it. I can't even imagine the feeling that it is to step back and go "Wow, I did that. I transformed that wall." Does that feeling ever wear off?
Mendieta: No, no. I mean it is, it's like you said, even when I'm doing a small drawing or something. I mean it's my passion so I'm always satisifed when I've accomplished something I have set out to do whether it's something small or big, but yeah definitely when you've got something that huge. You sit back and you're like "Damn, i just did all all that." Or I'll look at my pile of huge cans and I'm like "Wow, that's a lot of paint I just went through."

Arterpillar: You started doing this at 20, and how old are you now?
Mendieta: I'm 39.

Arterpillar: How long have you been in South Florida?
Mendieta: Ive been here since 95.

Arterpillar: Any idea how any walls you have painted here?
Mendieta: Well, I used to do graffiti when I was a kid in Jersey. And then when I moved here I did a couple walls here and there -- illegal stuff, not a lot -- and an old nightclub called Foundation in West Palm Beach. Then I had a kid, I got a job and I stopped painting for a long time. I did the gallery route, and had a few showings here and there ... but I had stopped painting because I had to focus on making money and I started again in 2009.

Arterpillar: Was that when you did that wall at Respectable?
Mendieta: Yeah, the wall at Respectable was right at end of 2009-2010, right around there.

Arterpillar: So that was your first time getting back into that?
Mendieta: Well, I had started painting but nothing that large. That was my first big wall. I mean it just happened basically because they knocked down the building that was next door to it and there was that big open wall and I had known Rodney [Mayo], the owner, from awhile back. He had bought some paintings from me back when I was still painting. I happened to run into him again and told him I started painting again and he's like, "Oh let me know what you are doing" or whatever, so then basically I just harassed him until he let me do that wall.

Arterpillar: When you pass by a big beautiful blank wall, that must be so compelling to you. Have you done this with people you don't know, where you see a big wall you want to paint and just go talk to them.
Mendieta: Well, I haven't really. I used to. I still drive by and see these giant clean walls in perfect places and I would love to paint them, it's the perfect spot. A couple years ago during Art Basel week. I was really looking for walls and asking people ... but besides that, no. I've been pretty lucky. After I did that wall at Respectable, people started asking me instead of me asking them. And I also put in for public workshops where they have a call for artists ... I submit for all those and stuff.

Arterpillar: Any big projects lined up after the show you have coming up?
Mendieta: Yeah, I'm still not 100 percent if it's going through but I'm working with the Downtown Development Authority in West Palm [Beach] which I have worked with a bunch of times already now. We're supposed to be doing parking lot stairwells for the city, initially starting with two stairwells on a six-story building. It has a glass front so you can see it from the outside, but it's mainly for the people walking up and down the stairwell. I have six other srtists involved in that and each artist is going to do one flight. I'm kind of managing the project if it happens. Next week we have to go in front of the Art in Public Places commitee and submit. We've done this before but they had a problem with one of the designs so we had to redsign it a little.

Arterpillar: Meanwhile you have plenty of keep you busy.
Mendieta: Yeah, I've got two things I'm working on now and two in the waiting.

Arterpillar: Getting ready for a show like this is so much work. When you're completely finished, will you reward yourself, or do you just move on to the next project?
Mendieta: No, I'm going to take some time off. I've been painting every night until one or two in the morning. Yeah, once this weeks done and I get everything finished. Im going to take a break, but I've still got my outside stuff.

Arterpillar: Good for you. Is there anything else you wanted to say about your upcoming exhibition.
Mendieta: I'm kind of just really excited about it. It's going to be my biggest show to date and I'm hoping everybody comes out.

Fragmented will open along with Mago'z's Animal Nature from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18 and can be viewed (during the gallery's regular hours) through July at Gallery 2014, 2014 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954-505-3291 or visit Gallery2014.com.

For info on more South Florida art news and events, visit Arterpillar.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I'm sure I've passed this mural and not took notice. I will be sure to take a walking tour and seek it out.