[Interview by Ivette Romero.] Andrés Tavárez is a Puerto Rican painter. Born in 1985 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, he completed studies in painting at the School of Fine Arts of Arecibo and undertook undergraduate studies at the School of Plastic Arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His work has been shown in Puerto Rico, Argentina, Italy, China, and the United States, among others. His recent series include Sana Sana, Revolución Productiva, Patagonia, and Cárnica. He currently resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In his review of Tavárez’s work, Joey Medrano writes: “When evaluating Tavarez’s work, note that the transition between colors is very dramatic, as evidenced by the selection of vivid colours, often thick application of paint, and real-life subject matter. In addition, the range and diversity that Tavarez is capable of is a very rare and important strength for any artist attempting to break away from the pack.”
Here is Tavárez’s brief interview with Repeating Islands [interviewed by Ivette Romero]:
Repeating Islands/Ivette Romero [RI/IR]: I recently read a review by Joey Medrano, “New Talent on the PR Block—Andres Tavarez” in which he presents several paintings, including one more figurative work that is called “Salinas” and another called “Ciudad.” In his review, Medrano writes, “Tavarez is not an abstract painter. He is not an expressionist painter. And his work is far from realism. Tavarez integrates all of these disciplines in the power of a few brush strokes. He is able to move through different painting styles, and get away with it with mastery. This makes Tavarez an exceptional artist – one whose work you cannot get tired of.” What do you think about this assessment? Do you consider that you do not fit into the categories of abstract, expressionist or realistic painting?
Andrés Tavárez [AT]: Yes, I agree. I am like a chameleon—I can paint anything. I am abstract, expressionist, or realistic, according to the theme or to what I want to say; the “ism” for me is one more resource when I want to convey a message. I can be whatever I want to be at any given moment; as an artist, I dominate the canvas. I think it is due to natural talent and love for what one does. I consider myself eclectic.
RI/IR: Do you work in other media? Why did you decide to devote yourself to painting more than to other media?
AT: I feel I am a “painter-painter.” I have created sculpture with found objects—I have liked them, but my strong side is painting. I do not think you should do too many things at once, because you are never going to master a single task; that is how I work. Painting is the side I control. Talent itself takes me down that road—painting calls me. For me, it is necessary to paint constantly. When I do not paint, I am nobody. My identity as a painter is the most important aspect. . . In the “normal” world, outside the world of painting, I do not feel comfortable. My identity is that of a painter. There are people who paint, make sculptures, teach classes, and deliver lectures. I do not; I cannot function well if I paint, teach, and do many things at once. I prefer to paint, period.
RI/IR: You told me that you have been living in Argentina for 8 years. After having lived away from the island for so long, what is it that allows you to stay so connected with the Puerto Rican culture that you represent in your work?
AT: Well, I am Puerto Rican. I am a natural-born Caribbean. If you are from a certain place, it is difficult to get you out of there. I may paint about many themes at the same time, but mostly, I interpret everything through a Caribbean lens. My way will always be the Puerto Rican way, as it should be; the place is part of one’s identity, like a fingerprint.
RI/IR: When I saw your recent piece “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta” [The electricity is gone again, shit], I assumed that you had been in Puerto Rico, living through the disaster. The painting has something visceral and painful but, at the same time, I see a level of humor. Am I wrong about this—the humor?
AT: What happened was something very important to me, as if I had lived it. While still living in Argentina, I was on the island, through the news, the radio, photos, and social media. It was a tremendous event. It [Hurricane Maria] was a Category 5 storm. The younger generation had never experienced anything so serious. “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta” expresses my concern about the gravity of what happened in Puerto Rico. I wanted the title to be just like that; I like to play with words in this way. Yes, in the work you see some pain and deep anger. But yes, I agree that it also has some humor in addition to sadness and frustration for what is going on. Painting has to have something inside—if it has nothing in it, it is not worth creating. When I started to learn about art, at the beginning, I painted pretty things, thinking about academic theories, etc. Now I am allergic to theory and to what is expected. It seems to me to be more important to search for myself. I need dialogue and a particular concept. In that piece, I painted two women gazing at each other face to face and talking. I paint what is knocking around in my brain.
The other recent work you saw on my page is “Familia con gasolina” [Family with gasoline]. I can say that this one seems to have, for many, a certain influence of Jean-Michel Basquiat; the thing is that I inherently have a natural imprint like him. We must also accept that all painters receive influences from others because we are so visual. In my work, the ability to put in several emotions at the same time, the experiences of the moment, is important to me. The person who paints never sees all the angles and emotions that his work may convey—the one that observes sees them. In a painting, everyone sees something different.
RI/IR: I am very interested in your “Sana Sana” series. Is this entire series inspired by the recent hurricanes?
AT: Yes, “Sana Sana” is a series of small format paintings. I painted them based on the passage of Hurricane María. It is the most recent work I have painted [besides “Familia con gasolina” and “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta”]. “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta” is really the last one of 2017. It has only been three days since I painted it; then I uploaded it on Facebook and the “likes” went through the roof! (Although, Facebook can be a double-edged sword; it is a dangerous medium.)
With “Sana Sana,” it was as if I had been experiencing hurricanes, very intensely, without being there; as I said earlier, I was watching everything that was published about it on the island. Many of the images were based on photographs, ads, news reports … The painter is all eyes; he has to be constantly alert. Restlessness makes me paint. Furthermore, I was raised between Arecibo and Camuy, and I experienced the events of Hurricane Hugo as a child. When I saw Hugo, at four years old, I saw the palm trees bending and the sea was like crazy. It makes me dizzy to think of that churning sea. Those images remain imprinted, engraved in my mind. That is why I like to paint palm trees struck by gusts of wind. I excel in creating these images because I am Caribbean and a painter. I am a man from the coast, a beach person; I need the sea. I can say that I am like the plantain stain [la mancha de plátano]; I have no doubt about my identity. I am Puerto Rican and proud of it.
RI/IR: As I look at this work (from the 2017 series “Sana Sana”) and older ones, like “Salinas” (2013), I see a concern for the environment. Is this one of your interests?
AT: Of course, I am worried about the state of the environment. Human being are killing the world and we must think about this. “Salinas” was inspired by a trip to northern Argentina, between Salta and Jujuy. My new work reflects my concern that Puerto Rico may heal from all the destruction and trauma of the hurricane.
As a sensitive artist, disasters beckon me, wars, earthquakes . . . I also painted what I felt about the problem with the fiscal board (you can see it in “Recent Works” on my website andrestavarez.com). All my work contains social criticism.
RI/IR: What is your next artistic project?
AT: As for painting, the topics seek me out and I find them along the road. In terms of artistic events, I have an individual exhibition coming up in 2018 at Pamil Gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The previous exhibition that I had there was in March 2017; it was called “Revolución productiva” [Productive Revolution]. The next one still has no title; it is going to be a surprise. In this one, I plan to include the works you mentioned earlier: “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta” and “Familia con gasolina.”
[Paintings by Andrés Tavárez: first, “Se fue la luz de nuevo, puñeta” (mixed media; acrylic, and spray paint on canvas; 60” x 48”, 2017); second, the artist with “Familia con gasolina” (mixed media; acrylic, and spray paint on canvas 60” x 48”, 2017). Images courtesy of the artist.]
Also see review by Joey Medrano at https://puertoricoartreview.com/2014/04/08/new-talent-on-the-p-r-block-andres-tavarez/