studio visit with raul de nieves
RAUL DE NIEVES is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He creates installations, sculptural objects, paintings, performance pieces and is the founder of a band/performance troupe called try cry try. As the frontman, Raul comes off as a cross between crispin glover (at his most strange) and a more handsome, less nasty, gg allin. Raul’s try cry try performances themselves remind me of what a technicolor, glitter-filled, re-interpretation of a vienna actionist “action” might look like.
One of the first times I ever noticed Raul was when I was locking up my bicycle outside
of Glasslands Gallery before a Golden Triangle show, he was covered in red body paint
from head to toe, wearing a monochromatic red outfit, also dismounting his bike. At this
precise moment I decided that I needed to know more about this man! Over the years every
time I have seen Raul out on the town he has amazed me with crazy get ups and intense performances.
C & P: A lot of your work seems to not only be about creating paintings or objects but also about creating specific environments in which to view them. Are these two aspects of the work developed interdependently or does one idea come to you first, therefore influencing the latter? How important are the objects and the surrounding environment to one another in your installation work? Or, do you even make a distinction between the two?
Raul: The work comes first of and grows into the form of installation, allowing the viewer to become part of the work and experience.
C & P: There also seems to be a distinct interplay between geometric and organic elements in your work. Often times the linear geometric patterns seem to lead into or frame the organic forms before the two become intermingled. Can you talk a bit about the role or interplay of these two aesthetics and how you hope they function together in the work?
Raul: I find geometric forms organic, lines and circles are a play on one another.
C & P: Is an element of absurdity or non-functionality important in the sculptural objects and installations you create? For instance, creating an object in the form of a shoe that cannot actually be worn as a shoe.
Raul: Absurdity is a way of looking at life. A shoe is a simple design turned into aesthetics. Most of my shoes come from obsessing over their design, allowing myself to make unwearable shoes helps me overcome the fear of finding the best shoes, not in my size. Allowing myself to make wearable shoes give me the pleasure of desire fulfilled.
C & P: How long have you been incorporating found shoes into your work? And how did the platform shoe, in particular, end up finding its way into your work?
Raul: The first time I incorporated shoes was when I walked out the door, height is everything!
C & P: How about beads? When did you start using them? Are the beads in your sculptures special beads or do you buy them at the bead store down the road?
Raul: I first started taking suitcases of beads back from New Orleans and incorporating those into my work. Now, if the need arises, I do buy beads from bead stores online.
C & P: What attracts you to beads as a sculptural material?
Raul: When using beads to build an object, the object slowly transforms into a huge piece of plastic and this appeals to me.
C & P: How much of a role, if any, does fashion play in your object-based work or performances? How about in your daily life?
Raul: Fashion is a way of life and I love living a fashionable one.
C & P: As I mentioned above I have always been intrigued by your dressing to impress (or perhaps dressing to frighten small children) on nights that I have seen you around town. One outfit that sticks in my mind consisted of a leopard print leotard, purple tights, with the amazing (and pretty damn original) accessory of a pregnant belly, somehow, ingeniously tucked into your very form-fitting clothing. When you wear these “creative” outfits do you feel like you are performing? Do you often dress like this, even when not going to art-related events? Do you consider dressing up (in extreme outfits) to just be part of who you are?
Raul: To me its a daily form of self expression.
C & P: Do you feel that art = life?
Raul: Outside of the box, yes.
C & P: As far as influences go, which artistes, living or dead, do you feel a kinship/bond with?
Raul: JOY (aka Jason Fritz Michael) & Friend Ship, best ever!
C & P: Your work reminds me a bit of Yayoi Kusama’s art, with the obsessive patterning and accumulation of objects. Has she influenced you at all? Are you a fan of her work?
Raul: I love her! Woman power!
C & P: Does your Mexican heritage influence the style of your work?
Raul: Yes, my work is a life experience and my heritage is one to be treasured.
C & P: I have seen you performing in a Ryan Trecartin video piece. How did this collaboration come about? Are you friends? What other artists do you collaborate with?
Raul: I met Ryan on Friendster long ago, we were pen pals. We met once when I came to New York and since then we have collaborated on several works, he is one to be amazed by.
C & P: Does working in the Monster Island building influence you? Is it inspirational to be around so many young and creative people on a daily basis? How did you end up in this space? Were you friends with Cameron and Vashti before they established the Live With Animals Gallery*?
Raul: Moster island is a pool full of amazement, it breaches music, art, and life. Vasthi, Cameron, and I met in San Francisco, at the Painted Bird, on that same visit I met Micki Pellerano and they invited me to come to New York. They have since given me the best experience in life one can give.
C & P: Have you shown at other NYC galleries in addition to Live With Animals? Where else have you shown in the U.S and abroad?
Raul: I show with Newman Popiashvili New York and have had shows around Europe, Mexico and the U.S.A.
C & P: Is making art therapeutic for you?
C & P: Can you tell me a little about your performance art in the band try cry try?
Raul: We put on shows themed around various topics such Hollywood, reading a letter written to a friend, etc…. We are dramatic. We also make a mess and could possibly get an audience member dirty.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an artist?
Raul: Being an artist.
*Article on Live With Animals Gallery here.
Paintings in the background of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th images by Cameron Michel.
Cameron Michel studio visit coming soon.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.