Some Strings Attached 031 (2013)
9 x 12 inches
Ink on paper
Steven Vasquez Lopez meticulously draws plaid fabrics with ink from his studio in San Francisco. His work focuses on what he calls the ‘personal fabric of identity,’ and the unravelling or wear and tear that this can experience.
Where did you study?
I was mostly self-taught technically. I have been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. In high school I took two years of Architectural drafting, then at the University of California, Santa Barbara I received my BA in Studio Art. The program was more conceptually driven and we talked about contemporary ideas, with a little bit of technical instruction. I worked a lot in painting, drawing, video, performance and printing making. Aside from figure drawing, I really spend most of my time thinking about identity and culture within a suburban landscape.
Then, in 2005, I attended the San Francisco Art Institute for my MFA. SFAI encouraged me to have a solid grasp on my ideas first, then allow the medium and technical execution to follow appropriately. I worked with some amazing faculty, like JD Beltran, John Priola, Jeremy Morgan, Keith Boadwee, Glen Helfand and Amy Ellingson, to name a few.
How do you define your work?
Contemporary drawing. I usually make a point to let people know my work is all hand drawn and I don’t use any computers in the process. These new works are all Micron ink drawings on Bristol paper. Visually they look like swatches of plaid fabric with moments of unraveling.
Why did you choose fabric as a subject matter?
I have a lot of connections personally to fabric, specifically plaids. The work is both a celebration of my personally identity as a gay Mexican-American artist. My mom is a seamstress and introduced me to sewing and fabric at an early age. She worked in a sewing factory to make money for herself and to give to her family while they were immigrating into the US from Mexico. I also attending Catholic school, where uniforms and plaid patterns are used to make everyone feel equal. I find it interested how uniforms can form or cover up an identity.
When we start to figure out who we are as young people and even as adults, we have to factor in so many influences from family traditions, economic status, gender, sexuality, culture, geography, etc. And we are constantly weaving this personal fabric of identity. Sometimes, it’s not clear or can be partly unraveled and worn out. My drawings of fabric plaid textiles attempt to celebrate this conundrum of life.
Can you talk us through the process of creating one of your pieces?
I travel a lot and was away from the studio for long periods of time. I decided to bring along a sketchbook and pens with me to play around with drawing while away from painting. The very first pieces looked like college-ruled paper. I began to disrupt the expected format of the lines. Changing the direction and planes. This led into grids and eventually plaids. Initially, I was trying to make perfect plaid textiles, then I hit turbulence on a plane and messed up a drawing. This was the moment, I found the unravelling component to the work. There was something beautiful about the mistake. The textile looked as if it was falling apart. So, I started to manipulation that very notion.
In the series, Some Strings Attached I approach each piece one at a time and make very few conscious choices, sometimes it’s color, angles, density, etc. I try to let the drawing figure itself out as I make it. I don’t always know what it’s going to look like, but I start to guide it based on moving away from previous drawings.
I never use pencil and don’t write down the mathematical formulas. I sort of draw in rhythm to the plaid. For instance, I lay down a base grid, then start to fill in each thread one at a time. I sort of go into autopilot, but as soon as I get comfortable, I usually find the moment to disrupt the piece with an unraveling. The first drawings only had subtle moments of unraveling. Now, I’m trying to push the boundary of this, you’ll notice some are really out of control and chaotic.
It’s all very intuitive and organic in design. I go in with confidence, curiosity and excitement- straight with pen on paper!
I recently began making time-lapse videos of me drawing. Aside from seeing my hands holding the pen, it looks exactly like a digital printer. They are kind of fun.
How long does one of the smaller pieces take?
When I first started making the smaller pieces (9” x 12”) about 5 years ago they would take me about 5-8 hours. I’ve learned to draw these much faster now and am more in tune with the process, so I can quickly jump into a piece and complete a smaller drawing in about 2-3 hours. But, I’m always trying to make the work more complicated and challenging, which is why I set out about 6 months ago to create a drawing that would be on a roll of 42” wide Bristol paper. Currently at about 11 feet completed, it’s my largest piece to date. I’m interested in being able to sell it per yard, just like you purchase at a fabric store. I’m hoping to complete the entire roll. It’s an obsessive love affair I have with the process of making.
This is just a behavior trait of mine that goes back to my childhood. One time my family was at the park and a gentleman come over looking for assistance. He asked if we could help him find his wife’s wedding ring that got lost in the volleyball sand pit while they were playing. My friends lasted about 30 mins digging for it. I spent about 4 hours and found the ring for him. It’s silly that I would comb through an entire volleyball pit of sand at the age of 14 with my bare hands looking for a tiny little ring, and it wasn’t even mine. That’s one of many stories, but I think it’s a classic example of this type of obsessive behaviour and commitment.
Where do you work?
I live in San Francisco, in a tiny studio apartment close to the north east corner of the Golden Gate Park Panhandle. If you know the city and the rental market, it’s an expensive place for an artist. But, I’ve had this place for about three years and able to use it as both my living space and studio space. I work in front of two large windows on a drafting table. I’m very organized and clean. I only buy and keep what I need. So, I have my table, my stacks of paper and ink pens. I get overwhelmed by clutter. I work efficiently in a small space. Everything has a place and I love it!
Have you ever considered making fabric rather than painting it?
I think your question alludes to asking, would I ever consider having my drawings specifically reproduced in mass production as a textile. That would totally change the work and you would lose that notion of the hand-made and personal. My drawings are contemporary artworks that are used to start a conversation about a lot of thing like, the role of gender in traditional quilting or crafts, technology vs. the hand-made, how identities are patched together, to highlight a few.
I’m not anti-technology, I just find beauty and sentiment in the hand-made. Like the doilies my grandmother sits and makes – crocheting in a chair for hours and days. These things can be made my machines or bought, but she finds pleasure in making them. It’s fascinating and beautiful.
But to your questions, YES! I would love to partner up with somebody in the textile world to collaborate on a project. I’m not sure what it would look like or how it would function, but I think it could be really interesting to make a fabric/textile. I really love design. And I know there are so many possibilities and formats. I have always wanted to design men’s socks.
Some people view fine art and fibre / textile art as very different genres. What is your view? Do you think they can have equal prestige?
In some ways, they both overlap each other and sometimes exist together. But they each have a different agenda and it would require knowing the audience. A while ago, I had the pleasure of having a studio visit with Roderick Kiracofe. He is a writer, quilt collector and curator that brought this very question to the forefront of discussion. He proposed that quilting could be examined through a contemporary art lens, which is exciting and kind of dangerous. The history of American quilting is very fascinating. There are rules and standards to making quilts and designing patterns. I’ve only recently started to research this world and I think there is a place for contemporary artists and traditional quilters to have a conversation. I have to be careful, because I’m not a quilter, I just make drawings that look like quilts and textiles. I respect that world and would be curious, what they think of my drawings.
And YES, they can have equal prestige and respect for one another. It just takes contextualize the work. There is great beauty, craft and meaning in both, so I definitely believe in equating them. I’m not an elitist.
Where do you find inspiration?
Of course, in my family, their hard work and generous love they have for me. I look at as much contemporary art as I can, visit galleries and read magazines. Some of my favorites contemporary painters/artists are Dana Schutz, Jane Callister, Monique Prieto, Larry Pittman, James Gobel, Laura Owens, Chris Finley, Ben Baumgartner, I could go on.
[We recently interviewed Ben, check out his page on this site – Ben Venom]
What are the challenges facing young artists today?
This is what I would tell any young artist:
-Invest in your ideas, fully
-Hold yourself accountable for making the work
-Find ways to financially support the journey
-Surround yourself with an artist community
-Live, breath and consume art everyday
-Be present and invest in your future
-Learn more technical vocabulary
-Share your story
-Experiment, explore and take risk
-Challenge the norm
-Be bold, be brave and be loud!
-You only get one life to make a difference, what are you waiting for?
Do you have any exciting plans you would like share?
I have a few shows coming up, one in Los Angeles in early 2017 at MRG Fine Art. There are a lot of new ideas coming out of the quilt drawing. It has lots of sculptural possibility that I would like to try out. I’m not sure what is next in terms of drawing or painting. I have some ideas cooking in the studio, but still too early to share. Since I haven’t exhibited this work too much, I really want to get it out there and show people.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Yeah, the world is already complicated and challenging for many of us. We need to support and respect each other. We need to promote and celebrate diversity.