By Julie Garisto, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
For Carlos Pons, art is much more than a creative outlet. He creates otherworldly and vivid triptychs of the human psyche as a means of self-therapy.
Born in Guatemala in 1989, the multimedia artist moved to the U.S. when he was 10 and grew up in a family of poets, musicians and visual artists.
As with many immigrant artists, feelings of displacement permeate Pons’ work.
Pons says the process of creating helps him sort through those feelings, and examples of works created during these instances can be seen in his solo show, Melancholic Human, at St. Petersburg’s Soft Water Studios.
We should also add that Pons’ day job also has some soul-boosting benefits — he has been teaching art to developmentally challenged adults at Pyramid Inc. for the past three years.
AliveTampaBay caught up with the multimedia artist before last Saturday evening’s show to talk about his work and inspirations.
What inspired the Melancholic Human show?
The name Melancholic Human came while trying to figure out what the driving force behind my work is. Making art helps me deal with the confusing journey of being a human [laughs]. I don’t create with the intent of making art per se, but it’s more like exploring a language that speaks out messages which can’t be encompassed with words. A lot of my work comes impulsively at random times. It’s like an urge to create a specific vision I see in my head. I consider myself to be a pretty gloomy person. I like for people to understand that creating art is an amazing way of dealing with these emotions; it allows you to reflect on your personal experience and then to process it in a way that makes sense. I don’t necessarily think that exploring melancholy creates an empathetic connection with my work or the viewer; I think my work is the result of an empathetic relationship I tend to have with the world around me.
How have your Pyramid clients and coworkers inspired you?
Working here has definitely inspired me a lot. Generally, my students have an intuitive sense for making art. I feel that their work is art at its purest form. It is completely unfiltered and naturally fluent. Pyramid has taught me about communication and patience but also that my purpose here is to learn rather than teach art. Working with other artists like Shane Hoffman, Emmy Lou and Mikaela Williams is totally awesome. We are constantly talking about the importance of art while motivating and challenging each other.
How did your family life and childhood experiences influence your artistic vision?
I am fortunate that making art was always encouraged in my home. When I moved to America the culture shock was eye-opening, and it brought about feelings of displacement and lost identity. The contrast between this new home and my country made me realize that we are the result of the circumstances which have been created around us.
Your subjects have included masks and faces replaced with masks. Does your Guatemalan heritage inspire your use of mask imagery?
Masks are part of Guatemalan traditions which have been around since the pre-Hispanic period and are still conserved today. They are used to represent figures in different traditional dances and plays. As a kid I loved going to the street markets and seeing all the masks and artifacts from my culture which were usually sold to tourists and visitors. I still have a mask which was given when I was a kid. It represents Tecun Uman, a Mayan warrior prince who was killed by conquistador Don Pedro de Alvarado.
Because your works provide a glimpse of your imagination through vivid imagery and have psychedelic overtones, it makes me wonder if you believe in Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. Is your work influenced by your connection with your ancestral past?
Definitely I believe in the collective unconscious. And although I feel a connection to my ancestral past, it’s not necessarily to Guatemalan indigenous people. My roots are also European, and I feel the mix of ancestral lineage is confusing, and it also adds to confusing state of humanity, the way I see it.
You also use action figures. Are they a throwback to your childhood?
The figures come from allowing myself to dwell in nostalgia. As a child I was content as long as I had fabric and craft materials. I would spend hours and hours building my characters and creating stories for them. As an adult I realized that making art had become this big chore. As you get older you become more judgmental over what you do and hold your art to higher standards. This is good for progress but it kills the intent of making art. This year I allowed myself to do something more whimsical and primitive and that’s how my figures came about. They all represents different aspects of who I am and they let me to personify the different entities that live in my head. It’s a good way to easily channel my neurotic behaviors. I am also starting to mess with stop-motion animation, but I’ll be unveiling that next year.
Do you feel that art can change the lives of youth and adults at all stages of their lives?
Art allows you to express your thoughts, ideas and emotions. I have witnessed art make a significant difference on many people’s lives. I believe art is a language beyond words, and through it you can experience self-discovery and understanding for the world around you. Making art and creating can also help a person process their emotions better and then have a concrete image to reflect upon.
If you had one movie, band or video game to work with, what would it be?
I would like to work on a movie about Kai Ahalmez. Kai is a child who escapes from a prison work camp with a talking dog named Patan. They go on adventures as outlaws with two other characters, Kelsey Ahaltocob, a very strong giant, and Wing, a rebellious journalist. They all go through a journey to find the truth behind the very aggressive and violent bureaucratic powers that rule their world. It would be very bloody with extreme graphic sexual content, but also cute. It would probably be a graphic novel first and a movie like 12 years later.
Soft Water Studios held an opening reception for Carlos Pons: Melancholic Human on Saturday, Nov. 12, coinciding with St. Petersburg’s monthly art walk. The gallery can be found at 515 22nd St S., St. Petersburg. Visit softwaterstudios.com for details.
Interviews may be condensed and edited for brevity, clarity, and style.