‘I just started opening these new roads for myself.’ A conversation with Miami artist Juan Pablo Garza

The following interview is produced in partnership with Commissioner, a membership program that’s growing a community of new local art collectors and sharing the stories of Miami arts and artists. The interview was conducted by Commissioner and WhereBy.Us co-founder Rebekah Monson and it has been edited for length and clarity.

Juan Pablo Garza is a multidisciplinary artist born in Maracaibo, Venezuela who currently lives and works in Miami. Working across mediums, Juan Pablo’s playful and sculptural work has been exhibited in countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Canada, United States, Spain, Holland and Germany. His solo show Reforma del Ahora (Al Borde. Maracaibo, 2012) was published in Artforum as one of the best exhibitions of the year according to curator Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy.  In 2018 he was selected for an Oolite Arts artist residency. His studio is at Dimensions Variable. Garza is the third featured artist of Commissioner’s second season.

Tell us about your journey as an artist. How did it begin? How did you get to where you are now?

I started doing photography when I was around 15, but I was interested in cinema, music, art, and photography, as well.

From early on, my work has been very much object-based, and I feel like it’s still connected to what I do right now. There was a lot happening between the idea, the construction of the situation, and the photographs that was left out. I decided to do this show [in Venezuela] where there were no photographs whatsoever. I moved all these objects to my house that I’d been collecting for years and years, and put this show together. 

After that, my practice was still object-based, but was more direct [than photography]. It had to do with how objects work in a space, and it had an installation quality to it. 

What does object-based art mean to you? Obviously, this is a passion of yours, and it sounds like you’re always looking and collecting objects. 

I’ve been collecting stuff. I don’t think it’s just something that I do. My grandfather used to do it, in his own way, but it wasn’t art-oriented. My mom also had a thing with figurines. And then, my parents were always rearranging stuff around the house.

For me, the objects themselves are always triggers. Just out of organizing them, either in my rooms or in my studios, I realize the things that I was interested in. It was how [objects] change each other just by being next to each other, by their mere proximity.

Ideas, pieces come from that activity. I’m not thinking, “Oh, I’m going to do this piece. It looks like this. It goes like that.” With the process, working with objects, relationships start happening. You make decisions in those actions that you’re taking. You start making these connections that sometimes are not like a cerebral thought. It’s more like an intuition. The work starts becoming self-aware. The work starts referencing itself.

People usually say that I work with “found objects.” I think the right term would be “objects that I surround myself with.” There’s a difference because you’re almost creating a situation, an environment, a place. You’re intentionally surrounding yourself with it. It’s not just about objects that randomly appear. 

You have worked across so many media. You have a lot of tools to express your ideas. How do you go about making those choices? 

I also respond to certain limitations I always felt that I had, craft-wise. Making things with your hands or even drawing something – those are things I don’t feel that I know how to do and I’ve never been able to do very well. So, I just started opening these new roads for myself, doing things that I knew I could do. 

For example, something that I do a lot within my practice is sanding down. I will choose an object, maybe paint it with spray paint and then start sanding it down, and it gives it a texture. [The texture] could be to evoke a feeling or a sensation, or maybe it reminds me of a certain time.

There’s an element of desire in my work with objects. We all share that. It’s part of us. I like people feeling that they want [the objects] because that’s also the way I feel about them. The idea of desire, it’s an activation of something, even though you don’t get to reach out and actually touch the piece. In the idea itself, there’s almost a contact with the piece. 

Commissioner is really focused on building support for local artists. Your work is shown globally. You are from Venezuela, and you’re here in Miami. You could be working anywhere in the world, so, why Miami? Does Miami play any role in your practice or in your work?

I’ve always had a relationship with Miami. My father is Venezuelan, but he was actually born in Cuba. He left Cuba when he was six. Most of my family on my father’s side lived here, in Miami. So we would come here, every year, since I was a kid, for vacation, for almost two months. We had a house here. Then I came back, in my 20s, and I studied English. I’ve always had a relationship with the city. When I decided to come here, my wife — then girlfriend — was from here. 

In a subtle way, there is a connection to Miami in my work. Also to Maracaibo, the city where I’m from in Venezuela. [The cities] play a role, but they’re not a protagonist. I collect objects from thrift stores and things. There’s a shared language in those objects. The aesthetics of these places stay in your brain.

How should we be investing in local artists, as Miamians? What should we be doing to support you and people like you, and in keeping the arts vibrant and strong in our community?

I think going to exhibitions is important, definitely being present and showing up, but also we need to converse about the shows more. It’s important that we talk about what’s going on in exhibitions, which creates a way to think about art, a critical way to think about it. Not just, “I like it” or “I don’t like it”… Let’s go a little further and explore the reactions.

It’s funny because, usually, the people that talk to you most about the work are people that are not very much connected to the art world. They’re the most curious. They’re trying to really understand what’s going on, so they ask you what seems to be a basic question. Those basic questions are very important, too. It makes [an artist] articulate their thoughts, and it bridges the gap of understanding between people. 

Collecting is important, but it can’t be forced onto people. It’s something that people have to find and understand, and fall in love with for themselves. That’s what Commissioner is trying to do; to work as an activator for people to find that love. 

You can also check out our conversations with artists featured in the first season of Commissioner here. And here are our interviews with A.G. and Johanne Rahaman, the first two featured artists of Commissioner’s second season.