‘This isn’t about me being good, it’s about me doing it.’ A conversation with Miami artist A.G.

Get to know artist Juan Pablo Garza

Juan Pablo Garza is a multidisciplinary artist, and the third featured artist of Commissioner’s second season. Learn more about the program at www.commissioner.us.—Produced in partnership with Commissioner

Posted by The New Tropic on Friday, March 13, 2020

The following interview is produced in partnership with Commissioner, a membership program that aims to grow a community of new local art collectors in Miami, and share 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.

A.G. is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Miami, and the first featured artist of Commissioner’s second season. After graduating from the New World School of the Arts, he received his BFA in Sculpture and Art History from the University of Florida (2009). He has exhibited nationally and internationally, with recent and upcoming shows in Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, and Berlin. His latest solo exhibition, TALENT, is on view at Primary. now. Learn more about his work on his website or follow him on Instagram. 

On your website, you introduce yourself as a “showman” and then you very carefully relate show business as a concept into a pedagogy that threads through your work. You have obviously thought so much about the relationship and engagement among artists, the art they create, and the people who experience it. Tell me more about how you came to this and why you are driven by it.

I’m not big into metaphors, but show business is a good metaphor for the way I see things. It’s also not a metaphor at all—it’s quite literal. It’s the way we navigate the world, the way we navigate with other people and our environments. Everything is produced in one way or another. And that’s something that isn’t really acknowledged, which I don’t quite understand why. In general, we don’t realize how malleable our realities actually are.

That was a big foundational realization for me, and everything in my practice has come from that philosophy. I mean, it’s sort of cheesy, but you know the Shakespeare speech that goes, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players?” I believe that to be true. And if you get into the psychology and metaphysics of what I’m doing, it all comes back to that awareness and what we choose to do with it. I use my practice as a way to engage in a mastery of personal self-expression, in the most sincere way that I can.

What you see visually with the production techniques and the theatrical modalities—the lighting, and the sets—it’s a way of building or constructing your environment. There’s the inner-work of how you express yourself, and there’s this outer-work, which is constructing your reality. And that’s show business.

We hear a lot about multidisciplinary artists, but I’ve not encountered many artists quite as multidisciplinary as you. You’re working in audio, photography, video, sculpture, theater, performance. How did that come about for you and how do you think about working through and across so many mediums?

For years, I was sort of embracing a “cultural producer” role. And it was a conflation of all these things — production and performance. But lately, I’ve become more clear about the distinctions and honing in on the core foundational practices of self-expression that matter most to me. 

If you saw the works that are in the show [TALENT, on view at Primary. through Oct. 5], they’re paintings that are printed from archival images from 2004, when I was in visual and performing arts high school. I would look at the performing artists with envy and admiration. I would go home and wait until my mom left the house, go into my room, lock the door and I would create whatever sort of production I could. I would be the star. So for these images, I made a fuzzy circle in Photoshop in different colors and borrowed a projector from the school because I couldn’t afford an actual spotlight. Then I went home and I just took these photos of myself in the spotlight. There was no narrative or plot. I just wanted to be able to stand in the spotlight.

When I recently unboxed all these negatives and slides which I had forgotten about, I teared up. My first thought was, “Wow.” I was doing it better then than I am now. I was so earnest about the pure desire to perform and to just express—procuring whatever I could to create this showmanship the best that I could at the time with no money or resources. I was using wigs from Party City and fabric leftovers from my mom’s pillow projects. Years later, and as I mentioned earlier, I embraced this cultural producer role. It was more managerial (which I still love and it’s a big part of my process), but in retrospect I think I did that because I was still too afraid to take the stage.

I’m still the cultural producer—the director. But it’s much more about my own personal expression as output and creating a discipline and training regimen for myself that promotes my abilities to just be, and be fully self-realized. 

I just did the show at the rotunda, it’s a 20-minute performance at The Bass. I used a lot of the budget to take vocal lessons and ballet classes and immerse myself in the training that I needed to express myself with my body and my voice and my emotions. My main takeaway from that is that the work is so much more than the show. The show was what was presented. But the actual work was everything that went into it.

Your idea of authenticity earnestness in showmanship is really interesting. I think most people assume that showmanship is mostly about smoke and mirrors.

Well, but here’s the thing about smoke and mirrors—that fog machine and that mirror— someone had to put in that work. Someone had to conceive of it and then make sure it was rolled out on stage. The “lie” that you are producing is an authentic expression. 

I think that is much more truthful than being complacent and accepting the circumstances that you believe to be out of your control. Once you realize this, anyone can art-direct how they exist. To be a great showman you need to fully embrace the lie as your truth, so that you can realize it.

You can also check out our conversations with artists featured in the first season of Commissioner here.