For Bolivian-born visual artist, Marcelo Suaznábar, seeing is not only believing, but also creating. His childhood and adolescent memories of visits to churches and museums continue to influence his style and the work he produces. Those 16th century, mostly religious paintings he saw with his father and brother on a trip to Potosí 30 years ago, have made a impression, which is apparent in the immaculately executed oils and acrylics on now on Artisster.
Since he was 16, he’s been creating work that in some way is reflective of those childhood experiences. But even before that, he’d been competing with his older brothers in family art competitions encouraged by his uncle, who is well into his 70s and is still a practicing photographer. It was this same uncle who rewarded him with chocolates for winning these contests and later documented his early works in photographs and slides — ones he’d later use to make his first portfolio. He still has them today.
What lessons did you learn from your uncle?
He always said that an artist must be able to draw anything [first], whether faces, landscapes, or animals. These were the first steps that I worked on. My uncle also gave me my first set of oils. I still love working with oils. Back then they were the classic DuPont tubes. I will never forget those first oils, they seemed magical.
What’s the hardest part about being an artist?
Being an artist is a complex [undertaking], especially in a small country like Bolivia. The audience is small, the amount of possible collectors is equally small. I realized pretty early in my career that I would need to go outside of my home country to be successful. And then when I went to my first professional art fair in Miami, it opened my eyes to the actual work and daily life of an artist. And I knew that was how I would spend my life.
An arts tool you can’t do without?
My oils. I am not stuck to one brand, because in Bolivia it depended on what I had access to at that time back them I used Winsor & Newton and Grumbacher.
In which ways do religion and mysticism influence your work?
When I traveled to Potosí, I saw very many paintings in those churches there. The works were huge, wall-to-wall paintings with religious themes. I was so impressed by them that when I returned home I began to paint my own interpretations of these same works. So it’s not that my work is driven by religious theme actually, it’s more that I try to re-imagine the power of those historical works in my modern-day interpretation.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I think it’s when I realize the painting doesn’t need anything more. I could be 2 weeks or 2 months. It’s when I feel it’s done. Maybe it’s the painting which tells me. [laughs]
How do you approach a new work?
My work is still impacted by those visions I saw early on, with those religious arts I saw back then. But I’ve also jumped to new topics like nature, time, death, impatience. I guess I approach a new piece from the idea of “without limits.” For example in some other work, I have a character like an egg. The same character is put in different situations. It led me to paint the same character with a commercial bar code on it to symbol how man is pushing too many things onto nature. It’s something like a series. Sometimes, I work backwards. I have a title of a painting in mind before I even start. I feel my work is playful too.
What’s a memorable comment you’ve received about your work?
One time in Mexico, a psychologist was at my solo show at The Metropolitan Museum of Monterrey. He told me he just couldn’t understand my work. He said something like, ” Where does your imagination come from?! If I would have to explain your work as a psychologist, I’d be in trouble.” For me he was saying that my imagination has a endless capacity.
Do you have a bucket list?
Yes. I would do more sculptures. I already do some but I would like to improve more. And then I’d say my list is mostly related to travel. There are so many cities I’d like to visit with my family. In fact, I’ve never been to Europe.
What cities are on your list?
Well Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Paris and Madrid …Europe in general, especially. I’d love to go to Asia, Japan, China, and Singapore.
Museums and churches have a prominent role for you. Any on your bucket list?
The Prado Museum in Madrid, Louvre Paris, Dali Museum in Figueres, Tate Londres. Musee Picasso in Paris Oh there are so many on that side of the world!
A skill you wish you have.
To be able to play electronic music. I play sometimes the drums and bass guitar, but that would be real cool…just for fun!
Who’s your favorite visual artist, living or dead?
Dead: Hieronymus Bosch, Mark Ryden (USA) and Jonas Burgert (Germany)
A book that you read in school that positively shaped you?
There are so many South American authors that I love, but for me it’s more the things I see and hear than what I read that shaped me. Music has been a huge influence on me. Everything from classical, jazz fusion, new age and progressive rock.
Spirit Animal? Fish
Favorite childhood memory?
Playing with my brothers on my family’s farm. Riding a bike, playing soccer. We had so many unusual and fun games. I’d say I was between 5 to 12.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
A filmmaker. Hopefully Alejandro González Iñárritu and the painter Mark Ryden.
What’s your favorite country to visit? So far, Argentina.
Favorite smell? Chocolate
Favorite sound? Birds [chirping] and rain
How long you lived outside of Bolivia? 16 years
What you miss about Bolivia? My family, friends and my country!
Is there a color you avoid using? Pink
What do you expect from your upcoming international art exhibitions?
To have more access to people and to get involved. New audiences should have an opportunity to make their own interpretation of my work.