Hi Jerry! We are basically neighbors here in North Long Beach; how was it growing up in the neighborhood and what's your earliest memory of your interest in the arts?
I really loved growing up in North Long Beach. The diversity in such a small area is amazing, I grew up with people from different ethnic backgrounds and that has really helped me in the long run. North Long Beach is a working class neighborhood with so much pride and amazing history and I feel like I was able to tap into it at an early age because I've had family in the area since the late 70s. I am very thankful for that knowledge and I feel like I'm very fortunate to have my roots here since it inspires my work so much. I think subconsciously art has always been around me indirectly through my dad's profession and interests. Hot rods and lowriders were his thing and he would take me to a lot of car shows on the weekends either in LA or here in LB. He would take so many pictures and buy tons of decals from all the companies and clubs. Just going through all those images implanted something in me at an early age that really got me interested in learning how to draw or paint that stuff. Most of the time I would also hang around his shop. As he worked on engines or machinery he would let me mess around with the tools, take stuff apart, and draw on random stuff. Probably not the safest way to babysit by today's standards but it got me into making stuff!
When did you decide to pursue an artistic career and what steps did you take?
Well I formally started making art in high school. I didn't really like the culture around sports and aside from working on my El Camino I didn't have much goin on. So I took an art class as an elective and I got hooked. When it was time for college I never applied and had planned to go the military route like my dad, but he sat me down one night at dinner and helped me realize that wasn't going to be my thing. So I went off to LBCC and kept taking tons of art classes because I genuinely enjoyed it even though I was declaring Psychology. When I transferred to CSULB I was sitting in my Psychology classes just drawing and I realized this isn't for me so I checked out the art department. I was over the units so I couldn't do a BFA, but because I had a portfolio and tons of art credits they let me switch majors and thats how I got to where I'm at.
You create unique sculptural paintings influenced by textures and various cultures. Can you elaborate more on that? Totally, so my work is rooted in materials found in working class labor jobs and my palette derives from the California car culture. For compositions and theory I am influenced a lot by minimalist artists. After graduating from undergrad I started to look at my work and really break down what in the world I was doing. I had been messing around with the same materials I use now but I felt like the intake of information had to be refined. I also was trying to figure out if I was making sculptures or paintings, since my work is stuck in both worlds. Photography is my second medium and the way I approach that is more in the form of documentation of subcultures I'm into, textures, and so on. I took a year and some change off from making paintings after graduating and started to take pictures and do tons of research. After all that documentation and research it dawned on me that my voice and my work wasn't really about me because what I am is a combination of my parents' struggle, their interests, and the neighborhood I'm from. It came down to representing my working class roots, all the amazing people I've met from that world that have influenced me as a person and my outlook on life and the physical, textural environments I've experienced existing in that space. So I decided to only use materials my parents have used in the multiple jobs they've had since arriving to the US. I also use a lot of found objects and imagery in my work and that stems from all the years we did estate sales, flea markets, and garage sales growing up. That's the only way we could afford new things and toys and I just kept doing it until this day even though it has totally changed and become very bougie. But I have a lot of vendor homies and places that aren't blown up yet which is nice because I can continue to collect knick knacks for my personal collections and for sculptures. What do you think makes abstraction unique and meaningful? I mean to me, especially with minimalism, I feel a sense of balance and reflection. I think it's a beautiful thing to accomplish in a world where it's getting harder and harder to disconnect and control the intake of information around us. Especially visual information which many times is driven by a consumerist agenda with harmful psychological affects and impressions of what society expects from us. Obviously for me to make art I have to intake this information and be very selective and understand its historical presence. But once it's all said and done all that time, research, physical energy and filtering opens up new questions and possibilities. Abstraction creates these moments that can be missed by our fast paced life. Moments of silence and a new perspective on the same objects or experience we have already witnessed multiple times. It's that place that I get transported to as a viewer and that feeling that I want to create as an artist makes abstraction unique and meaningful.
Do you have a random source of inspiration?
There's always random sources of inspiration popping up for me. For the most part I have my avenues of inspiration found through researching stuff but I always enjoy a stroll around town to pick up on information that can lead to a new work. I think thats probably the most effective and my favorite random source of inspiration. Just taking a step back from everything around me and hopefully picking up on something I would usually miss. I always try to carry my camera in order to capture these moments and use them down the road.
I am sad to say that your solo exhibition at _flatline schedule back in March was postponed due to Covid-19. Have you been affected by the virus in any other way and how are you coping with it?
I mean outside of the obvious financial burden this has caused I've luckily haven't been affected in too many ways outside of that. The cancelled show was definitely a bummer but my health and the public's health is way more important than some show. Unfortunately a lot of people in the artistic community are going through the same thing. The only thing I hope for is that people realize the importance of art and artists and that a new appreciation develops. Psychologically I've had my moments like I'm sure many of us are experiencing but I'm also taking advantage of this time to make and learn.
What do you have planned for the immediate future?
Artistically, just keep pushing forward with my work. Last month I was in an online show for a gallery called MATA Art Gallery. You can check them out on instagram and see the show on their website. I also have a painting in a group show at the Baldwin Park Arts Center in August. Personally, just survive both psychically, psychologically and financially.
Where's the best place for people to find you and your work?
The best place is probably instagram. It's the platform I communicate with people the most and keep updated with my work constantly. You can find me on Instagram @jerry_pena_ Quickly I just want to thank you Elizabeth and Flatline Gallery for giving me a platform and for existing in this community and also to those who read this interview.
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