Updated: Oct 18, 2019
John Miranda's solo exhibition, Por Qué, is free to the public until October 31st at The Gallery at The Foundry in Downtown Tyler. One of our writers, Taylor Wilson, was able to sit down and talk with him about the inspirations and explorations behind his colorful, textural, and emotional encaustic artworks.
Taylor Wilson: For those who might not know who you are and what you do, why don’t you give me a brief introduction.
John Miranda: I guess I’m an art student. I’m working on my Masters of Fine Arts at UT Tyler. I’m just your average student trying to make it through the semester and finish the program.
T: How long do you have left?
J: Two semesters. I graduate in the spring, next semester.
T: Let’s talk about your chosen medium. What drew you toward the materials you work with?
J: I guess it kind of started off as a child. I’ve recently came up with, or discovered a scholar that studies Chicano art and he came up with a term called rasquachismo which means using what is at hand. So I think that’s always been with me since my upbringing. And so now I kind of always go towards the materials that are closest to me. Whatever is at hand is kind of what I use. Except that I guess now it’s different because I’m an adult and I have money—
T: So now you get to choose what’s at hand
J: —I can order things, right, and I kind of in a way get to choose. But I’m sensitive to that, to using what is at hand. Certain things that I just gravitate towards. Just because it’s fine art I get to go a little step forward in deeper consideration of what medium to use and how to use it.
T: Who or what is inspiring you right now? Especially with this body of work for your exhibition, Por Que, was there any particular?
J: It’s interesting because Por Que talks about the work being based on a lived reality. And it speaks about it being this emotional response to the lived reality. It’s more of a sensibility than it is an idea or a style. So the influence kind of just comes from living that reality that I’ve lived. Some background into that: I was born in Del Rio, Texas. Both of my parents are from Mexico; I was born in Del Rio which is right across the border. My parents divorced early, and so I was raised by five older sisters and my mother. She had six sisters, so I had six aunts. [My family] kind of made my community, my environment, so that shaped me. I think a lot. There’s a lot of that in the work. A lot of influence about masculine and feminine, gender roles. Those things for me were kind of blurred. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I went to live with my father in Dallas. Which is a totally different environment than a town bordering Mexico, then going to Dallas and to it’s different environment.
J: Another influence is that I kind of grew up with no boundaries. I was very free to explore and do what I wanted without much supervision. So my whole life has been this free life. When I was a kid I didn’t go to school. I didn’t want to because I didn’t like it and there was no one basically forcing me or telling me I needed to, so I was somewhat of a wanderer. And the work kind of touches on all of those things. And maybe a lot of other things that happened in those explorations as a child and as an adult.
T: So does that “using what you have” mentality play into your consideration of 2D vs 3D work and how the materials interact?
J: Yeah. In Chicano art, there’s a lot of using what is at hand. You can see a lot of Chicano children using napkins and handkerchiefs [to make art]. I remember in school using the back side or front side of the book as my canvas, and I would use pens and pencils to start off. From there, I started recording my environment but in a 2D form and having that Mexican-American influence. So later on, when it came to dealing with objects and things like that in Del Rio, we lived by a bunch of factories. The SAS shoe factory was one of them that was there, so we would go in there, we’d climb in, and we’d grab the scraps of leather to make slingshots. We’d go find a nice, little ‘Y’ from a tree. In Dallas we used to play wall ball a lot. In our apartments, we had a tennis ball and we would hit it up against the wall. We’d play that all day. So it’s kind of embracing the environment and creating something that isn’t there. But more in a lived reality.
J: So then when it comes to the work, I’m sensitive to all of these thoughts, all of my upbringing, my family. And so I kind of have this conversation and relationship with all of the objects. It’s kind of weird—but I talk to them, not that I hear them talking back or anything, but it’s this kind of weird energy that goes from me and flows through that object. It’s also some kind of healing method to be able to understand why things happened the way they did when I was young. We sometimes have all of these questions as to why this happened, and so I’m always deep in thought into all of these things when I’m trying to build this composition and so it kind of becomes a narrative of my life. So that’s kind of the 2D work. The 3D work then, because it’s more physical, I kind of see it as creating a community. I’m sensitive to each object to make sure that they're taken care of, that they’re in this safe environment, that not one object is not overpowering the other or have control over another, but they have just this nice harmony that’s going on.
T: What are your favorite parts about working with the mediums you’re working with now?
J: I guess the encaustic, which is a pigmented wax. It’s kind of the people in my life are very special. I have a mentor Marilyn Jolly. She was the painting instructor at UT Arlington. She was the kind of instructor that cares about everybody, sat down and talked to you about that the work was about. And so I was building sculptures out of pieces of wood and I took an independent study with her. I was doing these little wooden sculptures and I wanted color to them, kind of as a way of celebrating those thoughts, those memories, those moments. I wanted to add color. She recommended encaustic.
T: That’s cool. I haven’t had any of my painting professors really push their students in that direction.
J: It’s kind of weird because it was the very last project in the beginning painting class. It’s kind of interesting now because she’s retired. She retired two years ago and no one is using them. My buddy is still there and he’s like “hey man, no one’s using the encaustic, no one’s using these things, it’s no longer part of the curriculum.” The professor is kind of like “it’s there if you want to use it” but no one is. So I think it’s because of Professor Jolly and the interaction that I have with these objects—once I started using the encaustic, it’s like these memories and feelings I have are kind of stuck with the object. By getting rid of the encaustic, I feel like I’m getting rid of part of me or part of my life, or something that’s important, so I hold onto it now and I’ve been using it ever sense.
T: I feel like it’s an interesting and unique process that I don’t feel many people really are drawn to.
J: Right. It’s interesting because it’s wax. The wax itself is able to go through all of the emotions we go through as well. It’s a solid, but if you add heat to it, it’s going to melt. You can stab into it, you can scratch into it, you can break it in half. And then at the end you can melt it all down and put it back together. It’s important that my emotions then are able to also come out with the medium, that I’m able to manipulate it in that way.
T: Yeah. It’s got a little bit more of a human quality.
J: Yes. Maybe because it comes from bees, it’s beeswax, so it’s natural in a way. But it’s also kind of protective. It’s this weird coating that protects the wood. Nothing’s really going to happen to the wax. It could last for thousands of years, the color is probably going to stay the same. It kind of protects and beautifies the object or the surface.
T: Is scale something that you take into consideration with all of the emotional quality of your work and the community aspect? I’ve noticed that a lot of the pieces in Por Que are quite a bit larger than you would typically do in student work, or at least the student work I’m familiar with.
J: Yeah. The 3D works, the two large ones are scaled up from the smaller ones. What I did was I made the small ones, got familiar with what was going on, and then I wanted that response to get bigger-that emotional response to amplify. I’ve worked as a construction worker pretty much my whole life. I’ve been around a lot of architecture and everything is based around everything being level, being by the blueprint, things like that. I’ve been a builder my whole life. So everything—I took a small piece and pieces from it that I liked and that spoke to me and multiplied it by three. That’s how the bigger ones came. Each object is a piece from the smaller ones, and then I played this game where I said “Here’s this piece, I want it to be three times bigger, so where is it? It’s out there somewhere, I just have to find it.” If you’re not searching for something, you’re not going to find it. Maybe you will or you won’t, but you can walk by something or somebody and you don’t notice them because you weren’t looking for them. But once you’re looking for something, your senses are, man, they’re like 100x stronger, all of a sudden you notice everything. “What’s behind there? What’s down that street, around the corner, is that where what I’m looking for is?” And then it’s even more interesting because then you find it. Then this object that was like this weird form actually existed in a bigger self.
T: So you get to find those things and put them in your community where you want them to be.
J: Yes. But then also in my thesis, I am starting to write all these thoughts down, not every object wants to be in that community. But then if it makes sense, if that harmony is there, one object next to the other is compatible, it’s cool. They’ll stay where they are. They want to be a certain distance from each other, or one can be in the same community but it would rather not be right next to it, it’d rather be on the other side. They all exist in that same environment.
T: How has East Texas and this area inspired or challenged the work you do?
J: My buddies come and visit me and they say I’m like a Buddhist monk. I kind of am. In Fort Worth I have my best friend, and we would hang out everyday. It’s the same routing: going to her house, we’re going to hang out, we’re going to grab something to eat. She’s like a sister. And so coming here, it was depressing actually, not having family, not having those friends. At the end of the day I go home and there’s not that friend that I was used to. My sister is no longer calling me saying “Come eat my leftovers. We have food; come eat.” It was weird. I kind of fought these emotions and feelings, but in a weird way I got to concentrate on the work. I didn’t think it would drive me crazy, but not having everything else, it’s all I could think about. So then the work gets stronger, not visually but emotionally.
T: Removing distractions, , even if they’re pleasant. You can zone in on what you’re doing.
J: And the work kind of, on another level, has a lot to do with desire, love, and sex in a way. But it’s also about the lack of those things, or the thoughts and memories of those things from the past to now. It’s that struggle, but at the same time that struggle brings that understanding of “why did you do this? why did you do that? why did this happen? why did that happen?” It’s all kind of always the same recurring questions, but eventually some kind of understanding comes to you. Where you’re like “okay, I get it, I can see why these things happened” and just hopefully grow from there or get to move on.
T: Where and when do you feel most creative? Do you have any ritual to your practice when you sit down to work?
J: No, I think it’s weird because my constant way of thinking and always daydreaming. It’s always about the work. I can be working in my head right now just looking about everything around me and I’m putting pieces together forming work. I exist in my mind. In a way it doesn’t matter where I’m at. Sometimes my friends will say “you can fall asleep anywhere.”
T: You can be working, processing, thinking anywhere. Do you find that ever impedes other parts of life, or I guess, do you have separation?
J: No, I think that’s where I always thing of balance. You start thinking that there’s this kind of imbalance in your life, that you lack “this” but you have plenty of “this.” So that’s where the desire comes from, or lack of these things. But at the end of the day, you just have to tell yourself “you’re not looking for this, or you are looking for this, or this is going to happen eventually, or you’re eventually going to find this.” Life is so crazy that you keep trying to find answers to what’s going to happen but you really don’t know.
T: With this particular body of work, how did that come together as far as working that out with the curator, Jamin Shepherd?
J: I guess it was kind of easy. I think I have had people ask me and I’ve recently had people ask me about selling the work. I said “well, I don’t like to sell the work.” Because I have conversations with these objects and they somehow feel like they’re family now. So I don’t want to get rid of the object because it would feel like trading something or someone for money. [laughs] So I don’t want to do that. It was easy for me for all of this work to still be there because I don’t get rid of it. When Jamin was like “hey, do you want to do a solo show?” all of the work was there already in my studio space.
T: Do you have any goals for the viewer looking at your work?
J: You know what, I never thought of the viewer before. It was more of a conversation between me and them. It wasn’t until recently that there’s been some feedback on the work because it’s never been out in a public space. And some of it was good, and some of it was bad. They wanted to know why were all of these sexual forms on the wall, and things like that. So I think now I’ll take more consideration of what other people might see because they’re not seeing what I see. They can’t have that emotional response because it’s not their lived reality, it’s mine.
T: I guess that leads into: what have you learned, with this show and body of work, that you see yourself taking forward as you continue making work?
J: Relationships. I had a good conversation with Matt McGill, he’s part of Bethel Bible. I’m kind of my own little world, but talking with him it’s like, there’s other people out there. [I thought,] you need to stop—or you need to open up a little bit more to other people other than me just being in my own personal space, in my mind. That kind of gave me a different kind of feeling. I almost even feel different today from that conversation because I don’t have these conversations with people really. I think I’m going to start building different kinds of relationships with people and what they think, and then hopefully being able to respond to that and seeing how that might make a change in my life. I think that’s more important-to first let the change in my life happen, because it’s based more on that lived reality. And the work will follow after that.
Be sure to follow John Miranda at @johnmiranda.art
When you see and share his exhibition be sure to tag us @etxcreatives
Exhibition curated by Jamin Shepherd and on display at The Foundry, 202 S Broadway Ave, Tyler, TX, 75702