Last week, Cuban Art News caught up with Armando Mariño as he was preparing to install his upcoming exhibition, Armando Mariño: Recent Paintings from the Year of the Protester at The 8th Floor gallery in Manhattan. He began by talking about the creative process behind these new works, going on to talk about specific pieces in the show. (For images of the works, see the photo album on the CAN Facebook page.)

Armando Mariño, The Romantic (2012)
Courtesy The 8th Floor

Tell us about the exhibition. What’s the overall concept? 

At first, the topics of the paintings were social issues. Then I realized that most of them had something in common: they were made during this past year, but they also related to all the protests around the world. There’s a spirit of revolution, of rebellion in all of them, and I thought the title of the show could illustrate that. There was a Time magazine issue dedicated to “The Year of the Protester,” so I played a bit with that. Even though every painting is not directly related to the protests all over the world, they were made during that year.

And the figures in these paintings. Where do they come from?

My sources are newspapers, magazines, and images from websites. I just Google an image and save it until I’m ready to use it. There’s a process of editing and cropping but the important step is the actual painting. It’s the way that the picture talks to you, the way it’s telling you something, but also the way the picture can be painted. The way you can add something to that picture. Because as you can see, these are not reproductions of images taken from newspapers or magazines or websites. There’s intervention. There’s something else that comes only from the hands of the painter.

How would you describe that “something else?” 

It’s the skill, the painterly skill.

But it’s more than that, isn’t it? You’re starting with an image as the inspiration, but you’re reinterpreting it. 

Yes. You are a producer. You work with a source. And the sources can be very bad photography. But you can see through that photography the possibility of making a good painting. This process is well illustrated in the show, which includes not only the “definitive” painting. I use quotes with that word because for me, a painting is something that is always in process, because you can do many versions until you’re satisfied with the result. And it’s not because the painting is bigger or on canvas rather than paper—that doesn’t mean it’s finished. It’s because you’ve arrived at some point with the image that gives you some satisfaction. But you can reinterpret it again, do it again.

So the show traces the process. It includes works on paper that were the beginning sketches for finished, “definitive” paintings. But at the same time, all those works on paper have a similar spirit, a similar immediacy. They show the first hit, the first punch that you get from some images. They’re done in different materials from the finished paintings. They’re quick, and when you work quickly it’s completely different from when you work slowly. So the show demonstrates the relationship between the fast process, the immediacy, and the slow process of the “definitive” works.

Sometimes you grab the news, you grab those images immediately when they appear on the television [snaps his fingers]: “That’s a good image, I’m going to use it.” You paint it fast, on paper, you’ve got the spirit, but at the same time it’s an exercise in painting. So you want to come back to the image and rethink it, do it again in another way. Or maybe there’s something in the image that’s telling you, “I can give more. I can be pushed further.” That’s another process I’m trying to show here.

These paintings are different from your earlier work. The brushwork is looser, less hard-edged. How would you describe this style?

I think you’re referring to work I did maybe ten years ago. Since then, I’ve been working in this looser style. I don’t care as much about precision—I’m working on the mistakes, on every accident that happens to a painting. I’m listening more now to what the painting is telling me instead of trying to control everything or subordinate everything to one style. It’s a process of discovery. I don’t come with any previous idea. I just come with an image. And that image, as I was saying, is a process. I never know how it will end.

These are really colorful works. 

Yes, that’s deliberate. Even when I paint with oil, those colors are very bright. It doesn’t make sense to paint something today with colors that we used in the 18th century. The colors today are a very big spectrum, coming from spray cans and digital sources and everything. We have all those colors in the back of our minds. What I’m after is to give the sensation of something really contemporary, talking about it in the language that you know, in the colors that you know. This is coming from the media—the big screens, the high definition, the bright colors. So this type of color is telling you that you’re living in a different century, you’re living in a contemporary world.

So part of your process with the source images is to work with them digitally.

Yes, exactly. Sometimes I intervene with color. Or I’ll crop it or substitute or match two or three images. That painting, for example—this large diptych called Inferno—that has figures from three or four different photographs. I edited and patched it together and made that big painting. If you see the original Photoshopped piece, it has nothing to do with this final version. Everything comes at the end of the process. [Walks to another part of the gallery.] I did a small study for it, which we’re not going to include in the show—as you can see, there’s no room for it—but I have it here and I can show you…

… this is the sketch. I organized it and put this color on the background, and I liked the effect. I put down two layers of the same color, which were constructing the fire. And then I did the big version, because I saw from the beginning that this could be a really, really huge painting, very impressive. And powerful, no?

[Walks to another part of the gallery.]

I wanted to bring this image here because of the hoodie. There is no person inside. Originally I said it’s a shaman, so people have only that reference about it. But now, after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, the hoodie has become a kind of icon. I’ve been working with it for a long time, the significance of being hidden. If you look around at the other paintings, all the faces are hidden. There’s a gas mask on this figure of the boy, over here—related to ecology, but also to anti-police disturbances. [Walks over to the painting.]

What’s the title of this work?

This is The Romantic. It’s the most quiet work I’ve painted. And I have a special love for this painting. Because it’s very wide, but there’s not too much in it—just the figure. [Walks up close to the painting.] If you look closely, you can see that I put down three layers of color. And with them, all those accidents, all those things that happened—I didn’t rectify them, I just let let them be. But it’s very quiet—it looks like a beautiful image. But there’s something that’s disturbing, and that’s this gas mask on the boy. You don’t know if it’s a joke. It’s a beautiful landscape, a paradise, but why is he wearing this mask? Is it because it’s a poisoned environment, or he’s expecting something? Or is he just a projection of your mind, so far away that you don’t know what’s going on with the future of humanity? Or something like that. I like the contradiction between the beauty and calm, and this very disturbing mask—which is really the only element that takes the painting out of the kitschy or the romantic. I was playing with that.

[Walks to a work on paper in the hallway.]

And this is a sketch, the first one that I did on this theme. You can see, it’s completely different. I did another version before this one.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of the exhibition walk-through.

Armando Mariño: Recent Paintings from the Year of the Protester opens tomorrow evening, May 2, 6-8 p.m. at The 8th Floor gallery in Manhattan. RSVP is required.