Can you explain your art education? I have my education in Colombia. I began to study the principal basics of fine arts, like drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, and art history. But I have always preferred drawing. Here in Florence I study the classical techniques, in this case for drawing.
What were some big moments for you as an artist? One of the big moments was choosing this profession. When you choose this profession, you really discover other points of view on life. For me, the big moment was to first travel to Italy. This was one of my biggest moments in my artistic career. My second moment was when I began to study the art I wanted.
Who has influenced you as an artist? Many teachers in my university have taught me about art. One especially, she was like an art curator, I always had class with. She always gave me the desire to explore more about art. She may be the reason why I chose Florence because she studied in Florence, and she always told me that I must go to Florence to build and develop my work in art. So, this is one of my special teachers, one of the special people who influenced my art career.
What were the names of the universities that you studied at? In Colombia I studied at Fundacion Universitaria de Bellas Artes in the city of Medellin. I studied five years ago before I studied here in Florence at the Accademia Riaci, which is like a private academy.
What artistic styles have influenced you? Many artists influence me. One artist that gives me inspiration is Michelangelo, especially with sculpture, the figuration, movement, and the bodies he creates. And maybe the second artist that I have had the opportunity to see is William Kentridge, an African artist. He works in animation video, but also with drawing. Maybe the third is Cai Gou Qiang, a Chinese artist. I like the work of fireworks that he makes, and you can see the abstraction of the drawing and process of this Chinese artist.
How did your family support you in your decision to become an artist? My family always helped me. When I began as an artist, I told them and they believed in me, always, that I could make it here in Florence. Now they help me to study in other parts—Spain. But always they believe me in my process. I told them that they are one of my reasons that I stay here and can go for more work.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have had as an artist? The biggest challenge is beginning when you are nobody in this profession. When you begin and make quality work, you begin to grow up and grow out. This is one of my first challenges. The second is making the decision to learn in another country outside of Colombia. How can I learn other cultures from other countries? How can I grow with my process as an artist? The third challenge may come from my own profession. It is difficult to live with art. It is difficult because there is no possibility to take money or many possibilities to work. It’s difficult; you must look for contacts, people that really like your work and you can make a friendship with them.
How has your style changed over the years? From beginning in the university seven years ago, I can see now that there is a big difference in my drawings. I tried to develop my style in the hyperrealist style, and I tried to look for a reference: how can I make something different, not make only drawings? How can I make my drawings have their own language? So, for me, the works I made seven years ago were a big difference. Over the years you maybe have more quality in your work, more experience. Now you can resolve many problems when you make your work. When you begin with artwork, it’s like you always have a big problem, and the challenge is how to find the solution to these problems. Now, my work has a body, it’s a strong work. It’s very satisfying to see the difference.
How would you describe your style of work? My style is like a figurative style; it’s more like figurative art. I try to combine figurative and abstract. When I began to look for my style, I always began with abstraction. In that time I knew some drawing, but I tried to explore the language of the drawing. Part of my drawings that I made in the last years have a combination between the abstraction. How can I transform this kind of figuration to abstraction in one language, in one work?
What makes your style unique? I think that a style is unique maybe when you have patience to look for your own style. It’s difficult because now in art many people have their own styles. The question is: how can I show my other side to other people so that they can say, “Oh, this is Hugo’s work.” So, I began to make my style when I began to study art. When I went out from the university I began to look for museums, look for references and art references. I was always drawingand making changes to the drawings. I remember I had many mistakes when I began to draw on paper. I remember that I bought many papers in Colombia, and the drawing papers were very expensive. I remember I started to make mistakes, but I learned how these mistakes could give me more possibilities. Now when I see my works, it’s satisfying for me when people can recognize my work in the midst of other works. I had an experience once when someone told me, “Oh, this is Hugo’s work; it’s his language, his own image.” When your work grows up and it grows out and out—in that moment you find your own style. You find your own way. It’s difficult when you begin as an artist and you have many questions. One of the questions is: how can I make my own language? Because many people can draw very, very well, but how can I make the difference in my work from these other people? It’s satisfying for me when people can see that my work is not like other drawings because it has my personality. This tells me that maybe my style is unique from other people’s.
Did you discover these techniques on your own or through others? I discovered the techniques through my own process. I remember when I studied at the university I began to experiment with the same materials, with pencil and graphite. I remember when I began to experiment I was looking for abstraction. When I discovered how to make abstractions with the graphite, it surprised me because I began to find something different in my drawings. I don’t want to make copies; I want to play with the compositions, distort the drawing, and erase the person I made, like a soldier or Jew (the characters I make in many of my drawings). And I began to discover maybe my own process as an artist, how I can make something different, something that has more body. This is when I began to discover my own process. I saw many references, but you must leave the reference so that you don’t begin to copy this reference. This is not the idea, to copy the reference. You have to find a distinction to use in your work.
How do you get inspired for a new piece of art? The inspiration is maybe when I have the opportunity to travel to other parts because when you visit the world, you always find something new. When I travel many times to that place I discover the life situation, and I have an inspiration to make something new. How can you take a new language from another place? My inspiration many times is when I see an image, when I read history, when I see something that stays inside my mind but that I want to make it in a physical material, in a physical drawing. Maybe the process of an artist is how traveling can give you new information, and this information you can use in your work.
How does Florence influence your work? Florence has influenced my work in a lot of ways because when I began to study here I went to the museums, and I went inside the city. It was something new for me. This reaction between me and the city was like the first impression that I had with Florence. When I saw the buildings, the museums, the places in Florence, I maybe changed. I felt something new in my life. When I studied here in Florence, it was like a dream to say that I really studied here. I was more happy when I could expose my work in Italy, but I always say that Florence was the first door I had in my life as an artist and a person.
What are some frustrating things about being an artist in Florence? Well first, the people don’t buy your work [laughs]. It’s the truth. It’s difficult because when you begin, like in Colombia or in other parts, you have the illusion that you will begin to make money. When you choose this profession, you know that it’s like a long process until you arrive, and you have more patience; many times you lose the patience because you have a bad experience in your work; like when many people tell me, “Ah, I will buy your work!” or, “You can show in my gallery,” or, “I want to make an image with you!” After that, these people don’t keep the promise with their word. This is one of the frustrations I have in this career because many people play with your feelings. This is hard. But, you learn, and you learn, and you take a position: I can give you my work, but I need you to show me that you have promised me. When you make a piece of work, it’s your time. You put passion into your work. When these kind of people play with your feelings, they play with your time. This is one of my frustrations in this career. It’s difficult because you have a lot of courage to follow with this profession.
Do you think this is an issue for all artists, or artists in Florence? I think this is for all artists because many people think about artists only as people who do painting and drawing and make something beautiful, and that’s it. No, I tell them. You meet some people in your life who really appreciate your work. They say, “I want this work in my house or in my gallery.” This person has an appreciation for your work. For artists in general it is very difficult, and it’s difficult when you begin.
What is it like to be an artist in Florence who’s not from Florence? For me, Florence was a good experience because I had the opportunity to show my work even though I am not an Italian artist. But the Italian people like my art; I felt like I had a good reception of my work. In Colombia, when I began five or seven years ago, it was difficult because there were a lot of artists who had a similar style. Here it is something different. People recognize your style, and the people like your work. People many times help you expose it here in Florence. For me it is a good experience. Last time I said that maybe it was more difficult in Colombia. For me, I can say I have an opportunity here in Italy or another country.
In your opinion, what makes art meaningful? This is like a question that I sometimes have: what is the purpose of art—why the art? When I see a museum or a work, it’s something that you can’t describe. You can’t describe it in one, general answer. For me, it’s to have a relationship with life. This is the first meaning for me. Second, to have a lot of beautiful experiences in your work. Maybe you know when you make a piece of art it can transmit something different with other people. I had one experience with a woman that I never would have imagined would happen. The woman wanted to buy one of my works but some difficult situation happened in Colombia, and she didn’t have the money. After that, I found this woman again. She wanted to buy my work, and I remember that I told her, “You don’t have to buy my work because I can give it to you for free.” Something happened, and I made the decision to give her my work. I remember she cried. She cried, really, and she called me on my telephone and said, “Thanks, Hugo, thanks.” From that moment I understood that art has a great meaning; it has a great significance with the person. How can the art touch the feelings of many people? What is the meaning of art? For me, it is the relationship between art and life. Maybe the art has more relationship with the life of a person. One work can give some satisfaction with other people. I think this is the meaning of art: to transmit something different that the person won’t see in their daily life. This something is maybe the imagination, something that does not happen in this world, but in our imagination. This is maybe the thing that is beautiful between the art and the life.
You have a lot of similar characters in your work. Why do you create those kinds of scenes? I studied in a military school, so this had a great influence on me; I can’t say if it was a good or bad experience, but it was something that stayed with me. When I had the opportunity to stay here, I wanted to make my own characters. Now I have a career, so I am in the position where I can play with my characters; I can play with the soldiers and make them disappear. When I have the opportunity to travel to other countries—how can I take these cultures and transform these characters into my own language? These Jewish people were from a big experience from my travels in Israel. When I saw these people begin to pray at the wall it touched me, and in a lot of my work I began to play with empathy. When I began to play with empathy in my work, I saw these people begin to make a movement, the begin to disappear. I try to look for these characters in photography, but I don’t want to make the same photograph, a copy. No, I want to make something different. How can you incomplete the drawing, how can you play with the drawing, how can you show your own drawing? I try to play with these kinds of characters and show something different. Maybe this is the reason why I look for these characters. The movement, the situation; I look for a situation for these characters
What do you hope other people will understand when they see your work? I think my own language; how people can see my imagination in my works. How can people see my life in my work? How can they see a similarity between me and my process? Your work is always a process; You’re always experimenting and finding something new. When people see my work, it’s like a surprise because people will find something that I will have never seen in my work. I never push the details in my work. I pose a question, and I try to let people find their own answers. When I have these kind of works, only the works can speak. The work has it’s own language to speak. You are an artist: you make this work, and it has its own language. It can open more and more doors.
Can you describe your process from start to finish when you create? I begin to look for something. First I have an image in my mind. How can I transform this image to the format of the paper? It’s difficult to push something that’s not real, to put it on the paper. My next step: how can I play with the composition of my image? How do you make it? hHw do you put in the thing that will make the difference in your work? I take my sketchbook and begin to draw many compositions, and I push this final sketch into a real work.
How do you get inspired for a new piece? I always look for something. Maybe it’s like an experience when you stay in a place. For me, I take an idea or an inspiration. I need to travel, to go out. I don’t like to stay in one place. I want to travel and look for answers in other places. When I have this kind of inspiration, I put these ideas into my process and style. When I am always thinking, I need a sketchbook because I need to write down my ideas and process. If you don’t write your process down and if you don’t have a book, in that moment you lose your idea. I have a lot of ideas, a lot of things that I think about. It’s bad when I don’t have paper and I don’t write down my idea because I forget it. So for me, it’s important to take a sketchbook and write down the idea as it appears and make a sketch from the image I have in my mind so that I have the opportunity to look at it again. This is difficult because you have the ideas, but you always have to write them down so that you don’t lose a beautiful process.
Is it hard to create new art in a city where everyone is coming here to look at the old art? Maybe—yes and no. For me, it’s difficult because there are a lot of artists here who have a good basis with the techniques; there are good painters, good drawers, good sculptors. I know a lot of artists who make a really good drawing of the body or they make a good painting, but it’s the same as what the Italian artists made years and years ago. It’s not making a new change, a new difference. I don’t try to compete with the Italian or Renaissance artists, I try to learn from them. How can I use this kind of study in my work and make something different in my work? Many people tell me that part of my work is like a photo, but they say, “Oh, but it’s incomplete. There’s a kind of abstraction, a kind of figuration—something that makes the difference from other artists.” I meet many good artists here in Florence, but you want to look for something different; people want to see something different. You draw very well, but what more? What happens? No change, nothing. In Florence, many people come here to learn the techniques, but they don’t have this kind of competition for who is the better artist in Florence. No, they want to learn how to apply these techniques in their work. I think this is the same stance that I take: how can I apply these techniques that I learned in Florence in my work?
Do the things that you see in Florence influence what you create? Yes, I see many things in Florence. First, the masterpieces in the museums. This was one of the biggest influences I received. After that, the city. When I walk around the city, when I read the history of the Florence city, and when I walk around. This is a big influence for me. I think the first impression I had when I visited the Uffizi gallery or the Accademia gallery was something new that I had never seen—maybe only in textbooks or history books or art books. When I had this experience in real life directly with the work, like the David, Michelangelo and Botticelli works, these kinds of images influenced me a lot. These kind of images can show me something different than what I have seen in Colombia. Many things in Florence have had a big influence in my work and in my personal life.
What are your goals as an artist? My vision is more personal, more subjective. My vision as an artist is how can the artist make a difference between the work and the person’s realty? How can a person see something new that they have never seen? Maybe the vision that I have with the art is to give the person something new; a new experience that they have never seen or touched; something new that they want to feel. In the world when you see something new, like a museum, you feel something. You feel something from the work that you see with your eyes. My vision as an artist is to show the person something that they want more and more of.