the ways of seeing, looking, and feeling: an artist interview with Juan Astudillo

Winter’s too long up in here
Colored pencils on paper

I’ve always seen art as a way to get to know people. Interpretations of work and approaches to artistic practice being a great conversation to understand the intimacies of a creative’s mind beyond talking about the weather.

When I met this month’s spotlighted artist, Juan Astudillo, we were doing an artist residency in New York City together. On one of our days off from the program, I blocked off an entire afternoon to peruse the Chelsea galleries. To my surprise, I bumped into Juan doing exactly the same.

It’s not everyday you meet someone that will cry looking at a Salman Toor painting with you and get dangerously close to look at Willem de Kooning’s mark making. We also shared a strong desire to walk by Lady Gaga’s family restaurant (Joanne Trattoria on 68th Street) in hopes of having a celebrity encounter. 

Juan is an exceptional creative with a relatable personality. The intentionality he brings to his work is shown through the delicate mark making he uses in each piece. His artistic practice, a reflection of his endearing qualities and the admiration he looks for in relationships in his everyday life.

Hi Juan! Happy to be interviewing you for Vagabond City.

Juan: Thanks for having me! I’m Juan (he/him) and I’m located in Colombia. I started making art as a draftsman focusing on specific details and technique. Now I’m mostly centered in painting and exploring what that means to me.

What’s that been like taking your experience with technical and precise drawing into painting?

Juan: I’ve been working with San Francisco based painter Felicia Forte doing coaching sessions to help me out the process. In that time I’ve been working on a series of work where I’m recreating stills from the film God’s Own Country.

Oil on primed paper

Walk me through your process from both sides when you’re working from a specific source material like a film, and when you’re sourcing your own imagery.

Juan: I used to take a lot of photos of my friends in college and work from those. Mostly now I work on films because I don’t feel so connected to the specific physical place I am right now. Film has given me that connection to my creativity that I used to have with people and the environment so I’m seeing where that goes.

In the past, I was so connected with people in my real life that I felt so inspired to make drawings from those relationships. I enjoy getting to know people, feel connected to them, and using that relationship to fuel my work. When there’s a moment when I get to capture something I really like about someone I’ll take a picture because they inspire me.

What are you doing outside of painting and drawing to spark your creativity?

Juan: I’m doing my best to get more into reading. I just finished Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and I felt so immersed in it. Wilde paints the characters so deeply that I felt like I was part of the story too.

I read Dick’s Kiss by Fernando Molano. It’s a great coming of age story. I think I like it because over the course of the story you can really get to know someone. It’s also really nice to see a LGBTQ story from Colombia played out because I feel like everything here is so heteronormative.

The Fury Of A Saint
Graphite on paper

Can you tell me about your 100 Heads Project?

Juan: I really like doing portraits. When I draw a portrait I’m able to scratch under the surface of the person I’m drawing. There’s a sense of intimacy when you’re studying someone’s face so closely. 

Participating in this project reminded me that I love making portraits of people that I know, I find interesting, and that I’m inspired by. From a technical viewpoint, it also provided a great outlet for practice as I was revisiting the same subject over and over again. I could take things I previously learned to improve on the next piece while also exploring how I can push myself in portraiture.

What artistic influences do you pull from or like to look at?

Juan: The artist that comes straight to my mind is the artist on Instagram @dagou. I think their work is made with watercolor pencils. Seeing those pieces makes me want to try out that medium again. Felicia Forte, the artist I’ve been mentored by. Another is Fairfield Porter. You like Fairfield Porter don’t you?

I love Fairfield Porter.

Juan: Yes! I remember we talked about how you thought Fairfield Porter by Elaine de Kooning made you realize you were gay.

Yes! I saw that painting on a field trip to the Kemper Art Museum in high school and was forever changed.

Juan: He was a great painter and hot. He’s a great role model for what I want to be as an artist: an amazing painter and hot.

Untitled (faggot)
Graphite on paper

Why do you think you’re inspired by these artists?

Juan: In college I read Jon Berger’s About Looking. Since then I’ve always been asking myself “what am I thinking when I’m looking at a painting?” When I look at art I want to reflect on them. I’m looking for work that I can reflect on like they’re a mental mirror.

I took a class on reading tarot, and the instructor told us that we should be using the cards and reflecting on them like they’re a mirror. You can feel your experience being reflected on that. I feel like there’s always these conflicts between the person that’s looking and the art object itself.

I’m thinking about the artists you mentioned and your own work, and I immediately think about this idea of “soft sincerity.”

Juan: Yeah! In the artists’ work that I mentioned there is this intimacy that they create in the environment of their painting. Not only inside of the painting, but creating an intimate space between the viewer and the painting itself. Like they’ve created an atmosphere you’re immersed in. That’s what I want for my own work.

Russel’s Bed
Oil on unprimed paper

I hope you all enjoy this month’s interview with Juan Astudillo (IG: @jotacastudillo). We definitely had a great time catching up, talking about art, and also our mutual love of Fairfield Porter. 

Juan Astudillo (he/him) is an artist currently based in Colombia. His work can be found on Instagram @jotacastudillo.