Every year, we celebrate the Baton Rouge Gallery’s annual Surreal Salon, a juried competition that focuses on the pop-surrealist/lowbrow movement. This year, judged by Thinkspace’s Andrew Hosner, the winner was Out of the Blue by Argentinian painter Juan Manuel Sanabria. This week, we got a chance to sit down with the painter to discuss his win, the work in particular and his practice around the idea of “dis-connection.” 

Evan Pricco: Do you remember your earliest influences in art?
Juan Manuel Sanabria: Well, I don’t know if I remember a moment, as if it were the moment. I do not know if there was actually that, but I can tell you I’ve always had this attraction with everything related to art. For example, I loved watching movies about painters, even before I had anything to do with painting, and sometimes without not knowing who the artist on the film was. I just loved watching movies about painters. And obviously as a child, or a younger person, I didn’t knew much about art, for me art was a lot of people staring at a painting of Picasso or Miró, saying I don’t understand it. I mean, the notion of art when I was a kid, was what we know now as modern art, and I only knew that I liked it (which is the first thing I answer when someone tells me, “I don’t understand anything about art. “… Ok, if you like it and it provokes something in you, well, let’s start from there”) but getting back to the question, I used to draw all day long with my cousins and at the school, all day long. While all of the kids would play soccer all day, I would just rather draw.

And I think my grandmother saw that, and she would take me to the theater, museums, etc. What now that I think about it was not a walk that you would do with a boy, but I used to like that! I also remember that she had a print, which she actually still has, in her dining room, from Dali’s piece “Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a promenade” (I love how long are Dali’s titles, btw), which just blew my mind the first time I saw it. So yes, there was not one moment, art was always there for me, even when I didn’t knew it was.

SANABRIAJUAN SOONERTHANLATER 2020

For Jux readers, Argentina has such a rich history of street art and graffiti, did that ever enter your practice? 
Unfortunately, no, although it is true, and you have a lot of amazing artists and creatives from Argentina working around the globe, most of these artists reside in Buenos Aires, and I’m from a little town in the north of Argentina, Corrientes. And the truth is that when I wanted to reach to the one that was the street artist from my town, the guy just gave me the “seen” and that was it, he never replied me back. So no, unfortunately no, I’ve always been more of a studio artist than anything else, what contrary from being a street artist is a pretty lonely road, and if I think about it, I think I have more art friends from the US than from Argentina or from anywhere else.

But going back to the street art issue, just a couple of years ago I started practicing it (first on some friend’s wall, and then a couple of commissioned walls in my hometown), and the truth is I love it. It’s a totally different sensation to my studio work. The composition has a totally different approach and let’s just not say anything about going on the outside, sometimes for a week or two, just to paint a wall in the open. Sometimes its cold, sometimes it’s hot, there’s also the interaction with people… and the truth is I also work so much faster on walls than on some studio pieces. Not that I have that many amount of walls, but it’s definitely something I love, and that I hope I get to grow more into that aspect as well.

You mention this idea of “dis-connection” in your work. Talk a bit about that?
Well, it’s a concept that is constantly moving and growing up with my work, it’s actually a perception that mobilizes me and that burns inside me, as a matter speaking, and that eventually got into my art. At some point I just felt like I couldn’t continue painting static portraits anymore, that there was so much more to tell from what I was doing. It has to do with that current and frenzied world in which we live, in which we do not have a second of peace. It’s all fast. What you might think is cool one day, just the next day isn’t, and let’s deal with the next thing. No matter what. It’s a cruel world, and we live through it, connected and disconnected at the same time. You can be walking through the middle of a park on a beautiful day and not appreciate it; or appreciate it and have the need to introduce that moment in our networks, to pass that photograph or video to someone else, instead of sharing that moment with a real person, or just with ourselves. Or the very stupidity of traveling around the world just to have the same photo that everyone has, without even appreciating the place. I think that’s when we disconnect from what really matters, and if you think of it it’s hard to be in a place just breathing or listening your surroundings for more than 10 minutes without having that need of looking at your cell phone.

So let’s think a little more on the before, where things weren’t immediate, where there was more time to ourselves, and to everything; Where to find out about something, you had to be present, you had to go to your friend’s house, because he wanted to tell you something, or even had to call him, hear his voice at least. While today maybe the night comes and there is nothing more to talk about, because everything has already been said by chat during the day; and although on one hand the connection or to be able to have that, is great, on the other hand, many times the magic is lost.

So it is that dispersion of the real, of the palpable and the tangible: of what really matters in life; It’s dealing with this current duality: “We are in many places at the same time, but we are not really in any.”

And you know what’s worst? No matter what I’ve said, or thought about, at the end, I am also part of that! well actually I think we all are; and that is why now I also began to introduce this concept of digitized beings in my works. Although I try that the notion is present, but that it is not something gloomy, instead I try my works to be a satirization of that idea.

SANABRIAJUAN OUTOFTHEBLUE 2020

Talk about your winning work, Out of the Blue. What made you submit this one?
Well, I knew it was a great piece and I really wanted to have the opportunity of showing it somewhere. I was fully realized with just that, that and the fact that Thinkspace would see it, that was just for me. At one point at the beginning, I didn’t knew if I was to participate in the contest, but a friend of mine, a great art friend of mine urged me to do It, to upload that piece, and so I did.

Yu seem like someone who is do a balancing act about examining our digital lives and a love of physical work. Do you see this being your goal?
Of course! It’s also a little bit of what I was telling you earlier, and also because im from that generation that grew up without the Internet. Yeah, you get a lot of that felling when you see one of my pieces, (or at least that is what I intend to), a little bit of nostalgia also, that’s why to all of that notion of digitalization that I was refering to, I like to play with some elements of those 8bit games that I used to play when I was younger, Mario, Zelda, Sonic, Megaman. It also helps me to get away from that gloom aspect of the concept. But yeah, adding those elemments just touches my heart, you know? And I know its contradictory, because in some way, when these consoles came out, they were to my parents, just what I was telling you about the cellphones, and the social medias, so if I was already a little hermit guy, I locked myself even more then!

I remember my mom just telling me and my friends, get out of here you weirdos! Go out to the park, play some soccer, stop being here all day long!

So now that I see it in a more “grown up” way, I have that same struggle my mom used to have towards some people but getting back to your question: I think there could be a robot tomorrow, if there isn’t already one, who you would insert a picture and he’ll made you that exact picture on an oil painting. Bur it’ll never be the same thing. When photography came out, everyone thought that was the end of paintings, and here we are, almost two centuries later, still admiring a painting, and portrait paintings!

It is that magic that craftsmanship gives you, to know that another human being dedicated hours to elaborate that piece, has no comparison with anything at all. Without magic, there is no art. But then again you have all of those aspects that surrounds the market and the stupid things that sometimes shakes this foundations of digging and working on a piece, that kinda gives everybody some doubts about the future, like a fool paying more than 100k for a banana or all this millionaire madness that is right now behind the nft’s. But hey, I am in love with the craftmanship work, and I believe that in the long run any work that shows a dept work and an elaboration or a concept behind, is appreciated more in time.

If you could live in one era, what would it be?
Any era without Internet! Just kidding, I wouldn’t be here answering to this questions without it. Have you seen the movie, Midnight in Paris? I believe that movie answered me that exact same question. They always say, “any past time was better,” and if you think about it right now, I know you’re doing it, I for example would say a Paris, or a Barcelona on the beginning of the 20th century, by the time all of these artists would gather at “quatre gats” café. Do you imagine being at that café at that time? As part of the artists group of course.

But going back to the movie, and there’s a little bit of a spoiler alert in here; the character of the movie wants to live in that past, and when he gets there, the people from that past, wants to live in another past. When I was a teenager for example in the 1990’s I wanted to live in the 1960’s and 70’s, I sure didn’t wanted to have nothing to do with the 80’s, and today everybody misses the 80’s and the 90’s. So, I think that as shitty as this present might seems, we just have to accept it and try to enjoy it as much as we can, because who knows if this shitty as fuck present, might be something better than the day after tomorrow?

SANABRIAJUAN LOSMILLONARIOS 2020

What does winning this contest mean to you?
A lot… and I mean a lot. From so many levels. On one side, as I mentioned before, just the fact of having my work seen by Thinkspace was something special. I was selected with the three pieces I applied with. So, I was already done with that. And then the possibility to show at the Surreal Salon, a prestigious yearly show, that even on a pandemic year it came out great, and I must thank to everyone at Baton Rouge on how they treated every of the artists that was on the show as well, in every aspect. So, the gallery, the show, the curation, like I said I was more than satisfied with that, and the award… well that was just the cherry on the top. To have my piece selected, as best in show from more than 400 submissions, was something really emotional to be honest, and the people who really knows me, knows how much I’ve given into this career. But beyond the price on itself and all of what that represents, it’s also a mental stability. You’ll see, sometimes we artists get lost on what we are doing or the next step to go, and maybe you were doing alright, but just needed some more time, nobody told you that, and maybe you change with what you were doing and got lost.

So that’s why, beyond everything this award, means someone thinks I’m doing something good, and that’s the real prize. It’s always good to be told when you’re doing something right, and I personally think we should do that more often between artists. To support each other’s work, is the best way to grow as a community. 

To see more of Juan’s work, visit https://jmsanabria.com/
To learn more about Surreal Salon, visit https://www.batonrougegallery.org/