“It’s very silly, painting.” Homero Hidalgo is telling me about his art. He is being self deprecating, but he is also sincere. Serious about not being serious. Despite the fact that he could brag if he wanted to, Hidalgo is the kind of painter who, at this point in his career, actively seeks out limits for his artistic process. Pasting symbols, technological structures, and rules on top of his wide-open talent, the result is work that is felt and seen at the same time—collapsing minutes into moments that pulse against the flatness of his compositions. Gardens with eyes, static-y clouds, movie stills, sickly pink masses. It is silly, but it’s steady and, somehow, sentient.
Coming to me over Zoom, the Ecuadorian-American artist (and recent University of Nevada, Las Vegas MFA graduate) is sitting in his kitchen. He has a head full of quarantine hair and the look of someone who has been up all night with a baby. (His second child was born three weeks ago). He doesn’t have enough energy to make stuff up—which is usually part of the job description for a painter—so now is the perfect time for us to talk.
How are you? I know you’ve had a lot going on lately.
It’s been crazy. I’ve been preoccupied with the whole home birth thing. I’ve just been on call for that—but everything went so smooth. Everything was great. So, a lot of reading parenting books, just getting ready for the baby. That’s been a good thing. And then, when this [shutdown] was happening, I was in the middle of moving studios from UNLV to a new location. I haven’t really been able to be there yet to resume working.
Have you been doing much painting at home? I saw you did a few of the Barrick Museum art prompts online.
I was making quite a lot of paintings. Just just being in quarantine, bored and making paintings. I forgot about [the Barrick prompts]. Those are like little … thoughts—little improvisations, little tinkering things.
I think—like a lot of other people outside of Vegas—I first became familiar with your work on Instagram. At the time you were posting something you were calling “jardin conojos.” What does that phrase mean?
That came from a lecture from these people from Spain. It was a lecture on Paul Klee. The fellow was so emotional, he had this Castilian accent—I’m from Ecuador, I’m not from Spain—but he was like, “Oh, this painting is so beautiful. It’s like a garden with eyeballs.” So that’s where I took that from. I didn’t know how else to describe that work, but I’m very influenced by Paul Klee. That just made me smile so much. The phrase “jardin conojos” is very, very naive.
Your work definitely reminds me of Paul Klee, also Philip Guston. Can you talk a bit about your influences?
Yeah, Paul Klee and Philip Guston. I also like Arturo Herrera and Gabriel Orozco. I’ve also stumbled upon this fellow, a Cuban American artist, Jorge Pardo. He does a sort of very minimal, very design based work, but it is meant to cross boundaries between disciplines—not just painting or installation, he makes lamps too, so I find that very interesting. And also Vija Celmins, the realist painter.
She does the waves.
The waves, yes—she does these very, very chunky photorealist paintings. They really put you in a meditative state. I love her work. You look at those paintings, you’re just in zen mode immediately. I’ve been looking at the work of Beverly Fishman a lot, too. She is amazing. She makes very geometric, very formal shape paintings, but they’re based on pharmaceutical pills. They’re very minimalist. The way she works with color is exactly what I’m trying to do with color—making it glow on the wall, like from the side of the paintings. I don’t do that, but I try to still make color glow a little bit from within.
How do you make color glow?
I follow certain formulas. I think they’re called harmony formulas. It’s where you break down one hue into three. To me, it’s a form of pixelation, it’s not a whole like a gradient where you immediately get this sense of light glowing. So I try to compress it—like a JPEG—into just three [colors]. But it has to be the exact same hue on the color wheel. It has to remain monochromatic. Then it’s just a matter of adjusting each one of the three, so that the color has this energy on it. You know—and it’s a little hard to tell in reproduction—but that’s what I strive for. I want to put you in that color glow state.
Speaking of formulas, you often use different formulas or systems to make art. I’m interested in how these rules inform your process.
I think that having a set of parameters for this kind of production, it really gives you more room for improvisation. Like having a blues chord progression will allow you to improvise within those parameters. I think that’s very helpful in getting access to that state of mind. If [the painting is] not working, you can always check to see if you’re following something, and then you can alter it a little bit. But you have sort of this bar that you’re holding onto, these structural systems you’ve brought on.
In your recent thesis show, “Not Following the Plot,” you use binge-watched movies as one of your structures. How did this work?
With movies, it’s just another system, another procedure to make things. I get a big canvas, then I project the movie on it and I’ll pause somewhere, randomly, like on a mountain, and then I trace the mountain in charcoal. And then I just keep watching the movie, and then, “Oh my god, there’s a clock!” and I pause it and I draw a clock. I try not to compose it because I know that I’m going to slap a mandala on it to fix any mess. I mean, they’re a little messy. They’re a little convoluted. The mandala sort of helps out with that.
What movies do you paint stills from? And where does binge watching come in?
They are movies that I enjoy, such as Ghost Dog, Starship Troopers, or Robocop and 12 Monkeys, etc. – perhaps I enjoy them because the typical is moved to a different place. Binge watching is a theme that people of all backgrounds can relate to. No judgement is being passed. We all do it. Although I was hesitant at first because of the ugly stereotype people have about South Americans; but I gather that laziness can come in different ways, and to me nothing is lazier than, say, exploiting cultural “signifiers” in order to play politics for smug elites, instead of exploring complexity.
Going back to the mandala, it’s a symbol that can be a signifier, too. What inspired this shape?
It’s like a zen symbol within all the lines. Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend, and she said, “I don’t understand, everybody I talk to, they all go to Target.” And then I started thinking, “Wait a minute, Target has that mandala shape.” So I wonder if that’s the reason why everybody always—almost religiously—they go there. There are certain patterns that we’re attracted to, and the people from Target know that.
I think that’s true. We make unconscious decisions based on visual stuff all the time. You’re just doing it on purpose, burying symbols for the viewer?
Yeah, yeah of course. The painting itself is a square, so it’s also a reference to binary code. The square is “one” and the circle is “zero”—it’s like 0101. And the thing with the movies, the pausing, that’s the idea about binge watching. I mean, I have no opinion about binge watching, but it’s something so unique to these times, and I wanted to try to infuse formal abstract painting with these modern things.
Your paintings have a pretty wide aesthetic range. How interested are you in the end piece versus just exploring material?
I think you have to bleed and sweat blood and all that. I would say I have to really fight the battle to have the painting work, though I try to make it all about improvisation, you know, the painting making itself, painting itself. The end goal is that the paintings have to be a meditative space for the viewer. I think the reason I do paintings, in all honesty, is because it’s the cheapest form to achieve that. I don’t have a house or a room where I can just paint it yellow and then have people come in and just be in that state. A painting, you can take it, put it on your wall, and then when you’re having some problems, stare at it and then maybe it gives you a little bit of a mental space. A little bit of relaxation or something.
It’s almost like a therapy object.
Well, all the people that I hang out with, they say that you can’t say that. It’s a no-no to have art and therapy be in the same thing, because art is about this, art is about that. But to me, that’s the work that I look at, the art that I get to love is the art that does that for me.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
I should mention that I’m opening a space with a friend, Holly Lay. It’s a project space right next to Nancy Good Core Contemporary. The space is set up, it’s all painted, it’s all ready to go for submissions. If a fellow artist wants to show a project, something they’ve been working on, we have it set up for individual artists to do one piece—like an installation or a project, not so much the group show circuit. I haven’t really seen any project spaces out here in Vegas. I want to have that kind of spirit of experimentation.
When do you open? Does the space have a name yet?
Probably in a month or a month and a half we’ll have the first exhibition. We’re talking to a couple of artists and we’ve gotten a few soft “yeses.” … We don’t have a name for the space right now, but the working name is “Available Space Art Project,” or ASAP. We might change it.
All images on this page are courtesy of Homero Hidalgo. To see more of Homero’s work, visit his website or follow him on Instagram. If you are an artist who would like to get in touch with Homero about showing in the ASAP project space, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.