Interview with Miguel Angel Avila, Fine Artist Painter

Conducted by © Rocío Heredia De la Paz. August 2004

Please tell us something about yourself, where you grew up, and when you were a little boy, what did you wish to be?
I grew up in the city of Monterrey, in northeast Mexico. A very large, modern and industrial city; surrounded by awesome mountains. Right now I live in Houston, Texas; where I work as an architect during the day and as a fine artist during most of the evenings, late nights, and all weekends. To be honest with you I really don't know exactly what I wanted to be when I was little. I just remember I didn't want to be an engineer like my father. Don't get me wrong, he is a great person; I just don't get along with numbers, and his books never had any drawings on them, just letters. I do remember however, I was fascinated with books and magazines about different people, far away places and cultures, history and art. I could spend hours looking at the flags of the world, their designs, details and colors.

What is your formal educational background?
I first went to the University to study International Relations, but it didn't work out as I expected. On the bright side, that's where I met the beautiful person who would later become my wife. After that I moved to Architecture school and graduated with honors. I had a really good time there by the way.

I understand that you are self taught. How do you feel that not having a formal art preparation has affected you as an artist?
If you have the love and passion for art, the only thing needed is hard work; which, if you think about it, is actually a direct consequence of that love and passion for what you are doing. And not even the best art school in the world is going to do that for you. That is up to each individual. I do not consider the fact of not having a formal art training has had any important effect on me really.

If someone has a gift of art, should they go to art school and why?
Well, yes… If you can, I think you should. For two reasons; first, it's obviously a lot easier to have someone there who knows about techniques, mediums, materials, and so on to share all that, or most of it with you; rather than what I've been doing for a few years now which is learning that on my own, asking around…I mean, that is a good thing to do even if you're having a formal training in art…and I don't regret it, it's been a lot of fun actually. But I think it would have speed up the process for me a little bit.
And second, I believe art school is a place where you can make very good contacts, professors who might know curators for example, or collectors or dealers; people who might be interested in giving you an opportunity to create art, willing to support your artwork. I'm not saying that happens all the time but is a starting point.

What was your first painting? Do you have a photo of this painting?
I've been drawing since I can remember, but a painting where a brush is involved… that was about 11 or 12 years ago. It is an oil painting, very different from what I do nowadays as you can imagine. It depicted a very traditional landscape. It's at my parent's house in Monterrey; unfortunately I don't have a photo of it. Actually I thought it was lost, but every time I visit my folks in Mexico my mother has another of my old paintings hanging on a wall. Sometimes it surprises me that I don't even remember painting some of those canvases. I don't know where she finds them but she keeps making discoveries every so often. Some of them unfinished, even like that she hangs them. During one of my visits last year I recognized that painting, it's so funny…you can definitively tell I was learning to use a brush.

Do you have awards that had an effect on your career?
No, at least not yet. But to be honest with you that is not something that keeps me awake at night. To have the opportunity to paint, to participate in exhibitions or to have someone asking me for a painting means a lot more to me right now.

Are there any specific artists that you admire?
Well if you ask me about contemporary artists… I like the deconstructed animated figures of Inka Essenhigh; I also like the very simple characters of Yoshitomo Nara and Kojo Griffin's compositions. I do not think there is one specific artist that I consider a strong influence on me… But I do get different ideas and admire different things from the masters: like Magritte's illusions; Hopper's simplicity; Basquiat's freedom; Ernst's vision; Mucha's lines; Haring's energy and colors; Kahlo's own reflection; Van Gogh's brushstrokes; Varo's magic; Bacon's brutality…

Which art movements have you been influenced by?
That is probably easier for someone else to tell. But I would say Surrealism is definitively a strong influence on my work. I am very fond of Pop art too, so I guess there is a little bit of that somewhere. The use of free brushstrokes by the impressionists is something very attractive to me also.

What is the relationship that exists between your artwork and your cultural heritage?
That's a good question; I feel that my cultural heritage is always present in my work. Somehow it finds its way into my compositions, in the form of objects or ideas. Since I was a kid I was always very aware of the concept of culture and country, I don't know why; probably because even then I remember trying to somehow establish my "Mexicanity". I was the only one amongst my family and friends with a foreign citizenship, but ironically with the deepest love for Mexico. So, I guess it was natural to me to drain that into my work. Culture means a lot to me indeed. Furthermore, I've always said that when it comes to culture, Mexico is a first world country, part of the G-8.

How has your training as an architect affected your artwork?
I don't know if this has anything to do with it, but a good number of my paintings, curiously enough, either bear architectural elements within them or use a physical, recognizable space as the main background; elements such as a stair, a bridge, an elevator, a window or an opening on a wall, or even a bathroom or a bedroom.
I feel is sort of a balance between the two, because when I paint I am totally free to express whatever I want. No restrictions of any kind whatsoever. And on the other hand, much discipline comes from being an architect, due to the fact that the craft implies working with a lot of people in order to reach one common goal (that is the completion of a quality project within time and budget); where a lot more things and variables are to be considered. In both, at least for me, attention to detail is critical.

What is your favorite medium and how does it influence your creativity?
I've been working mostly with acrylics since I moved to the States; reason is I don't have too much space available here just yet. My studio is rather small and ventilation is not good enough to work with oils. So in a way, now that I work almost exclusively with acrylics I can work faster because my layers dry quickly. It's a little bit more difficult to create color transitions and shades compared to oils but I can achieve bolder colors faster. Considering the way I work, where a lot of things can happen along the development of the piece, the use of acrylics helps me focus more in the composition and the overall effect of my work.

What technique do you use in your work?
I have sketchbooks with me all the time. Whenever I have an idea I make a quick sketch of it. Sometimes I end up using different drawings from different sketchbooks in one painting. I do not develop the original sketch too much really. It's just for me to get a general idea and keep a record of my "thoughts". So whenever I have time to start something new and my head is blank (which happens by the way) I can go to my drawings and get something out of there. On the canvas I use a pencil to locate the main actors of my composition; again, not too much detail on that just yet. After that I start using paint, and I go from there. Anything can happen now.

Please define your style. Would you explain how you have developed it to its current, very unique status.
That's a tricky question right there. I would say is sort of a postmodern figurative eclecticism. I say it's a place where you can find a myriad of objects and images living together on a bright colored contemporary living space or a landscape; depicting daydreams as well as nightmares. I guess sometimes artists try very hard to find an easy recognizable style. And chances of anyone figuring that out overnight are very slim. I tried since the beginning not to worry too much about a style. My hope was that if I worked hard the style would find me eventually. And I'm still working on it I believe. But I do not want to confine myself to the repetitive use of certain elements or ideas in order to preserve or pretend to have a style. If I feel like doing something different tomorrow I won't hesitate and I'll go for it.

Tell us about your use of color. Do you have any preference for any color, if so, why?
I love to use bright colors in my paintings, and oftentimes I have large areas of a painting covered with one single flat color; I later start detailing those spaces with little lines or tick marks that create bi-dimensional textures which in turn become shadows and hues. I also like the contrast of various colors to enhance their visual and psychological power. To me color means life, energy.

What is the inspiration behind your artwork?
I think everyday life and the things that happen around me have the capacity to inspire me, even simple little things that most people don't pay attention to: All the music I listen to; Imagery and food as cultural reference; The myriad of designs that can be found in a woman's shoes; A window that opens up to a beautiful landscape; All the graphic designs in a shower curtain; the fact that sometimes you can find a sky painted in violet or orange; my own memories; Architecture; The desire to create beauty in a chaotic world.

What goes through your mind while painting?
mmm... so many things! It is a very private moment I would say, most of the time I am listening to music. I like to be alone when I am working and I enjoy enormously those moments.

Which of your paintings has given you the most gratification of your career?
During the final stages when I am working on a painting, I spend more time looking at it than doing actual work. For me it's the best painting in the world (I know it's not, but it feels like that). Then I work on the next one and I feel the same again.
I don't think there is one in particular. Each one of them means a lot to me.

How does audience play a role in your creative endeavor?
For me it's always interesting to find out how many and how different are the interpretations people can give to a single work of art. The work of art as a trigger of emotions can serve as a mirror to the spectator as well. I remember a solo show I had, while I was still at the University in Monterrey. A day after I finished hanging the paintings I went to the Central Library where the exhibition was taking place; in order to check a few things before the opening. By then there was already people looking at the art. Since they didn't know I was the artist, I was able to walk around and listen to their comments. I was amazed at how people would pick up on things or ideas that I myself hadn't seen or notice before.

What is your most important dream as an artist that is yet to be fulfilled?
To be able to paint at any time of the day; to have a big studio and, I'm sorry, how many wishes do I have?

In what ways do you think the Internet affects your art in today's world or in the future?
The internet can provide a lot of exposure to my art and also very good feedback and ideas. I launched my website almost 10 months ago ( And the experience has been great. Many people have logged in and contacted me. It's difficult to get the picture of what exactly an artist stands for based in just one work, so having a permanent gallery open 24/7 showing my most current work, as well as an archive section provides a very much clear and broader photo of what I do. I think some people involved in art still need to get more connected though, and catch up with technology. Slides for example; why? I can easily email you a good quality image file of any of my paintings; so much faster and easier for everyone! I know it's a system that works well for galleries and competitions, but it does not for artists.

Are there any details of your upcoming projects that you'd like share with us?
Just to keep working. I also recently got an invitation to participate in a group exhibition in Italy next year. So that is kind of exciting because it's going to be my first one in Europe. Hopefully I'll be able to go myself and meet the other artists; well, that only if I can get a sponsor!

Finally, what advice would you give a painter who's just beginning to pick up this medium?
Well, I am a young painter too, and I have a long way ahead of me; but I would say work, then work some more and if one night you feel like nothing is coming out and your talent is gone, do not panic; go out and do something else, just remember to come back the next day.

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Copyright Note: Interview © June 2004-2007 Rocío Heredia. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is forbidden. Photo © Miguel Angel Avila. Interview pubished at BTDesign Art Gallery - September 2004 - Used with my Permission. . Top Banner by Barbara Tampieri © BTDesign Art Gallery. All Rights Reserved. Throughout this website all artworks, images, text files, or other material is all copyrighted by Rocio Heredia and/or named authors, and may not be used elsewhere on the net, within other websites, or in print, without the written permission of the site owner and/or author. For express permission to copy articles, please contact us.