Whitehot Magazine

Interview with Carlos Uribe

Carlos Uribe in his studio. Images courtesy of the artist


For almost 30 years now, silkscreen artist and educator, Carlos Uribe, has been delighting the world with his prints and the “infinite unfettered freedom” that they convey. In the past, Uribe has had exhibitions at Rio lll Gallery, Kenkeleba Gallery, and Harlem Textile Works among other celebrated institutions inside and outside of New York. Currently, his work is displayed as part of the Sugar Hill Children's Museum’s current exhibition until this July.

AO: What artists inspire you?

CU: The list is endless and changes constantly and cannot be categorized.

AO: Last time we talked, you described your use of technique as unconventional. What do you mean by this?

CU: Printmaking is taught with a few basic constants. Two of which are, the printer is trying to make multiples of the same image and the print is always controlled by planning ahead. I have been well schooled in this manner and honor it as solid traditional training. In my own work I want more spontaneity, more random elements and a way to make images not as reproductions. My process has been called painterly, interactive and definitely not well planned out in advance. I would point to my ‘freestyle’ registration methods and use of paper stencils as pretty unconventional. In addition I make monoprints often in a series around a theme as opposed to traditional ‘editions’. Lastly what strikes me as different from the norms is that I (like many printers) allow the technique to guide the result instead of always trying to be in control. 

AO: How do you come up with the color in your work?

CU: Color choice is a fluid activity. I choose from many sources and have mixtures of my own that I use often. I see color relationships all around and these moments of ‘seeing’ a certain color perhaps offset by another can be a starting point. Color is a visual banquet served buffet style and I keep returning to the table to try new things or have more of something I really like. I do not have a ‘favorite’ color and my body of work reveals my shifting color interests.

AO: How would you describe them?

CU: I always describe colors as relationships, always interacting and conversing with one another. Sometimes I make up names for a color I mix (like my recent ‘sick pink’ or ‘corroded’ yellow) mainly to add a storyline element to my work and for the pleasure of personalizing my colors.

AO: How do you think the use of them interacts with other distinct elements in your pieces?

CU: Colors do more than interact they often define what shape or visual motif gets used. Often the color is mixed and then I search for the element that best accompanies that color. Interaction of element and color is an ongoing relationship that am always exploring and changing. In fact my newest work has shed all pretense of ‘distinct element’ and uses color as element (verb becomes noun).

Flag Series #13 (2009), silkscreen and India ink on paper

AO: Do you think art should be a tool for political activism?

CU: Yes, art should be used for all manner of expression and is a universal tool to be harnessed indiscriminately because art reflects on everything in existence.

AO: Have you ever thought of your art as political activism? 

CU: I see political activism in my work in the same way that choosing to become a vegetarian or to recycle is political activism. It is lining up behind ideas that counter the status quo and challenge political/social inertia with conscious behavior. Direct activism is different and while I have participated even lent my talents to political activities, my own work is not activism as such. 

AO: What about now with all the recent political shifts across the globe, have these inspired a change in your art? 

CU: My art is and always has been about infinite unfettered freedom. It is a message more for the spirit than a political ideal. Recent shifts cannot alter the purity of this precept. In other parts of my life I am deeply affected and concerned about global changes. My artwork addresses a deeper more fundamental part of humanity. 

AO: Can you talk about where the idea for your Flags series came from?

CU: The Flag series is about the closest I’ve come to making a direct political statement. Strangely it originated from making a compositional decision that resulted in the ‘flag’ motif; that being I put a rectangle in one corner of a work in progress and suddenly saw the flag. From there the potential was compelling and obvious. The series began during the 1st Gulf war, which I protested fiercely. I have protested war since Vietnam and continue to do. The flag is overwhelmingly used as a symbol of nationalism and a pumped up validation of patriotism. At this time (and others) this narrow minded view was in all our faces and I had something to say about it. As the series progressed I became aware of deeper and more meaningful layers that my flags suggested both about personal identity and as a message for this country.

AO: I noticed you mentioned the idea of identity in your Flag series. What is your opinion on the debate between abstraction and identity?

CU: I don’t know of any such debate nor see why there should be one. Identity is about self-reflection and association with things one is attracted to or finds familiar. Abstraction is an amorphous idea/activity that assimilates everything in its path. I suppose there is more of a symbiotic relationship between the two than something to wrangle about. If identity is fixated on something corporeal and abstraction (in the other corner) represents the smoke of existence, let the debate rage but I do not make such distinctions and live equally fond of and comfortable with both. 

AO: Do you ever feel like your pieces detach themselves from your culture by being abstract? 

CU: Not at all, in fact the culture(s) I identify with has a rich history of avant-garde writers, musicians and artists who embrace abstraction as a natural course for art to take. This is not to diminish other contributions that have more conventional imagery and stature but it would be mundane to think that cultural identity, especially via artistic endeavor, can only be realism or representational. 

Hawaii Spirit House (2018), silkscreen on paper

AO: Do you believe abstract artworks can show these issues? 

CU: I think it is unavoidable but you need an audience that knows how to look at abstract art and see or feel the issues. Unfortunately the vast majority of viewers need something familiar to associate with and is naturally drawn to images that depict things in rational ways. Conversely the artist can declare the issues they are addressing for example through titles or a statement. Then it is for the viewer to appreciate how well that message was delivered not whether abstraction was appropriate or not. 

AO: Or better yet, do you believe they have the necessity to show them?

CU: No, that is still trying to contain abstraction to a political or cultural discussion. Abstract art will have none of that unless that is the intent of the artist. As it was for my ‘Flag Series’ but that does not hold true for the thousands of other works in which, I have addressed and celebrated different issues, ideas or nothing at all. To ascribe ‘necessity’ to abstraction is the choice of the artist alone. Any interpretation the viewer comes up with is also their choice that is ultimate freedom and why abstract art is so powerful and rewarding for me.

AO: Lastly, what’s next for you, Carlos?

CU: I continue to make art, continue to peer into the abstract void and pull out ideas to express, issues to defend or I just play in the chaos until I like what I’ve done and take out a new piece of paper and start over… In the real world I continue to teach, continue to be part of a community and an extended family. I also make my more accessible ‘textile goods’ to sell and hope to have more shows and try to keep gratitude fresh in my thoughts. WM

Alexandra Oduber

Alexandra Oduber is an undergraduate student at Fordham University interested in contemporary art and its intersection with culture, technology, and digital trends. Alexandra splits her time between New York City and Panama City.

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