Lucha libre and Jarritos aren’t the only Mexican staples to make themselves at home north of the border. Mexican art also leaves its mark on America thanks to street artists like Federico Archuleta. Federico has been creating large-scale street art in Austin, TX for the past 10 years, using stencils and freehand spray-painting techniques to commit his culture to the walls of his city. We talked to him about his art, his influences, and what separates the artist from the fan-boy.
Q: Let’s start with your background — how did you get into graffiti?
FA: I stumbled into doing street art by accident. Stencil art was something I approached by way of airbrushing T-shirts. I had an airbrush, but I didn't want to bother with a silkscreen set-up, so cutting stencils was something I gained experience with on a small scale, at first. I [was] a display artist for Tower Records when I first moved to Austin in 2001, and when they announced that the chain was closing, it left me with three months of twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the ax to fall. To pass the time, I decided to decorate the exterior of the store with large-scale stencil art representing musical artists, such as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and the Clash.
It was amazing how much exposure I received, compared to trying to get [my] work in a gallery or a local magazine. I followed with a large stencil of the Virgen de Guadalupe, which is the Virgin Mary icon (she's the patron saint of Mexico). These were spread around town, and more positive feedback came my way.
Q: How did your artwork evolve from there?
FA: I wanted to start creating original work. I realized that the previous stencil work piggybacked on the fame of someone else. So from there I worked on being as original as I could be, which is damn near impossible, because any artist is influenced by what came before.
Q: So what came before you? Can you talk about how your culture plays a role in your artwork?
FA: Having grown up in the border town of El Paso, Texas, I had Juárez, Mexico on the other side of the Rio Grande River. My parents are from Mexico, so Spanish was my first language, and [when I was] a kid we would go to Juárez to visit family and go shopping. On television, we would get the channels from Mexico, so I was exposed to the culture of two countries from the get-go.
In my early twenties, I decided to travel into the interior of Mexico, and wham, that opened my eyes. Later, I left El Paso, and lived in different cities from 1995 to 2001; I finally landed in Austin. After several years, I began to realize just how much [El Paso] molded my creative outlook, to the point that it is an inseparable part of me and my style. Can't help but be Tex-Mex-sexy!
Q: Aside from your culture, what else influences you? Any artists in particular?
FA: One of the biggest influences in my life is not art, but music. I was a child of the '70s, so vinyl records and the album covers that housed them influenced me tremendously. Having a soundtrack when I work in my studio is as non-negotiable as having coffee! Rock and roll, jazz, punk, rap, reggae, mariachi, country…you name it, I get into just about anything.
Q: Creating is a way to escape and unwind, but it’s also your career. What do you do when you need a break?
FA: I love biking around town — the act of it clears my mind and puts me in an observational mood. Visiting bookstores, record stores, and even certain clothing outlets allows me to see what’s going on out there, as far as trends go. There are times when an artist can get so wrapped up in his work that he forgets to stop and smell the roses, to quote a cliché.
I liken these moments of exploration to being a sponge…There comes a time when one must soak up what’s around him. Going to art exhibitions, meeting like-minded creative individuals, seeing a musical act, reading up on current events in magazines, books, or online — these are ways I recharge my batteries. Then, when you've soaked up enough, it’s time to squeeze the sponge — let it out on the canvas, wall, or whatever medium you work in.
Q: Do you feel like anyone can be a sponge?
FA: Well, that comes down to [making] the decision to either remain a fan-boy or get in the ring. There are those who cheer in the stands, and those who are playing in the field. But all those who manage to make a living off of their creative talent never stop being fans of what came before them. Even Bob Dylan blushed before Woody Guthrie, for example.
There is a fine line between the collector and the creator. The difference between the two is that the creator is the one who tells himself, "Hey, I'd like to give this a shot, I can do this!" Then he goes out and does it. But there's nothing wrong with being a fan. Hell, I still buy Juxtapoz magazine and gush over what other artists are doing around the world! There’s room to be both an artist and a fan-boy — that’s who I am.
Stephanie Georgopulos is the Entertainment Content Producer for Studio@Gawker.