This month One Grand Gallery presents Tony Aguero: MIEDO (Fears). We sat down with Tony to hear his thoughts about the show.
CW: Brief mention of rape and violence
Tony: Long story short, I am in this collective called Love and Anxiety. We make these zines and one of the themes we used for a zine was Fears. What are we afraid of? Contributors got about nine pages each, and once I realized I have a series of drawings that I started for the zine, I thought, “Wow. This is an idea nobody really explores or talks about. What makes you scared, what are your fears? Are you afraid to die? Are you afraid of... ?” It started there, as a small zine project, and then it expanded. I started to think into my fears of being an outsider, here in the States. I’m seeing things around me, like... I’d never seen a riot before in my life. People here march in Pioneer Square. You’ll see on the news that there’s a nuclear bomb threat from North Korea. I realized, hey, I’m in the United States so if a nuclear bomb’s going to hit here, I’m probably in the wrong spot! I began to talk about my personal fears with people. Everyone’s afraid of dying, everybody's afraid of losing family and loved ones. My mom passed away during the process of me working on this project, about a month and a half ago. The theme touches so many things that I feel are common for everybody.
Jess: Do you hope for audiences to reflect on their fears?
T: I think so. My hope is that people can see some of themselves in the pieces. Many of the ideas come from conversations I’ve had with people. I have a friend who sleeps with a hammer under her bed because she’s afraid that a guy will break in and try to rape her. I have another friend who has a hammer in the car. I’m like, wow, this is a thing. I hope people can relate some of that to the work in MIEDO.
J: You mentioned fear of being an outsider, would you like to talk more about what that’s like?
T: There’s a lot of things that I’m aware of, and I’m scared of, because you know... “This is not your culture or your country.” or “You’re a guest in the United States.” I’m a guest. It’s more of a subconscious thing: I have to be careful about being in the wrong place. I’m wondering, “How do you walk past a march or a riot? How do you proceed on those things?” I started to realize that I was afraid-- I am afraid-- of stuff, and I wasn’t really thinking about it. I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, too, because I am working with things that relate to my childhood. I’m still afraid of the dark, for example. I hate darkness. I talk about it here and there, but... I feel fear is very human.
I feel that if you’re going to make art you should communicate something, and I with this project in particular I wanted to talk about how I felt, in my voice, as an outsider, and talk about how I see things.
J: The work is on a lot of different materials including stickers, a hammer, and shaped wood. Is part of the perspective expressed through these choices of material?
T: It feels more real as a concept when you have physical stuff... that transcends painting or illustration. I wanted to experiment, and also see how people react to different things.
Something I’m really scared of is the internet, where people are so aggressive. People often use hashtags to spread hate. So I drew this picture of a Hashtag Hammer, covered in spines. One of my friends who saw the drawing said it would be easy to build, and he built it. I brought it with me from Costa Rica, so that’s one of the pieces I’m showing. If you see something on a painting or an illustration, it doesn’t have the same physicality of I’m going to beat you with this hashtag hammer! That’s the importance of making the actual object instead of having it on a piece of paper.
J: I’ve read that you’re also into 70’s branding?
T: There’s a little bit of that! One of the things I really enjoy-- I work in advertising-- we try to use happy people with values, inspired people, inspirational, and that’s how we sell stuff to people. I remember when I was a kid, I used to go to McDonald’s. It was one of my favorite things when they gave you the Happy Meal with all the illustrations of the characters on the box. People used to go, sit down, and eat, Those were different times. I try to incorporate that. There was a character on those boxes who was a cop-- the police. And another one was the Hamburgler. (laughs) So I play around with that a little bit. I like those concepts in a very straight-forward way. I like advertising! I work in advertising, and it’s inevitable for me not to bring it the context of what I do here.
J: Would you like to talk more about what you do with your work in advertising?
T: I am design director at Wunderman Thompson agency. My day job is, well, I read this interesting thing the other day. I took a snapshot of an image that said “How do you explain your job to people? For 10-20 year old people it’s like, “I am an artist.” For 31-50: “I’m a senior graphic design professional, a visual communications expert and a creative strategist.” For old people, “I make pretty pictures.” That’s what my mom will say. “My son makes pretty pictures.”
J: Are you mostly designing ads there?
T: Not ads, exactly. This is the digital age, so most of what we build is experiences. The ad is a component of things. It’s like one wheel in a car. There’s the construction of the car with seats, and wheel, and how many passengers can you fit, so to speak.... But my job basically is to generate concepts. I do a lot of idea pitching, designing how things will look, or the main ideas.
J: Do you feel that’s a vehicle for you to influence or inspire people at all? Or is it completely separate from your art?
T: I feel it’s separate. I don’t really feel you can convey a message through a product or a brand because brands have their own agenda. When you are outside of the creative constraints of doing stuff for clients, you’re free. You’re like, alright, this is the message I want to say and these are the colors I want to use, the symmetry, this and that. Of course in the advertising world there is nonprofit work which is interesting. [The company I work for recently used social media to combat hate.] But usually a client won’t get involved because brands and clients don’t want to get political. Nobody wants to take a side- they want to sell products to everybody. You can’t just sell products to the red or the black, black or white, red and blue, everything has to be gray. So it’s hard.
J: ...Which is kind of funny ‘cause your work is black and white!
T: Exactly! Ha, I never thought about it like that. The idea for me was to make something propaganda style. I started with the zine, illustrating in black in white. I’m not an art person, you know, I never went to college to study art and painting, so I have to figure out what paint to buy, what brushes... I don’t know that I should be using color. To me the message feels right, and of course these can evolve into something more colorful, but I feel they are good in black and white.
J: Of course! They look wonderful. It’s also exciting that you’re crossing this boundary from design into art. I believe that artists help shape the future of society, so I always want to hear an artist’s dream for the future. What are some of your hopes for how you’d like society to be, or what changes would you like to see in the world?
T: One thing I have struggled with for many years is being an artist. I have never seen myself as an artist, still I don’t; but I’m trying to embrace it-- I want to communicate something. There are a lot of things I want to change, and I feel people who have the ability to create should contribute like, “I’m just gonna leave this right here. If you don’t like it that’s fine, but I’m going to say it. Somebody has to say it.”
From the ‘art world’ perspective, I would love to see people talking more about how they feel. Another thing I see here is, people don’t want to interact with each other. They don’t want to engage in conversation. It’s interesting for the gallery, now that I think about it. Ten years ago, would people be more likely to come in and talk? Now it seems they don’t care. I feel we’re stuck. Bring a conversation to the table! Bring something to the table. People don’t want to chat anymore. They’re just like “This is what I think and fuck the rest.” And you’re like, “You don’t think like I think? Then fuck you!”
J: It would be good if we could have more difficult conversations instead of staying separate from each other. I think this is related to something else in your artist statement. You asked, how do we cope in the age of anxiety? Making art is a good way to cope. What are some of your favorite coping skills?
T: I stopped drinking when I started this project. I feel that anxiety is a big thing people struggle with. We all do. That’s why we have the Love and Anxiety collective! I guess people cope in very different ways. Drugs, alcohol, money... and when I say money, I mean work: your love of money. Exercise, food... and art, I guess. Or whatever you make. But I feel it’s healthy to just try doing new things.
Something else I see here is people don’t like to get out and travel much. They don’t take their passport and leave for the winter, when it’s dreary, to go somewhere sunny. I feel you have to do things in life that you are afraid of, in order to get yourself out of that comfort zone. I did my first yoga class today by the way. My wife said I have to do it, it’s fantastic... and now I love it! It’s another way to cope with anxiety.
J: After you do something you’re afraid of, what’s the best part?
T: That you stop thinking about the things you cannot do. Look at me. I’m forty-six years old, and I moved here when I was forty. People were like “You’re crazy! Going to a new country when you’re 40?!” I’m like, ”What? Why am I too old? Why can’t I start painting and making art if it’s something I love, and try to put up a show? Maybe someone will like the show I’m making.”
So I’m always pushing. But I have come to a conclusion and understanding that resting is as important as hustling. You have to do both things. Just do it. I feel like we find so many excuses for not doing things. It took me years to pick up a brush, and just start painting. I don’t know if the work is good or bad, I don’t know what people will say about it, but what matters to me is that I did it. I will take a brush right now and just paint you whatever, because I’m not scared anymore. With this whole journey, wow-- I love being able to do that. What’s the next thing I’m going to paint? What am I going to draw? What materials? I lost the fear of making art.
J: Wow! That’s amazing. If you somehow got rid of all your fears, what do you think you would do after that?
T: That’s an interesting question... I don’t know what I would do. I feel like the fear I’m trying to deal with right now is the fear of death, of dying. I feel like if you lose that, you will lose the fear of a lot of things. Like, “I’m not scared of dying; I’m not scared of trying.”
J: Do you have plans after this show? Any projects people can look forward to?
T: Yeah, my brain is like that. “What’s next? What’s the next thing I’m gonna do?” So there’s three things I’ve been analyzing a long time in my head: fear, death, and money. Fear is the newest one, but I’ve been thinking about death for a big chunk of my life, and I want to explore that. I like my next project to be about money. How money is everything to people. Actually, I already have a name: All you need is money. Money is all you need. I would like to work around that. How money is so into our heads, from movies, to pop culture, to songs, everything is about making money. Everybody can relate to making money. That determines how successful you are. So that’s the next thing I look forward to working on.
J: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
T: I’m really nervous and this is my first show! I’m not like an ego maniac person, an artist who doesn’t talk to people. I love to hear what people think.
I’ve been working on this thing for so long. I want to sell my work, but at the same time it’s sad to see it go. But that’s the way it goes. I’m not in this to make money, I’m in it because I want to make more art. So I hope this can help me build the second show! (Hopefully that one will be at One Grand, too.)