Artist fuses East Coast grit with California cool for Houston exhibition, Dying to Live
Sexy, vibrant and provocative, Harif Guzman’s artwork speaks vol- umes. With past exhibitions in London, Tokyo and Sydney, the New York-based artist has finally made his Texas debut with an extraor- dinary exhibition entitled Dying to Live — which will be on display at the Deborah Colton Gallery through April 20.
The Guzman’s street art influence and use of mixed media gives viewers a glimpse of life in NYC, as he delves deeper into the social interactions that fuel our everyday lives. His take on popular culture and his depiction of women, materialism and transformation illus-trates a collage of images that bring a fresh, gritty flavor to the Houston art scene. We recently caught up the artist at Deborah Colton Gallery, where he discussed why he creates art and where he finds inspiration.
CultureMap: Briefly tell us a little bit about yourself. Harif Guzman: My name is Harif Guzman and I didn’t get into art to follow any rules. I don’t kiss ass and I don’t ride coattails. I’ve been making art for the past 20 years.
CM: What inspires you to create?
HG: Most of my inspiration comes from whatever is surrounding me at the time. Women mainly, a lot of my work is inspired by women. I think sharing experiences with people and being able to communicate with people is a beautiful thing — especially when you can communicate without being misunderstood. Being misunderstood is one of the worst feelings one can have. Most of my inspiration comes from connecting with men and women.
That’s who’s here on earth, you and me.
Life isn’t about cars or being successful or money. It’s about the communication between people. That’s the inspiration.
CM: You’ve traveled the world and lived in some of the nation’s most desirable cities — NYC, Miami and Los Angles. How has urban life influenced your artwork?
HG: Miami influenced me a lot. I grew up and went to high school in Miami. I also lived in southern California and northern California, which definitely brought out another side and helped balance me out. If I’d have stayed in NYC at the time, I would have been too crazy. It helped me learn about my spiritual side and mellowed me out a bit.
There’s a saying: “Living in California adds 10 years to a man’s life.” I feel like those “10 years” were important. But, my home will always be in New York and the Caribbean.
CM: When people view your artwork, what do you want them to draw from it?
HG: I want them to draw whatever it is that they feel inside. I don’t make artwork for anyone specifically . . . I make it for myself. There’s no compromise.
I want people to get something out of my artwork. It’s not important if people like it so much. Even if they don’t like it, I want them to remember it. One of the most important things is to leave an impression on someone’s mind, whether it’s good or bad. As long as it leaves an impression.
CM: Your artwork is fresh and vibrant, yet provocative. It strays away from the norm. How does it feel to exhibit your artwork in a conservative city such as Houston?
HG: It feels like it would if I were to exhibit in any other place. People have been pretty responsive and I think my work fits really well here.
CM: Out of the entire Dying to Live exhibition, which series do you feel is your strongest?
HG: I feel strongly about all of them, to be honest. I have 14 series that I’ve been working on and perfecting for the past 15 to 20 years. What you see here
is a small portion of what I really do.
The series Romance of Petroleum is very important to me, because I feel like everything around us is fabricated in oil. It’s based on man’s romance with oil. After a while, the romance isn’t about money anymore. It’s about the need to find it. It’s a natural fascination.
I like the Dark Ages series as well. It’s a mix of my street art and inspired by the Louvre Museum in Paris. I’m also stoked about this new LED light series because it’s original. I’ve never seen anyone do that with LED lights. It’s canvas with wheat pasted paper on top and LED lights that shine through it.
CM: If you could chose one word to describe your aesthetic, what would it be?
HG: I would say “love.” I do art for the love of it. It’s very simple, yet complex.
You have to understand there are artists and then there are painters. Artists fabricate shit, especially nowadays. The contemporary market has become so flooded and art has become all about branding. You can brand yourself and appeal to people through emails all day to succeed.
But, I believe painters are a whole different breed. There are very few painters left that are pure artists. I’m a pure artist.
By Adrienne Raquel
March 29, 2013