Artist Jorge Larrea is known in Montclair to alumni of Northeast Elementary as their beloved former art teacher. Larrea has also had his work “One” featured at Montclair Public Library. Now Larrea will have his first solo exhibition, opening this Thursday when Clerestory Fine Art presents “Awake in Dreams: The Visual Immersions of Jorge Larrea.”
“Awake in Dreams” features large oil paintings meticulously rendered with geometric and organic shapes, creating dreamlike worlds where human figures intertwine with their surroundings. Larrea sat down with Baristanet to share more about his Ecuadorian background and the influences of Renaissance painting on his surreal compositions.
Where are you from? And what was your upbringing like?
“I grew up in an upper middle class family in Quito, Ecuador. I went to eight different schools because I was expelled from so many of them. My grandmother called me rebel without a cause.”
What was your first brush(!) with art making?
“When I was in Pre- K, this kindergarten boy had his work chosen for a show in school. I remember it was a bull-fighter, done with all these amazing colors. I was so in awe of him, he became my hero…he was probably five. Since then, I wanted to be able to create art. When I was 10, my mother signed me up for art classes downtown. I would take the bus from home, by myself, a couple times a week. I remember my first painting was a lake; I loved drawing the waves in the water.”
Whose art has influenced or intrigued you?
“Salvador Dali – I love his work. I love his imagination, skill, the technique he used, the colors. When I came to the United States and enrolled in art classes, I loved the Renaissance masters. Eventually when I studied surrealism in college, I tried to apply that concept, painting without thinking. But then I remember buying my first canvases and I said, okay, I’m going to try what the surrealists did and see what happens.”
What is your experience with teaching? How has it impacted your work?
“Teaching, especially elementary school students, made me more playful. Seeing in kids the joy of creating constantly reminded me to just do it without a lot of overthinking or planning ahead.
And if you ask the kids at Northeast, their favorite class was art. It was awesome to be able to teach their favorite subject.”
How did you begin to synthesize philosophical language with your art? Was it a conscious choice, or did it just happen?
“Everything in nature has evolution. What I’m expressing as an artist has to do with what life’s all about. Feeling organisms, thinking organisms and spiritual organisms, and how we are connected with the whole. We are all one with the universe, Mother earth.“
Some of your pieces are filled with extremely intricate line work; how do you create these structures?
“When I was a kid, I remember my mom showing me the veins on leaves. Veins are everywhere, in tree trunks and fruits, in our skin, in the sky, water and sand. So that’s when I began to feel like we are all interconnected. When I paint, I want to feel and show those connections. All of those lines show me the energy of life, and also how veins and roots and nerves and electrical charges, are all speaking to each other.”
Can you talk about your symbolism and use of color?
“When you’re sitting in front of a dark painting and feel melancholic and sad or maybe introverted, and then you take 10 steps to the right and see a yellow and red painting and feel uplifted and happy – that’s when I understood how wonderful color was.
I learned from Dali how images can convey so much. How they can connect our minds to our subconscious, how you can be reminded of dreams or different states of mind.
When these symbols come onto the paper or the canvas, I want them to have the right colors. It’s about the power of color as energy and the power of the symbols to say so much about our inner selves.”
Is there a piece from the show you are most excited about or has an interesting backstory?
“My largest painting ‘Will’ is also the one that took me the longest. The reason why it’s probably my favorite is because it embodies my philosophy and also my influences. The colors are very much like Latin American colors, very strong, very powerful and all balanced, as rich as possible. The influence of the Renaissance, the linear perspective, the balance, and the human figures are very idealized.
I use the symbol of the sperm because it could be in the animal world, in nature, in human life. It represents the wheel of life, the ability to become something else, to create something new.
You always need to overcome things. You always need to overpower certain things. You always need to compete with others. And competition is necessary because without it, there is no evolution.”
What advice do you have for young artists?
“When I teach, I noticed how kindergarten kids make art without thinking, without ego, without looking at each other. They just do. Then, the older they get, the more self conscious, the more fearful they become. They are afraid to show weaknesses or to be bad. The advice I would have for all ages is like the Nike Ad, ‘just do it.’ Don’t think about it. Just see what happens without comparing yourself. Competition is great, as long as it’s healthy and natural. The competition comes after the fact of doing it. You don’t want to do something to compete, you want to compete as you do.”
Clerestory Fine Art presents “Awake in Dreams: The Visual Immersions of Jorge Larrea,” March 12–April 24, 2020. Meet Larrea at an opening reception on Thursday, March 12 from 7-9 p.m. Additional public programming will accompany the exhibition, including an evening featuring both stand-up comedy and Clerestory’s widely popular silent disco, kids tours, a special tour for high school students, artist talks in both Spanish and English, and an Art and Finance panel discussion geared towards budding collectors. For more information, visit the Clerestory Fine Art website and follow on Instagram.