I met Daniel Guzmán at his home in Mexico City, to chat about his career as an artist. We sat in his workspace conversing while we drank lemonade. We talked about his idols, and the mysterious things he’s into at the moment and what is inspiring him today regarding his work. Daniel graciously showed me his cherished books and albums, catalogues of his work, some sketches and photos from his latest projects, and of course put on his favorite records.
Melinda: I got to know your work through all the rock and metal iconography, and black ink drawings you use to do. I know your recent work has evolved but I see the Kiss paraphanelia everywhere here, so I can tell it is still a passion for you. Can you tell me about your relationship with music?
Daniel Guzmán: I grew up with music, and my parents always had music around the house. They were always listening to traditional music from Oaxaca; romantic music like Javier Solis, my dad’s idol, it was always on (Daniel puts on the record). When I was 10, I had a friend, who was older, around 20 and he introduced me to all this other type of music…The Doors, The Beatles, Grandfunk and of course Kiss and AC/DC. After that I played it around the house all the time too, of course at teenager volumes (laughs).
How did you get into drawing?
Music and drawing have always been together for me, although if there is something I could not live without it would definitely be music. I also grew up reading Mexican comics and sport newspapers my dad would buy. I got interested in these types of caricature drawings which were kind of exaggerated and grotesque. I loved this guy Basil Wolverton who used to do illustrations for Mad magazine, and I read these comics with these two characters, Hermelinda Linda and Aniceto, they were a witch and a wizard but in a strange way, always getting themselves in funny situations.
Wow, yes these magazines you are showing me would definitely be crazy for a little boy to reference. It’s cool to see the ads too, they are all so old school.
Yes most ads are for other books by the same publisher, the cartoons, Blue Demon, the famous lucha libre character…
I loved the illustrations in these magazines and of course I loved rock and roll album covers. The Destroyer cover art by Kiss changed my life. At first I was more attracted to the visual aesthetic of the band, there was something about them that resonated with me. Later on of course I realized their music was amazing too.
I know, there is something about certain bands that they have a strong connection with art. Maybe because some of the members went to art school but took the rock and roll route afterwards…
Yes! The Kinks, John Lennon, Pete Townsend from the WHO and the Clash. All these guys went to art school. (shows albums by all the artists he just mentioned in front of me)
It’s like you did the opposite, you were into music and then ended up being a visual artist.
Yes there is a strong connection there. I started school to be a graphic designer but I found myself just doing drawings of my favorite musicians all over the school books and I got bored with all the details of typography and things like that…
Is this an actual school book?
Yes, I was always drawing all over them in class. Finally I decided to just go to art school. I thought I was going to be a painter, I really loved Cézanne and Matisse. My teacher was a great painter and a lot of students would follow what he was doing and do similar work, but I still deviated and stuck to my drawings instead of “painting” paintings. For me it was his personality more than his technique that influenced and taught me.
I agree, sometimes what you are learning from teachers it’s more about their attitude and philosophies that matter rather than their technique. It’s important to find your own voice and not just copy what they do.
So, lets talk about your own band Los Pellejos.
Six years ago, with my friend Mariano who is a songwriter and drummer, we got together with a few friends to make music. Most of the band members have changed over the years except for Mariano.
I hope you did the cover art for the album covers…
Yes, and the posters too! Here you can have one, have two.
But besides that, is the band totally separate from your work as an artist?
Yes, the band is not an art project, it’s just an outlet to make music. We obviously started playing for friends, many in the art world, but now we play wherever. Sometimes we play even in small venues where nobody knows that we are involved in art at all, and the audience does not need to know because it’s not important for this project. I would say in the last two years I took a lot of time off working as an artist just so I could concentrate on music.
So after working on your band full time you ended up coming up with a show in Oaxaca, Materia Obscura (Dark Matter).
Yes it was my first big project after that. It was very important to me because my family is from Oaxaca and it was around the time my mother died which was one of the darkest moments in my life.
I became preoccupied with demons, angels, ghosts and spirits around that time. While they have always been around, they became more prominent and significant at a time in my life where I needed them to deal with what was happening.
I like the concept of daemons, not exactly demons but daemons, from Greek mythology, before the church. They are not necessarily good or bad but they are like spirits. I see them as a type of impulsive force, you could call it genius maybe, something that drives men to produce…
I guess in the past angels and demons were not necessarily good or bad but just opposing forces.
I used Hermelinda Linda too…look…
Did you always use her or is this a recent thing?
She’s always been around but sort of came more to the surface during that time. I guess because of dealing with my mother’s death, I went back to things from my past. I found her comforting.
It’s funny, this ugly caricature is what is comforting to you in your dark times…
I know. It’s because it was something I grew up with and it made me happy as a kid.
I noticed that this show was less about drawing and more object and installation based. I really liked the transition in your work with the gates and the black bricks. They aren’t painted right? I understand you made them locally.
No they are not painted. It’s a process which blackens the brick all the way through. I worked with the artisans there. The whole show was very much based on Oaxaca. The materials used were collaborative efforts with the local artisans.
You’ve been out of town lately working on your next project…
I’m doing research for my next show which will be in Spain. I have been going to the archeological site of Paquimé in the state of Chihuahua in the north of Mexico.
I got permission to go to the site and spend my days there, walking around, looking at the space and talking to the workers who are an integral part of the space and its history. I didn’t have a set idea of what I was going to do but for me the experience of being on the site, seeing how things are done is what inspires me. (Daniel takes out an envelope of photos of the site) This is what it looks like right now.
Wow, I haven’t looked at photos in this type of format in a long time. I love these guys, they have such good style!
It’s the workers that are doing the re-construction. I got to know them while I was there. They are really open, and they let me take their photos.
There is something so interesting about them….their stance and poses exudes confidence, and attitude….
Yes, they have a lot of confidence. You can tell just by the way they are standing and posing for the camera. Look at this guy…they call him El Guapo (handsome).
They are building walls to recreate how the place used to be. It is about the past but also the present day because the materials, the workers and everything like that is influencing and completing the experience as much as the ruins are. In a way all these things will be part of the “past” in years to come.
It’s clear in your work you like to go and immerse yourself and experience things physically, instead of just looking up information about the subject matter.
Yes I think it’s important to see things and experience them and live them. Walking around these sites makes me think of a lot of things…
Ruins are interesting because many times they were sites that were made to connect to God. There is something paranormal about them.
Did you find Paquimé mysterious?
Yes, I read this book by Ambrose Bierce, he wrote a lot about war and mysterious places and disappearances. It is said that he disappeared mysteriously around those parts of Chihuahua at the end of 1913, after going to Mexico to join Pancho Villa as an observer in the Mexican Revolution.
So he wrote about disappearances and then he ended up disappearing himself?
Yes, his life ended up like one of his stories!
Lets talk about ‘icons’. You began your career by drawing your rock n’ roll icons and now in these archeological sites you are going back to ‘icons’ of a different kind…
Yes I am researching icons of the history of Mexico, they are more conscious, more precise. Every color or shape has a very specific meaning.
Yes with older icons there is so much information and meaning to everything, they have so much detail. With more modern icons I think less is more, like they are reduced to the most basic symbols. I mean with Kiss, you don’t even need to see their faces, the shapes that you see when the makeup is applied gives instant recognition to the band, right? Like this poster for example, I love it. Even if Kiss wasn’t in it you would still know it’s about them.
Yes, its a special Playboy Centerfold.
Why did you move on from using the icons of your youth in your work?
I guess I don’t need them so much anymore…
But you still surround yourself with them..like this ( a stack of books on table) it looks like an altar of sorts.
Yes, I love these books, the large one is a very special edition about the movie Taxi Driver. The kite and pentagrams on the wall is work in progress. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet.
And these are my idols right now…
Pier Paolo Passolini…I love him. He was so big in a way because he did so many things and was a highly controversial figure in the process.
His life was interesting. He had his own views and often caused controversy. You know his death was also mysterious, he was found dead in an abandoned house, ran over with his car. It’s believed the whole thing was a set up because he always spoke his mind. A young male prostitute was arrested and confessed, but it certainly seems like it was something else.
I see you have a lot of Bukowski books. I’m a big fan. I saw a documentary with him and he was so grotesque in person but his writing was so beautiful. He wrote beautifully about grotesque subjects. I guess that’s why he still got all the girls! (laughs)
You have a lot of books and albums, is it important for you to have things in physical form?
Yes, I love to look at them, I am not a big user of the computer. I only check my email once a day. For me having hundreds of online friends is too abstract, I prefer talking to people in person.
And doing research with real books…
Yes, but I do prefer doing my research on site, like at Paquimé for instance. For me imagination is more important than information.
Also, check out some of Daniel’s work from César Cervantes interview feature, which showcases some of the eccentric art collector’s permanent pieces in his home here.