Juan Hinojosa: Ensemble Iconographies

A person standing in front of a wall with art on it

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Juan Hinojosa in studio during LMCC residency

New York based artist Juan Hinojosa collects found objects from everywhere he passes by. A toy snake, a wooden bird, a Good Luck charm, fragments from advertisements and billboards—find their way into his intricate compositions, creating altogether layered sculptural assemblages and intricate two dimensional collages. In both dimensional and flat formats, Hinojosa’s vocabulary is grounded in Pop aesthetics with a tint of Surrealism. Through super vivid colors and elaborate graphic shapes he depicts imaginary worlds where extravagant shrines and hybrid flowery creatures become a convincing presence. When you get closer, you can most likely trace where they came from.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to art.

I am a Latinx artist, born and raised in New York. I also happen to be a big nerd.  As a kid I consumed pop culture in all forms and now as an adult it has led me down a path of obsessive hoarding of pop culture items and images.  My home and my studio (near PS1) are filled with random objects from all over the streets of NY and wherever I have traveled to. I pick something up each time I travel.  My suitcases are always getting inspected at the airport. Sometimes I get a lovely note from TSA. Making art is just something I did as a child. I have no memory of a start date or a time I didn’t. I was always making something at some time.

Color seems central and distinct throughout all your work. What is your approach to color? How do you choose it and what does it mean to you?

I find color to be extremely tricky and something I take very seriously.  I assume the way I approach using color is the same way a painter would.  As a non-painter, I use the colors I collect from my surroundings to apply as thoughtfully as possible. I collect images and items from magazine, posters, billboards, off the streets, and anywhere I can. Advertisements are usually full of bright and bold colors in order to sell products no one needs to people who cannot afford them—Greed is the central part in the American economy—Without it our nation would fall apart.

With that said, I approach color carefully and when placing items together I am looking at the colors that surround the items rather then what the item is. I look at it as a dancing.  Since I attain colors via hoarding and collecting things off the street, everything I collect means so much.  Sometimes the smallest item can have the biggest story attached.  Some items do not get used for year but I will hold on to them to use them eventually.  My favorite thing I have collected (to date) was when I was in Paris for the L’Air Arts residency in 2019 right before the pandemic. Paris, unlike NY is a very clean city so there wasn’t much for me to pick up expect one day when a pile of wet wall adverts was just sitting on the street waiting to get picked up for trash. I quickly grabbed an empty tote bag, which I always carry with me, rolled up what I could and proceeded to walk around with a wet tote bag. The adverts were bigger than I thought, and I ended up having to ship it back home.  

Let’s take a closer look at a few sculptures: Dancing (2019), Two of Hearts (2020), and Post-Orbit (2021)– what is the genesis, the story and idea behind each of them and how do you think they relate to each other?

Making sculptures has been an adventure in taking collage making to the next step.  Since my “hoarding” can sometime lead me to collecting 3 dimensional objects I thought it was about time I explore and see what I can do. Dancing was made during a period of research I was doing on saints and how some of them had their limbs cut off because of their “rebellious actions”. Who doesn’t love a rebel? I ended up making a couple of hand sculptures which brought up a sea of memories of growing up in a very catholic home and attending a very Catholic school at a very early age. I did not walk away unscathed.

Two of Hearts is part of a series of 9 cat sculptures I created during the pandemic. I am single and I live alone, which was my normality for years and everything was fine until the pandemic happened.  Months into the lockdown (living around the epicenter wasn’t fun either), I realized I was talking to myself a lot. So much so I needed to focus my conversations onto someone or something soon before I go crazy.  I decided to use this left-over cat mold I had and I went to town on it.  One lead to another and so on.  Each one was given the name of a song from the 80’s and I used the most random items I could find without leaving my apartment.

Post-Orbit pulls from both series. It became this crucifix like structure which pulls from my religious past and my light exploration of other religions. Using found objects, including a toy snake that wraps around the neck of a wooden bird, I understand the fragility of humankind, the power religion has over people, and the greed it can manifest.

A picture containing doll, toy

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Juan Hinojosa, Dancing, 2019, Size: 16 x 9 x 5, 2021, Mixed media on wood, trim, iron on patch, and found objects on wood 

Juan Hinojosa, Two of Hearts, 26x20x8 (inches), 2020, mixed media on PVC, oaint, plastic flowers, iron on patches, found objects on PVC
A picture containing flower, plant, colorful

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Juan Hinojosa, Post-Obit, 2021, 44x24x7 (inches), mixed media, Materials: paint, synthetic flowers, jewelry, plastic chains, beads, trim, wooden bird, good luck charm, evil eye on wood

As in your sculptures, your prints also have a fragmented collage sensibility, and it is even more elaborate and layered in your works on paper. Tell me about your diptych Medication (the acoustic Garbage version, 2019).

In Medication (the acoustic Garbage version, 2019), once again I am playing with song titles but this time it’s from the 90’s. Music plays a large role in my studio practice. I need to put together a studio mix on Spotify one day. That piece might be one of my largest collages I have made to date (80 x 52 inches).  I literally pulled items from all over the place to make this diptych.  It is an explosion of small and large items I have collected over the years but also hints at some religious iconography. Clearly, I am still working out some of my issues.  Now that I think about it, I may have made Medication as a reaction to making symmetrical works for the longest time and I needed to do the opposite to feel a sense of control.  Forgive Me may have been completed at the same time.

Juan Hinojosa, Medication (the acoustic Garbage version) 2019, 80 x 52 (inches), Decals, patches, lottery ticket, drink tickets, ink, signage, stickers, Metro cards, plastic, wall poster from Berlin and other found objects on chrome paper

You have been recently awarded the NY City Arts Corp grant for which you have to produce an event. What would you like to share about that?

Yes! I could not have been happier.  There is something special about the City Artists Corp Grant because it comes from the city and it’s a reminder that as much as I love NY, NY love me too. The funds could not have come at a better time. As an artist with a growing studio practice, I tend to juggle freelance gigs when I can. The pandemic put the kibosh on a number of gigs. I ended up using this time and the funds to make new works on paper and putting together an exhibition / open studio in LIC. I invited the public into the space, and I got to chat with so many people it was fantastic. Since the works I make contain many layers, the questions everyone had were plentiful. It was the first time in a long time when I feel like New Yorkers came to have an honest conversation about art, life as a NY artist, and post pandemic NY.  As someone who had Covid, this grant meant a lot to me.

You have also been working with Proxyco Gallery (NY) and Vortic Art fair (London) on a virtual art fair, in which a portion of the sales funds go to support AKT (helping homeless gay youth).

Yes, I love this virtual exhibition!  I got to see it online and with an Oculus VR Headset.  First off, the VR world is the next frontier.  As much as it was amazing to walk through it in VR, it was also creepy at the same time. I loved it but the exhibition does go to help homeless gay youth which is a serious issue. I know about the homeless crisis we have here in NY, I grew up around it.  Seeing gay youth out on the streets is especially heart breaking because that very easily could have been me. 

What would you like to share about your two recent residencies in NY and MA?

I am doing two programs at the same time. I am in the middle of my residency at Dieu Donné in Brooklyn, NY where I get to make hand-made paper. The program has been extremely educational and exhausting to say the least.  I am working with Amy Jacobs, the Master paper maker.  She is incredible.  As a collage artist who has taken paper for granted all these years, this residency has turned my world around.  I was able to finish about 10 new works, but I keep coming up with more and more ideas.  I cannot wait to get back into the studio. A show of all the 2021 artists will occur in 2022 so please stay tuned for that.

An opportunity to take part of the Mass MoCA residency this fall occurred, so I had to jump at it and I took a slight break from Dieu Donné to come here to Massachusetts making a series of new works.  I have been working on repetitive works on paper.  At the moment I have 5 series of finished works on paper, each contains about 5-10 works on paper.  I have been putting long hours into the studio and working my way through all the materials I brought with me. I love it out here, but I might need a vacation after this residency.

What are you working on in your studio?

Now that I have all my “series” finished, I started to play around the studio again and I am working on a series of life size humanoid figures made out of found objects. I have zero idea of how to transport this work onto the NYC bound Amtrak train but that will be a problem for another day.

The artist at the Mass Moca residency, 2021

Juan Hinojosa is a mixed-media artist who currently lives and works in New York. Constructed from found objects, his complex collage-drawings intimately challenge greed, obsessive consumption, and the social stratification of American culture. His conflicts have resulted in a series of work that put on display his own bad habits, desires, and classic American greed. Hinojosa attended Parsons School of Design and was awarded residencies at Material for the Arts (New York), the Mass MoCA (Mass), and LMCC (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Governors Island COVID-19 Response Residency program). His work has been featured in The New York Times, the Woodside Herald, and Open House New York. Hinojosa’s first solo exhibition was at Allegra LaViola Gallery (2012). Since then he has had several solo exhibitions at Materials for the Arts (New York), Union College, Schenectady, and he was part of the Biennial at El Museo del Barrio (New York).

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: artspielblog@gmail.com