Artist Interview: Emilio Perez

Born in New York, raised in Miami and now based in Brooklyn, Emilio Perez’s has a very unique style of art. His paintings are created via a signature process that entails painting sheets of enamel, latex and acrylic in different hues onto wood panels and then, using an x-acto blade, slicing away at and removing layers, revealing tracts of muted colors underneath.

He is currently working on a large-scale (6 x 18 ft) triptych at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas (using the above-mentioned process) that will be inspired by Lux’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, as well as by the surfing he has made part of his daily routine while living in San Diego. His residency will go from NOVEMBER 10 through DECEMBER 10. But his show will be up through DECEMBER 31 so stop by and check it out.

How did you first get involved in art? Are you formally trained or is it something that has come naturally?

Since I can remember, I have always been making art. When I was a kid, my mother used to paint so I always had the materials around to make a mess with. I did end up going to art school but I already had it in me from a very young age.

What are your influences?

I have many different influences. Since my work is abstract and has a tendency to come from the subconscious in a very intuitive way, I feel like my brain is a filter for all of my experiences. The energy in my work is influenced the rhythm of music and the movement of the ocean. The composition is often influenced by classical paintings and the palette from my travels.

How would you describe the style of art you do? Is there a name for it?

I don’t know that there is a name for my style but I would describe it as an abstract expressionist painting, with a graphic component.

What is your process?

My process is a combination of painting and cutting. I make a very loose and expressive painting over a colored background then go back into it with a knife, removing areas of painting to reveal the colors underneath. I look at it as making order out of the chaos.

From talking to you, you seem to approach each piece without much planning. How does working without much preparation to what you are creating affect the end result? Do you feel it has more of a fresh and free?

Because I want to make a painting that has a lot of spontaneity and movement, I find it is better to not have a plan and let the painting evolve on its own. It also makes the process more interesting to me. I feel that I am having a dialogue with the painting as opposed to knowing what it is supposed to look like before starting and just going through the motions.

How do you go about naming your pieces?

I listen to a lot of music while I work so I often write down song lyrics or something I may hear on the radio that grabs my attention. After the paintings are done, I go through my list of titles and try to find something that fits. I try to make the titles fun and they also give the paintings another level of meaning or even ambiguity.

What other types of art do you work in? Any other mediums?

Besides the paintings, I also make works on paper. The approach is the same in the sense that I make a very loose composition and then try to make sense out of it. I make these with ink and watercolors but no cutting with a knife.

Tell us a little bit about your residency at Lux Art Insitute. How did you get connected with them? What is the benefit to doing a residency in a place like Encinitas (which is more known for surfing then art)?

I actually had the good fortune of being contacted by LUX. I was not familiar with their program, but it turns out that my work really lends itself to their mission of making the artist and process accessible to the public. They have given me a beautiful place to live and make work. The best part is that the beach is 5 minutes away! It was a pretty easy decision to accept the invitation. Besides the location, the surf and an excuse to be out of New York for a month, I normally don’t have many visitors when I am working in my studio in Brooklyn, so having access to the public and speaking with students helps me understand and think about my work in different ways.

How does surfing play a part in your artistic process and/or lifestyle?

Although my work is not about surfing, I think that my time on the water really helps me focus and gives me energy to make work. If there is one common thread between surfing and my paintings is that they are both intuitive and happen in the moment. I think that is why I enjoy them so much.

How does the contemporary art world look at you as a surfer?

I am not sure how the contemporary art world looks at me as a surfer. What I can say is that to be a surfer in New York, you need to have a flexible schedule and being an artist allows me to do that.

What’s next for Emilio Perez?

I have had a pretty busy year with a solo show at Galerie Lelong in Paris last month and now this project here at LUX. I think a little break is in order then I will be getting started on a new body of work for my next solo show in New York probably sometime late next year.

Photos: Grace Madamba/Lux Art Institute & Stacy Keck