Flowstate /North Brooklyn Artists


Carlos Vela-Prado

Sophia Kayafas visits Carlos Vela-Prado, a conceptual artist living and working in Greenpoint. Vela-Prado strives to remove himself from the execution of his art, hence giving agency to the idea and eliminating the preciousness of the artist’s hand.

AIRED: March 29, 2021 | 0:14:44

(upbeat music)

(waves crashing)

(video glitching)

(upbeat music)

(air whooshing) (gentle music)

- [Carlos] Hey how is it going?

- Hi Carlos

- Nice to meet you.

- Nice to meet you too, I'm Sophia.

It's a muggy, stormy day.

And I'm visiting artist Carlos Vela-Prado

in his Greenpoint studio.

Carlos moved to the space

three years ago

after having various studios in Williamsburg.

I love these big old freight elevators.

Carlos travels the world gathering photographs

and materials that inform and inspire his work.

I was eager to find out how he combines all

of his ideas into one process.

From what I know, from your work,

which I've only seen online, on your website,

I can tell that it's very conceptual

and you're kind of straddling many, many different materials

and different ways of thinking about ideas and meanings.

I mean, could you tell me a little bit about the materials?

- So I went to school for sculpture,

but I came from a background within photography

and computer science basically.

And what drew me to sculpture was the fact

that I can form a conversation around a concept

and really engage a space and kind of activate it.

And within that, I am a person that loves learning

and I like to teach myself all

these different kinds of mediums.

So it's like, I like to kind of confuse the kind

of organic ideas that one's perception

of what a painting would be like

or what a drawing would be like.

These are just panels that I'm preparing

for these photographic frescoes that I've kind

of been working on and off for the last six years.

And it's gone through many iterations.

- What's a photographic fresco?

- Exactly.

I'm always trying to invent something a new way of working.

So this is trying to find a way

to photographically expose an image on a plaster surface.

So the image that I'm using here is actually from last year

from the migrant crisis on the border

between the U.S. and Mexico.

- Yeah.

- So this image really kind of took a hold of me.

And I just kept thinking about how, you know,

in Italy, Italian frescoes, it's always a procession,

it's always kind of a group of people moving.

I kind of got obsessed with this photo

that I think people really gloss over.

When do they initially see this?

It's just the atrocities of being shot -

You know, a mother and her children being shot

with tear gas, but the clothing that they're wearing,

she's wearing a Frozen shirt and, you know,

and the little girl

was wearing a little Buzz Light Year shirt,

but then for me it became this other aspect

of the transfers of clothes between America

and the different parts of the world

and, you know, the waste and all.

(gentle music)

This is a finished artwork.

This is a scale replica of Manet's Olympia

which is this painting right here.

This is just called Olympia.

This is one of the earliest things that I was doing

with this plaster medium.

I really like this piece.

And because of its inherent, again,

back to what I was saying, it's very minimal,

I took high risk photographs of the painting.

And I found

where all the cracks were in the painting right now.

The plaster in itself is tinted to be the same color

as it was first shown at the Salon de Paris

and then going in there,

it's actually carved into the plaster.

- [Sophia] So when you're putting the marks

with the graphite,

you're not just leaving a mark, you're carving out.

- So it's actually all carved and then filled with graphite.

What happens here is just through time and itself,

like the white,

female figure actually just completely gets blurred out.

But what happens with just the painting, the physicality

of the painting, it creates a halo around the black figure.

And I think that's kind of a very beautiful way.

And the in painting itself is kind

of changing its own history through time

and kind of letting you think about it in a certain,

in a different way.

- It seems like you're in your studio

and you're playing with meaning.

And if something has meaning that it has history,

but even in the midst of all this kind of enigma,

at first glance, it seems like you're finding new meanings

and new connections.

And I'm wondering what that makes a studio feel like

when you're in here,

do you feel like you can't focus on one thing?

Are you like moving around?

Are you writing things down?

- The best way to make sense

of how I work is kind of going back to computer science.

Basically, I'm thinking of an idea or a concept

and every individual artwork is like a line of code in order

to describe something else.

So it's the build up of all these individual artworks

that create the final artwork.

- Establishing a flow, like a workflow is something

that has driven me to madness many times.

Sometimes it has to do

with maybe being in the studio every day, repetitively.

And then you kind of get into the flow.

Sometimes it happens in an hour.

Sometimes it takes a week.

I'm wondering, can you talk to me about your workflow?

What does that feel like?

- Can you just say that again?

What if, sorry.

- You know, like a flow sate?

- No, I do know a flow state.

But that's I think inherently what's problematic

with being an artist in which we just never stop.

You know, I feel like there was a moment

at one time after grad school

that I was sitting there with my friend

and we were both having, you know, we were both working

whatever jobs we had and we went for dinner

and we sat there and we're looking at everyone walking

by and we're like, this is just not fair.

Like everyone, you know, who has, you know, who works,

you know, for a living doing, you know,

construction or something, going back to their home

to their family has this idea of having time off

and with whatever we have done,

it's just like we can never have time off.

So there's always this kind of anxiety of trying

to get one more thing finished before the night is over.


- [Sophia] What's the name of the storm again?

- [Carlos] Isaias.

- [Sophia] Isaias.

- Yeah, it's pretty, it's pretty bad.

- How far are we right now from..?

- It's a 10 minute walk.

It's not too far.

So it's kind of we're in the industry side of Greenpoint

and we're walking towards the old industry side

but obviously it's turning around

with all the construction near the waterfront.

- How do you feel about that?

- It's a mixed bag of things.

I like how quiet it was.

It is now relatively, but it's obvious

that it's going to just going to be an influx of people.

- [Sophia] My God, your house is amazing.

- [Carlos] Thanks.

- It's nice to see your face too.

- I know, its a little bit awkward,

but come on in.

- Wow, how long have you had this place?

- My wife has been here for about seven years, please.

- Oh yeah?

- Yeah.

So it's kind of one of these old Brooklyn, you know,

chaotic spaces that someone built out

that really shouldn't have,

but it's been amazing.

So and it's been great - I love it.

- to be here during the pandemic

because it allows us to have space and, you know,

I can work at home as well.

And this is Imo.

I am from Guatemala, I was born in Guatemala.

And my dad came here when I was born,

basically, lived here until he got his residency

and then my mother and I came over.

So I was about around eight years old when that happened.

- Oh, wow.

- So and then we grew up in, well,

I grew up on Long Island, with a name like Carlos,

it's obviously that I'm not like, let's say American, right.

But it is, I am from Guatemala,

but I am much more - I'm an American, as an American can be,

the American dream is... I kind of fall in line with that.

And then kind of, you know, I understand where I come from

and I understand the responsibility

and that's kind of part of it's that ties into my work

because it's a struggle that I have.

How do I acknowledge myself as a minority,

but also as an American,

without exoticizing myself or my culture.

I've been making these drawings

with a machine. I found this 3D printer,

I started getting into 3D printing

and back into robotics and coding.

And last year I was making these drawings

by hand, which took, you know, weeks to make.

And they're all very, you know, mechanical in a sense,

but in the way that they're produced,

I'd like that, you know,

there's always some sort of, I was never perfect.

You know, it's like, I'm not a machine.

But it got to the point, it's like, all right,

what if I make a machine to make these things for me?

Within that, I wanted to kind of push the boundaries

off the software and actually really simplify it.

So not have something that's very exact or very controlled.

But I actually attached, let's say,

the most simplest object. and that being the pencil,

the pencil itself blurs the lines

of the mark making and the creator.

I have a particular notion of the idea

of the artists and the artists making drawings

within the school of thought

that mark making in itself could be inherently an artwork.

And for that, if I can separate myself and add a filter,

that is also mark making on its own

without my control, but allow itself to make accidents.

Then I feel like that gives the agency

to an idea and the machine, as opposed to me as the artist,

just making a mark on a piece of paper

and letting that be the artwork.

I think there's a preciousness

that artists can imbue in things

that I'm sort of against. The removal of me

and adding something that kind of complicates it,

I find that very interesting.

- You're dealing with all of these ideas that are invisible.

They're invisible, they're in your head

they're in your soul, in your heart,

they're floating around and you're having to negotiate,

like you said, these different things

and have them maybe strike a new meeting,

maybe accidentally or on purpose.

I'm wondering if sometimes those ideas feel more concrete

than the substances in the materials that you use?

- I'm going to say no,

I think that's the beauty of it because it is a negotiation.

What I'm trying to do is orchestrate

these different moments in time, in space,

with different objects,

to kind of allude to a kind of, you know,

melody and chorus in my head

that I don't think it's very easy to kind of understand,

but if I can drive the meaning

and points via a text, a photo, a video,

to allude to a feeling

that I have an actual feeling or an actual,

you know, idea, if I can approach that,

that's the goal.

(gentle music)

There are machines involved in everything

but I never want them to be at the forefront.

It's doing this for me

but it's not the end I have to go in

and erase things - there are specifics.

So it actually brings it back to this idea of photography,

which at the end of the day,

I still have to dodge and burn the actual image.

So I have to go in and like take out the highlights,

you know, darken the darker spots

by using a smudge stick.

It becomes this whole play as well.

- Do you feel like this project and even this machine,

do you feel like it's part of a new maybe area in your work?

Maybe in a step forward that you haven't been before?

Would you say it even defines you more clearly as an artist?

- No.

- Do you have one that does?

- One work?

- A one project or one work yeah.

That you were like, yeah, this is who I am.

This is the work I'm making now I see myself.

- I don't think so.

I think it's within the whole aspect of,

I think within my whole body of work.

It's basically that's what it's going to come down to.

I think when it's all looked together at once.

Maybe I'm just a little bit narcissistic,

in that I think, you know, when it all comes together,

maybe there's a greater story within it.

And I think that will be me and it it'll be my story.

(upbeat music)

- Ideas can strike us at any moment,

but we can also seek them out, cultivate them,

pluck them out of a whirlwind of chaotic thoughts.

Sometimes we need to get lost in the process in order

to find a clarity that's meaningful or new.

Sometimes only the bigger picture forms the ultimate meaning

of what we're working on.

And sometimes it's just the journey itself

that's fulfilling.

(gentle music)


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