Dallas-based artist Carlos Donjuan has said that the graffiti movement has been the biggest driving force behind his work, but it’s safe to say that he is also one of the driving forces of that growing art subculture. Currently participating in the exhibition Sour Grapes: Rest in Power at the Dallas Contemporary (on view through August 11), Donjuan is making waves not only with graffiti, but with his paintings and mixed media work, influenced by the streets, music, and his family, and reflecting the thriving youth culture in Dallas. He recently shared his thoughts on the Dallas art scene and spoke about his artistic influences with CBSDFW.com.
CBSDFW.com: Have you always been creative and artistic growing up? When did you start getting serious about art?
Carlos Donjuan: I have been making art since I was a little kid in elementary school. I was always the student that made drawings for my classmates, and I made a lot of friends that way. Once I got to high school, I took art a lot more seriously. I did everything I could to learn about other artists and art movements. My art teacher Mr. Chapa really believed in me and I admired his passion for art. To this day, we remain friends.
CBSDFW.com: Your work shows influences from the streets, but you were also trained in an academic setting [Donjuan has a BFA and an MFA from the University of Texas]. How did your formal studies inform your work? How do you merge your academic training with your street influences?
CD: I would say that my art skills learned through graffiti informed my academic training. I was already practicing the use of color, space, shapes, forms, lines, etc. through my graffiti work. Once I got to college, I had an easy time getting through the basic art classes. I actually got to skip some of the basics because I did so well in high school. Everything really made sense to me.
In my art now, I try to keep the seriousness of my academic training and mix it with the raw energy of graffiti. It’s very exciting for me to mix the two because I am making work that continues to evolve.
CBSDFW.com: What inspires your paintings and portraits?
CD: Everything around me is a source of inspiration — from the people that I meet to the food I eat. Some things that I am currently very interested in at the moment are Native American art, animal illustrations, and Cumbia music.
My portraits are inspired by my friends and family — they make great models. And lately, I have been seeing apparitions that seem to linger in my subconscious [and influence my paintings]. It’s exciting because they are not pre-planned and they appear as I fall into my transcendental painting mode.
CBSDFW.com: What do you think about the graffiti or street art culture in Dallas? Do you think it has grown in the last few years?
CD: The scene in Dallas has been good and has continued to evolve. We are now seeing some of its original graffiti artists, such as Ucron and Vert, enter the gallery world. These guys have been making incredible work for years and it’s great to see them succeed because they have been a big inspiration to a lot of us. I think that the scene in Dallas has had its ups and downs, but it’s growing.
CBSDFW.com: What do you think of the art scene in Dallas in general? Do you think the city or art organizations need to do more to foster and encourage art in the communities?
CD: The art scene in Dallas is cool and I have seen some good quality shows. We could always use more galleries, though. I think there are a few organizations out there that are really trying to spread art in the communities, but we need more.
CBSDFW.com: What are your plans for the rest of the year–any upcoming shows?
CD: This year I plan on making a lot of new work. So far, I have shows planned in Dallas, Austin and Los Angeles. There will be more to come.
To view more of Carlos’ work, visit his website at www.carlosdonjuan.com. His work is part of the exhibition Sour Grapes: Rest in Power on view through August 11 at the Dallas Contemporary (161 Glass St., Dallas, TX; 214-821-2522).