2020 is on its way out of our collective memory, though not without fully overhauling life as we’ve known it. At The CAMP, we kicked the year off by starting from scratch, adding new and wildly talented artists to our darling roster (i.e., making loads of new friends), partnering with FAMA for a 40-artist exhibition, leaving our Little River home and setting up shop in North Miami, and even the launch of a brand-new virtual gallery with the help of Emperia, UK.
Which made us curious—how has the unruly intensity of the new decade impacted those we work closest with?
In the spirit of growth and community, we bring you The CAMP’s 2020 Roundup, a small interview series featuring reflections from our CAMP and CAMP Spotlight artists.
Augustine Chavez. Social Divide, 2018. Oil on panel. 48 x 48 in.
CAMP Spotlight artist Augustine Chavez finds inspiration in the works of French realist painter Gustave Courbet. Freshly done with an MFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio, he’s cultivated an artistic vision that extends beyond his own realm and, like Courbet, he works with a commitment to painting what he can see. Chavez’ interest in the dissecting and unraveling the dissonance of whom our society rejects and whom it depends upon, more specifically immigrants and community workers, through his medium forces audiences to confront the uncomfortable truth. The choice to leave his figures, representative of “the legs of America,” as Chavez calls them, faceless, speaks to social neglect and aim to encourage his audience to interrogate the contradictions in the United States’ sociopolitical spheres.
2020 has been a difficult and often tumultuous year - how has it affected you and your artwork?
Like everyone, I had a lot of plans in 2020. For one, after attending a very demanding graduate program, I was graduating with my Master's Degree in Fine Art from The University of Texas at San Antonio in May 2020. I was ready to wear my cap and gown and be hooded, but it all got canceled. I still graduated, but without a ceremony. I know that many people have had it worst so I try not to be inconsiderate. In the fall, I was scheduled to teach but my class got canceled due to COVID and low enrollment. The difficult time has pulled me away from making new work. Luckily for me, I have a healthy body of work that I can keep submitting to exhibitions.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to deal with since March of this year?
I feel the difficulty has been is not being able to socially engage. As an artist, I feel it is important to be able to interact with others. I work best when I am alone, but in-order for me to generate ideas, I have to be around people to get reactions. Sure, I can make a body of work from this experience of isolation, but it is something that I am not motivated to make.
Have you noticed any changes in your work?
I don't feel changes in my physical work, but more in my thought process. Before COVID, I was at the ready mark everyday. I usually like to paint big, but now, I am not motivated to paint big. I stopped painting during the summer, but then I realized that, even though we are going though difficult times, it is important to paint during this time. Now that we cant go anywhere, we need to work harder in our studios so that when things do go back to a new normal, we will be ready with a new body of work.
Have you noticed any changes in how people react and or engage with your work now that they can see it mainly online?
I actually feel it is a good thing. This may sound more geared toward a marketing thing, but everyone was already online before COVID and now, they are always online. People are reacting positively to my work on my social media. But I understand that the experience is not the same as being able to experience an opening reception.
What has been the best thing that has happened this year?
Well, I realize now that I like to be in a position of learning. Like many of us, I was betting on upcoming opportunities that have been, now, postponed. I though a lot about my next steps.
Out of desperation, I got a job at a Walmart working with the online groceries. While I was there, a lot of things were going though my mind and I was having trouble adjusting to my new environment. I thought about it and I realized that I have learned everything I needed to learn to live the life as an artist. I have everything I need to live as an artist. So after three months, I quite the job at Walmart and started accepting commission work.
I am painting portraits for clients and it's paying the bills, but now I need to find that balance between commission work and working on my thesis. I would not have found this confidence if it were not for my postponed opportunities—which I will be ready for when things get better.
Has anything surprised you this year?
At this point, nothing is surprising in 2020 for me.
Augustine Chavez. The Wall, 2016. Oil on panel. 48 x 96 in.
What inspires you currently? Do you see this changing?
I think what inspires me currently is just listening to people. When I am conversing with someone, some things they say give me ideas for new work, and I am not even looking for new ideas, but my mind just reacts to what they say. I kinda like it.
Is there anything (exhibition, event, travel, etc.) that you had to forego this year that ended up working out beautifully?
Well, I did have some exhibition cancelations that I was looking forward to. I am currently exhibiting in Arlington, Massachusetts, and I wanted to go to the opening reception, but they decided not to have an in-person reception due to the risk. I understand that totally, but, they did give us more one on one attention.
In the same vein, is there anything that quarantine/isolation has inspired you to start doing or practicing?
I follow a few social media groups for artists and I saw some memes that said artists have always been in quarantine and isolation in their studios, which I thought was funny. In a way, it is true, at least for me.
One thing it has really thought me is that we artist have to discipline ourselves to get our work done. I set myself a schedule to follow. I still wake up at 6am, make coffee and read the latest art news, then I get to work on paintings. This quarantine has put a lot of things in perspective for me.
How does your process differ now that we’re all spending less time out “in the world” and more time with ourselves?
My work has always been on the undocumented working class. But now that I am spending a lot more time alone, or in quarantine, I have noticed some interest in exploring things within my Self. I am a single father. I have been raising my son since he was 2 years old and now, he is 16 years old. I have been wanting to explore a perspective through a man's view point as a single father. I think I would have a lot to say about it.
How do you see this moment in time affecting the bigger industry in the long-term?
I think we are all learning how to adjust to keep doing the things we love and the things that are important to us. I think we have all learned that everything is online now. I think that was the direction everything was heading even if there was no pandemic. That's why it is important to keep our websites up to date.
Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?
I would like to do all I can to take my art to the next level. For a few years, however, I have committed myself to being healthy. I go to the gym four times a week. I also like to run—I love running. One of my New Years's resolutions is to run my first marathon.