Within minutes of meeting Charles and his family at their Playas de Tijuana home I knew I was in for a whirlwind tour. Charles home studio occupies what would be the living room/dining room; it’s smack-dab in the center of the house, in the midst of all the family activity. His wife and two young daughters met us with great enthusiasm. They were curious, funny and talkative— his wife asked loads of questions, his eldest daughter watched our every move, and the youngest daughter was busy at play pretending to be a cat or raccoon or perhaps some animal in between, growling, mewing, and grumbling about, pawing the air and sneaking smiles at us. Charmed but overwhelmed, I had no idea how to get the interview started.
I guess I must have had a “ahem” moment, hoping that by clearing my throat I could bring the focus back to the job at hand– doing a studio visit. It worked… to some degree. I think I started with something like, “Can you tell me more about themes in your work?”… and then for about half an hour I didn’t say another word. I just listened as Charles rattled off unfamiliar names of realms and characters and told me about this story and that. I’m sure I blinked vacantly like an idiot. I don’t know what to call Charles other than passionate, but honestly even that word seems meager. In discussing his work, Charles is full-throttle— ever-present to the worlds his imagination and art live in, each piece encompasses complex and vast backstories that consider the human psyche and the state of the modern world… but that also examine the inscrutable and chaotic cosmos, and our place in it. His work expresses itself in a visual mythology, heavily leaning on narrative and metaphors, in an attempt to speak about existential things without words, or beyond words. A seemingly impossible task, but Charles doesn’t seem daunted. Instead, he is firmly entrenched in the narratives and committed to working out every detail, every bit of meaning.
As the interview went on, Charles and I managed to establish more of a back and forth dialogue, and the conversations became more approachable. And slowly it meandered away from his work and just became a fairly ordinary chat about family life, Tijuana, jobs, and living expenses. Later on we went out back into their “magical garden” (that’s what the young girls called it and they are right to do so) and we sat in the sun, on the grass and played with the family’s pet rabbits who roamed about nibbling weeds. I think we could have stayed on in their garden forever if we had wanted to— there was no rushing to send us off, no push to say goodbye and be done with their day with strangers. Now, looking back on that day and that studio visit, I see how much it had its own trajectory and I can’t help but laugh at myself standing in Charles’ studio with the recorder in my hand trying to make it go otherwise.
How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I would describe my work as mythical, pictorial, illustrative, cosmological, and relating to sequential art and comics. It combines elements of myth, religion, and spirituality with comics, hermetic ideas, alchemy and science.
What mediums do you work with?
I work in painting, drawing, watercolor, sculpture, installations, animation and comics.
Your work address life on the border without directly calling attention to the border, instead it explores imagery of mythology and archetypes to hint at border-town realities— can you tell us more about this approach?
There have been two very important changes in my work. In the beginning of 2001 the work was influenced by the surrounding environment of Tijuana and characters from Tijuana and Mexican folklore, myth and pop culture. I call this work the “old world”— El Viejo Mundo— which is about our relationships to the exterior, whether it be relationships that are more indicative of a clashing against ideas of the border, or are more parallel to what the physical border means in real life.
In 2007 a change occurred in my work when “the old world” ceased to exist and I created two archetypes to confront each other in a final battle, the Capitalist King and the Gardener. In battle they ended up being more complementary and less oppositional and together they created a small big bang, and this big bang gave birth to the new world. This new world in my work is a realm of the “starseed” children and illuminati secret society.
My newer work addresses the idea of borders/limits within oneself, one’s own limits internally. I’m interested now less in physical borders and more in the borders that exist between imagination, abstraction, myth and fantasy; the internal conflicts as opposed to the external.
Besides your art practice, are you involved in other kind of work?
I am heavily involved in teaching illustration and sequential art here in Tijuana and had also been teaching in San Diego for 10 years until recently. I am also involved in graphic design as well as illustration.
What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I have just finished reading (actually I listened to it while I worked) The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Angel Ruiz, and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I am constantly listening to or reading about ideas related to the unconscious… I’m interested in The Lost Teachings of Joseph Campbell, Alejandro Jodorowsky interviews on Youtube, the science fiction novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the comics of legendary French artist Moebius, the fictional character of Little Nemo created by American cartoonist Winsor McCay, and Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
This year (2014) I received a three year grant from FONCA (Fondo Nacional Para La Cultura Y Las Artes) México’s equivalent to The National Endowment for the Arts. It’s the first time the category of graphic narrative is being offered and I was awarded the grant in order to produce my comic narrative “The Starseed Children”— a seven volume graphic novel.
A starseed child is a warrior-like child that defines a generation— it’s a child who is emblematic of the end result of the evolution of revolution within our system of genetics, philosophy, science, art, etc, etc. They are endowed with direct access to our past history and have all the wisdom present and all the conflicts resolved from the past…they are the next quantum step. In my work they are represented by an indigo child, a crystal child, a nahual(animal child) who set out on a journey to bring all seven starseed children together to join forces to defeat the Illuminati and their masters the annunaki and the coming of the black darkness.
How do you navigate the art world?
Not very well, to be honest. I am often just seen as an illustrator or a comic book guy who paints. I try to just make my work and hope for the best which I know is not necessarily very smart or realistic, and may not be the best strategy in trying to make it in the art world.
Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
Because my work is very visually illustrative it has been called “lowbrow” or “pop surrealism” before but I really don’t like either of those classifications. But at the same time I can’t think of any current art movements that my work might have a relationship to. I would like to think or would hope that my work is in conversation with Matthew Barney, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Gary Panter, Marcel Dzama, Ernesto Caivano— I relate to work that is epic, mythological and fantastical, enigmatic and experimental, and that is , maybe visually overwhelming at times.
What three things never fail to bring you pleasure?
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I am currently working on a show “Buscando Singularidad en el Tiempo/Espacio de Complejidad (Looking for Singularity in a Time and Space of Complexity” for Mexicali Rose Art Space in Mexicali, Mexico. The show opens March 28th and runs until the end of April.
To see more work by Charles:
FIFTY24MX Gallery in Mexico City.
Tropico de Nopal Gallery in Los Angeles.