Pablo Cristi

Painter, Berkeley // June 2011
I started out as a graffiti writer, working at urban community centers, making paintings in my room that I never showed to anyone.

Pablo’s studio is in Berkeley, in an industrial section of town where the reverberating whistle of incoming and outgoing trains is both heard and felt. We arrived bright and early to find Pablo standing in the doorway of his studio, smiling easily and waving us in, offering up an assortment of pastries he had gotten for the occasion. Pablo’s workspace is pretty straightforward— it’s fairly small with no frills, expressing a utilitarian understanding of the down-and-dirty realities of making art. Two other artists share the space, each area walled off from the other, but still there is a feeling of openness and unity, a feeling of common purpose and effort. There are streaks, smears and dribbles of paint everywhere, as if a meteor swarm of color had recently rained in on Pablo and his workspace. His paintings, large and commanding, are scattered throughout, and finished examples of his sculptural work are on display as well. Porcelain burritos, white and gold, are stacked up in a heap, life-sized hands thrown up in gang signs embody a palpable eeriness, and a collection of plaster cassette tapes brings on a wave of nostalgia in me. As he cradled a plaster pig head swathed in denim strips, which he recently made for a show, he told us about the converging, complex ideas behind the piece, touching upon a range of topics such as indigenous cultures, exploitation, consumerism, Californian history, and even butchery. Much like his work Pablo is rich in commentary, humor, grit and spirit, but there is also a raw vulnerability to him that was a wonderful and disarming surprise.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I am an arteest (with a French accent), or I say “I make shit.”

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
Yes! I currently work temporarily for The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department where I help to design and implement youth arts programming.
It means— a steady paycheck. After graduate school I worked on just making art for two years, now I would like to elevate my quality of life, and sometimes you need money for that, but I also recognize that my job adds material to my greater artistic work.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
Mostly painting, mixed media., but I also make 3D objects out of porcelain and plaster….most of my work deals with questioning the “master” narrative, in some way attempting to deconstruct hegemony.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Reading- Tiburcio Vazquez.
Listening- Mexican Institute of Sound.
Looking at- rotting meat.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
Affording the time! ugh………..navigate the art world? Who said it was navigable? I just try to work with people I respect and stay true to myself. I’m not represented by a gallery, so I do my own promoting and I try to seek out people who are interested in and understand what I do. Even though I now have experience and have worked hard to build a network, I still feel like I’m just out there, kind of clueless. Though, I do have a few experienced-based strategies… but I’m not giving those up.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Before graduate school I had never had a space to make art in, I just made do the best I could and usually just worked in my bedroom or in the street. After graduating I wanted to wholly commit myself to my art practice and having a space was necessary to do that. I’m at my studio most days of the week— I pay a lot of money to have this space and I want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth. No one is going to hand me anything, so I make sure I’m hard at work constantly. Also, being able to splash paint everywhere and not worry about it is really liberating.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
Having less physical space has lead to me making smaller work.
No, I don’t see it as autobiographical. That definitely is not the intention…is this a trick question?

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Yes! I am embarking on a new body of paintings that will be based on a fictional narrative about the history of California. I also have the privilege of having been invited to Derry, Ireland as a lead artist in a mural project in august that will focus on conflict resolution and education through public art for the Catholic and Protestant communities.

What are you most proud of?
Following my own path despite the haters. I started out as a graffiti writer, working at urban community centers, making paintings in my room that I never showed to anyone. Making it to grad school was a big deal, and at the beginning I felt really vulnerable in front of critiques because I didn’t have the language or knowledge to talk about my work. Those early experiences in school felt similar to my teen-self defending to my family why I did graffiti. Now I feel like a finely honed art machine that can explain in a coherent, non-defensive way, why I do what I do.

What do you want your work to do?
Spark interesting dialogue about contemporary American culture and its relevance to the rest of the world.

What advice has influenced you?
Don’t get high off your own supply.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When I get there.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Yes— I am part of a show right now called “Polemically Small” at the Garboushian Gallery in
Beverly Hills, and also two group shows coming up in the Bay Area in June— “Chico and Chang” at Intersection for the Arts and “ArtOfficial Truth” at Project One.

To see more of Pablo’s work: