An interview taken from our new digital issue. As an interdisciplinary artist José Rojas has been working in the intersection of storytelling, photography, video, music and design; but the one thing that has always been there since he was a kid is illustration.
From an early age Rojas’s had an urge to release all that happens in his head, and drawing was always the medium that felt most natural. Over the years it has become a way for him to communicate ideas and to enrich other creative processes he works on. José especially enjoy it when drawing serves as a meditative act.
What medium/tools do you feel most comfortable with when creating your work?
The iPad has turned out to be the tool I use the most. Even though it will never replace the experience of holding a brush, having paint under your nails or smelling the materials, I am thrilled with the endless possibilities technology offers within so little space. In a time when art and design are shifting more and more to a digital space, using the iPad feels more native. Some may be sceptic about this change. For me, it means that I can combine a lot of techniques and mediums despite lacking the space at home or a studio. Instead I can work anywhere — from the comfort of my desk, the subway or even in bed (most of the times haha). This tool has allowed me to broaden my set of visual languages in a very short time and in ways that otherwise would not have been possible.
Your illustrations are so exquisite and very unique, what are your inspirations?
My approach is to combine the world of fine art with the world of pop culture and spice it up with queerness, sexiness and humor. My use of color and choice of shapes and composition come from the interest I developed in art history during high school, and are especially inspired by modern art.
I present my characters in quite a staged and theatrical way. For this I draw a lot of influence from film and fashion photography, such as the work of Pedro Almodovar, Wes Andersson, Tim Burton, Nadia Lee Cohen and Tim Walker. There is something so magical about the way all these artists master the craft of portrayal.
The shows and cartoons I watched as a kid, as well as the depiction of pop culture in media are a great inspiration, too. Especially queer icons, bold colors and lots of hairspray and drama. Humor is a key ingredient in my creative work. I believe that adding irony and quirkiness to my illustrations helps them feel more real, relatable, and accessible.
Last, but not least, I put a lot of myself in my work as a way of portraying my various inner personalities in each illustration, resulting in pseudo self-portraits quite often.
Your work is very stylish. How does fashion influence you?
My grandmother was a very elegant and stylish person. I remember thinking as a kid there wasn’t anyone more fashionable than my grandma. I always wanted to believe I inherited some of that and loved to dress up, put make-up on and create characters.
But it wasn’t until I came out that I dared to dive deeper into the world of fashion. My relationship with fashion as an artist surged as a result of observation and from the need to create relatable and convincing characters. It’s this part of every project that I love the most, whether I’m working on a music video, a short film, or on my next painting. Clothes, hair and make-up allow me to bring to life the characters I have in mind. Fashion opens a new dimension in any story. It literally adds layers to each character to the point where a simple portrait or an illustration can tell a multidimensional story.
Your illustrations refer to politics, gender, race… do you think that as an artist it’s your duty to be engaged?
Yes, but first as a person and citizen and then as an artists. If I’m engaged in these topics in my personal life, that naturally impacts both the content and the process of my work. The issues that concern me become my narrative. But of course the answer is yes. As an artist, I know that I hold the know-how of visual storytelling.
A way of communication that in this digital era and and in the world of social media has proven to be very powerful. I believe in the urgency of shifting narratives, unlearning old recurring patterns and values and creating new visions and prospects of a life without oppression, discrimination and toxic behaviors. As an artist and storyteller it’s important to understand the potential for the viewer to identify with known and recurring narratives, but especially to create new ones which are more inclusive, intersectional and that depict a vision of the world we want to live in.