A Q&A with 2010 Commemorative Print Artist Xavier Nuez

Q.    Congratulations, Xavier, on being selected as the 2010 Commemorative Print Artist for the Uptown Art Fair! That’s quite an impressive accomplishment. Can you give us a little bit of your background so we know how you got started and what you’ve done up to this point?
A.    I used to paint and draw as an adolescent—everything from still lifes, to abstracts, to fantasy. When I was 18, I took a photography class (my one and only) and that pretty much set the direction my life would take. After finishing university, I worked for a year in film as a gaffer and grip, before finding the nerve to go on my own as a photographer. In my early years, I did lots of commercial work (mainly architectural interiors for magazines) to supplement my meager income as an artist. Eventually my body of work was strong enough that I was able to transition to being a full-time artist. In addition to art fairs, I have regular gallery and museum shows across the country.

Q.    Where do you work?
A.    I have a studio in Chicago, but for my Alley series, I can be found in beat up alleys or around abandoned buildings in city centers.
Q.    Where do you find inspiration for your artwork?
A.    In all my work, the trigger for my inspiration seems to be a sense of childhood fantasy and adventure, where nothing is quite what it seems, and in everything there is a deep mystery that needs to be explored. I feel I’ve hit the right nerve when a scene before me takes me back to my youth and stirs feelings of awe for the dark and mysterious.

Q.    Describe the creative process you use.
A.    Exploration is essential to my creative process. I have several bodies of work, all of them very different, and yet I believe they all take the viewer (and myself!) to an alternate reality where it becomes necessary to step out of ourselves and view something common with fresh eyes.

Q.    Tell us about the Commemorative Print piece.
A.    [It] is part of my Alley series which I’ve been working on since the early 1990s. I explore some of the country’s grittiest corners late at night, seeking out their elusive beauty, splendor and buried dramas. I love the contrast between what is socially regarded as beautiful vs ugly; worthy vs unworthy. And so I try to elevate these shunned locations to absurd levels of dignity by making monuments of them. To shoot these, I bring lighting equipment and set up my 50-year-old Hasselblad film camera on a tripod for very long exposures (sometimes over one hour). [This particular print] was shot at 1:30 a.m. and is a 40-minute exposure. In fact, star trails are visible in the sky.

Q.    Why do you think people should visit an art fair?
A.    There are many great reasons to see art in this setting: You can meet the artist and ask questions directly; galleries are often stuffy places, nowhere near as relaxed as an outdoor show; and you can see many samples of the best work from hundreds of artists, all within a short walk of each other—and no doors to open!

Q.    What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
A.    If you want to be a full-time artist, you need to really want it. There were many times in my early years when I struggled to pay the rent. An evil little voice kept trying to push me toward more practical employment, but I didn’t want anything else. In the end it worked out. It’s essential for most young artists to find a way to supplement their paltry art sales with regular work. If at all possible, try to find something in a related field so you learn while you work. Commercial photography gigs were my bread and butter for years, and before that, I worked as an assistant to the pros, all the while creating my art.

Q.    When you’re not creating art, how do you like to spend your time?
A.    I like spending time with friends. Also I’m a guitar hack—I love to play, and I love writing and recording my own music in my studio.

Send email to x@nuez.com. Visit Xavier at booth #316 near the northwest corner of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue.