The artist on how his use of color taps into the psyche.
Memory and time are central to Farley Aguilar's life and work. Antique photographs, old books, records – anything with a personal history – hold remarkable value for him. From the solitude of his minimal studio furnished with nothing but two chairs, Aguilar spoke with Platform about why he connects to vintage finds, how he uses rituals to keep himself balanced and what it means to 'break open' a painting.
Many of your paintings are based on found, antique photographs. How did those become such a big part of your practice?
It just happened so organically that it's hard to even remember how it took place. I do know that I love the photographic element because there is a part of history to it. It has an indexical quality, which means it has a truthfulness to it. It's also an image that could be interpreted in different ways, or it could be taken in a certain way to manipulate what was actually happening. It has that dual aspect to it. I like the older or antique photographs because it is more detached from our contemporary time, and they're always in black and white, so it gives me room to express what I want to through color.
What is it about the interaction between the colors you're applying and the old photographs that you find compelling?
I think that as I see an image, somehow the color aspect is filtering through my psyche, my consciousness, my experiences, and it's coming out in this reinterpreted fashion. It's more of my particular time and place and I'm almost ripping it out of its context and reinterpreting in my way through my emotions and the particular way I apply color.
It's interesting that you mentioned the psyche. That was something else I was reading about you and your work. Are the psyche and psychology things that interest you in general and you just happen to explore them through your art?
I think human relations – how people interact with one another, how groups interact with one another, how an individual takes his or her place in a group – I find really fascinating. It’s interesting to me apart from the art, but I think it comes through the art.
In your practice, when you're busy at work, do you listen to anything in the background?
I listen to music. I don't listen to anybody speaking or anything with a narrative. That would be very distracting to me. I also don't have anything in my studio. Basically, I have two chairs, so there's absolutely nothing to do there except paint. I don't own a phone and I don't have Wi-Fi there, so there's nothing else to do.
Is that remove from technology intentional? Or is technology just not something that interests you?
I just see it as an unending interruption of dinging and buzzing, and most of the time, it's completely unnecessary. Some random information has to come to you, and usually it's not very important. I don't like that sort of intervention when I'm working.
Fair enough! You spoke about listening to music when you work. What in particular?
Joy Division is usually the soundtrack that I’ll listen to, but I usually have very erratic changes in music. I'll interlace all sorts of music from something like Bach to something more contemporary, like rap. I don't like to hear the same tempo for too long.
That's interesting because a lot of the artists I’ve spoken with previously like to listen to a song on repeat as they work.
Well, there are times when I listen to the same CD three or four times in a row. You really stop listening after a while and then you’re engaged for a little while. There are different phases. At times you really do completely stop listening. Sometimes, you do want a certain type of mood, but something also that won't interrupt you or won't be too engaging, so it fades into the background.
Is there anything you recently tried for the first time?
I’m a really ritualized person to be honest with you. I like a certain tempo, especially when I'm trying to get something done, I try not to get out of a certain rhythm. I mean we've been under this lockdown for almost two years, or a year-and-a-half, but when I have time, I do like to travel and go to new places. We went to Japan two years ago.
What role do rituals play for you? What rituals do you have in general?
Usually, my rituals help me organize my day. I'll eat at a certain time in a certain way. I'll watch little dumb videos just to relax for a little while. I like to go to sleep at the same time. Sometimes I do exercise, though I haven't had time lately. There are rhythms you have just to keep yourself balanced.
Did those time-based rituals intensify during lockdown to keep a routine, or has it always been that way?
To be honest with you, I'm such a reclusive person it really didn't affect me too much. I basically don't speak to too many people anyway because, in the studio, I no one ever comes over [laughs]. It didn't really upset my rituals too much except you can feel the tension in the people around you. They get a little uncomfortable because maybe they can't go to work in person, or they have to be at home more. But my rituals are so introspective anyway that they don’t really change much.
Are you superstitious about anything?
I'm actually superstitious about a lot of stuff [laughs]. I think it comes from when I used to watch baseball as a kid. There are so many superstitions. When I have someone help me put up a canvas from the floor, I have to be on a certain side of it to put it up a certain way. It’s a little ridiculous. Very small, minuscule sorts of superstitions.
Does that run all the way through your practice?
All the time. I'm like, “Oh, I can't do that because it's bad luck,” and people laugh because it sounds absolutely preposterous. And then if something turns out wrong, I'm like, “See, I grabbed [the canvas] from the wrong side [laughs]!"
Are there any things that you collect?
I'm starting to re-collect books and things like that. I would like to collect more records. As a kid, I used to collect baseball cards. I think by nature, I do like collecting stuff, but I haven't done it for a while.
What kinds of books and records do you collect?
Some of my favorite books I have now are ones I had when I was much younger. They have more of a sentimental value, even if they’re just cheap copies. They help me remember being in a certain place at a certain time, or I read them and I remember thinking about certain things. They put you in a time in your life. I think that's the value of them, not that they’re some rare edition or anything like that.
That interest in a sense of history and sentiment, do you think that's similar to your art and how you use antique photographs?
I've never really thought of it in that way. I never put those two together. It's very possible. Someone from the outside could probably have a much better understanding of me than myself.
Is there anything you wish you could change?
Well about myself, I probably wish I could be a little bit more patient. I get very harsh and impatient with myself. That would probably be a good thing to change.
Connecting that to your art, I think most people think of painting as a slow process. Is that true for you? Do you find yourself growing impatient as you work?
I think my personality in some ways is reflected in the painting. As I've gotten better, there is a certain depth to the work, but it's also really explosive and manic. I have the sort of personality where I can be very calm and then get in a very explosive mood quickly. I think with the application of colors, they're very agitated in some places. But in general, painting does take a while, especially if you're doing everything in a non-formulaic way. I call the explosive part ‘breaking open’ the painting, where you just go in a direction that you didn't even fathom before, and it turns the painting into something more interesting for yourself.
What does getting better in your work mean for you, if that's even possible to pinpoint?
As far as painting, creating more depth, creating more volume, creating more sophistication – applying paint very roughly and then in a very refined manner. There's more of a dichotomy between those things, so there's a lot more movement between bad and good. You have more in your palette of what you can express, whereas when you began maybe it’s just one or two things. As you can become more skilled, and you get more practice and experience, then you can really start mixing different applications: something right out of the tube, something impasto that's kind of ugly and then you can do a refined face or something. That’s what I mean.
What do you think the world will be like in 100 years?
Well, with every age, there are alarmist aspects. Obviously, certain environmental issues don't look too good. Hopefully, in 100 years, there will be greater harmony. But absolutely impossible to tell. I'm not Nostradamus [laughs].