Interview with Pedro Lavin

JO-HS Residency March 2022

Dani: Pedro can you share with us about your studies on art?

Since I can remember I’ve had a love for making, so studying art and creation has been an ongoingpractice throughout my life. At a young age this was nurtured and encouraged by my parents and a familysteeped in multi-generational artistic tradition: my grandmother was an avid watercolor painter until herhands became too stiff to hold a paintbrush; my grandfather was a renowned spinal surgeon andaccomplished sculptor; and my great grandparents were globe-trotting artists. This heritage providedendless influence and support in my artistic pursuits, which led me to self-initiate and search out art andcreation wherever I could during those first years of my life.The basis of my formal art education occurred years later in Los Angeles, at the California Institute of theArts where I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design. Although I initially chose design forits versatility and sellability, I quickly and instinctively started leaning towards more artistic pursuits. Mywork pushed and bristled against the commercial constraints of school projects, the practicality andcompassion required for truly great design mostly eluded me and my more selfish, self-expressiveimpulses usually took over. I was an artist role playing as a designer.Following my graduation my career continued evolving towards creative direction and design for theadvertisement industry, specifically for boutique animation and filmmaking. The artistic pursuits I chasedafter during this period were almost exclusively client work but they provided incredible opportunities forgrowth that built upon the foundation that CalArts had built. Although not always the most artisticallyinspired, the work I produced during this time nonetheless gave me an extensive background in designand direction for VFX, filmmaking and animation; which then naturally evolved into my nowmultidisciplinary art and film practice.An important shift in my career happened once I felt I had acquired the necessary knowledge to pursuemy own passions: I realized that devoting myself to purely commercial work took a large and unnecessarytoll on my soul so I quit my full time job and decided to continue my career as a commercial creativedirector only part time. My newly acquired time and resources were then devoted entirely towards grandartistic pursuits and explorations of my own humanity/identity, and my career achieved a new equilibrium.It feels like a reclaiming, a return to a purer state of creation. Like what I had been yearning for sincethose early childhood days of artistic exploration finally returned.

D: What is your practice based on?

P: Ongoing, lifelong obsessions include erotism, nature, dreams, fantasy and ritual. In addition to theseimportant and consistent themes threading through my practice, my work has always been firmly rooted inmy own identity. I see everything I do almost as self portraiture: each piece I embark on examining adifferent aspect of myself through a lens of metaphorical self mythology. Because of this, the workevolves and grows alongside me, the basis of it constantly shifting.A few years ago, after psychodynamic therapy tore my conscience open, I started coming into conflictwith my national identity and my past. It was suffocating to realize how inexorably braided those ancientaspects of myself were with my present. My practice at that time felt heavily inspired by my past intraditional, Catholic Mexico; and how that clashed with my ostensibly liberated queer present. Themetaphors and imagery I used during that period pulled heavily from my childhood and my family’scenturies long history in this country.Recently, I’ve trained my focus more deeply on my own queerness; so my practice of late revolves aroundhomosexual identity and how that has been seen historically; occasionally even as demonic orotherworldly. It felt quite prescient and fascinating to research this; and it feels urgent, even in 2022, tospeak truthfully about how we are perceived. I believe there is a wild and great beauty in our sharedhistory and pain. With my work, I wish to sublimate it and write our story with it. Present it in savagefantasy, and watch my brothers and sisters see themselves in it.

D: Which do you think would be your biggest lets say “achievements” in your career?

P: Although I feel like my true career is still in its infancy, I recognize how extremely lucky I am to be heretoday. It’s hard to see myself in context and recognize the path I’ve travelled but I think every now andthen it’s important to look back with a clear head, forgo ambition for a moment and let myself feel gratefulfor my achievement.Perhaps my biggest accomplishment so far has been forging my career into what I want. It wasn’t easyrealizing that I wasn’t fulfilled in my past life so being here now, having experienced some success andbalance in this new phase, feels massive. While there’s always a ways to go, I am very fortunate to havemade it this far and feel very proud of the fact that I manifested this for myself.I’ve also had incredible opportunities to work with some of my favorite artists around the world, as well asnew ones that I have since become a huge fan of. Just getting my DMs returned by trend setting fashiondesigners, sought after cinematographers, producers, musicians and models I’ve admired for years iselectrifying; but seeing them excited about contributing to my work is even more rewarding; and actuallybeing able to collaborate with such inspiring international talent is a dream.In more literal terms, I also feel quite proud of the outside recognition my work has received: it has beencovered by the New York Times, LA Times, Communication Arts Magazine, Fast Company and STASHMedia; won gold at Orion International Film Festival and a bronze Cannes Lion; been featured at theSundance Film Festival and Annecy Animation Film Festival; been shown at REDCAT Gallery in LosAngeles; and is a permanent part of Vimeo’s Experimental Film Collection among others.

D: Could you tell me about your biggest influences in the art world?

P: There are so many! I’m constantly looking at contemporary art from multiple sources as inspiration for mywork. Fashion, music, digital art and film are all hugely influential on my practice.In the digital art and music spheres, I greatly admire Andrew Thomas Huang, Arca, Fredrik Heyman,Mathew Stone, FKA twigs, Björk and Rosalia among many others. My admiration stems from their abilityto create incredible combinations of reality and fantasy with image and sound; use magic as ametaphorical stand in for very human themes; and present immersive visual worlds that not only pull fromtheir own psyches, but also recognize their place as parts of larger cultural tapestries, movements andcommunities.I find great inspiration in film as well. As of late, I’ve been particularly fascinated by the oeuvre of DavidLynch, and how masterfuly he’s able to commit surreal Americana dreamscapes to film. I’m also in loveand in awe of the work of Robert Eggers, and his use of impeccably accurate historical fantasy to telldeeply human stories; and of Darren Aronofksy’s baroque, almost camp explorations of extreme humanemotion. Other current filmic obsessions include James Bidgood and his queer fantasia Pink Narcissus,and Sergei Parajanov’s lyrical masterpiece The Color of Pomegranates.Of course, I am deeply indebted to the surreal and Latin American magical realist movements. I recognizehow the painful, oneiric fantasy present in my work can be traced back to iconic Mexican surrealistsRemedios Varo, Leonora Carrington and of course Frida Khalo; and the subversive realities I portray arelinked with the magical realist writers of the 30’s and 40’s.

D: Do you believe your work contributes the society or the people around you?

P: I would like to think so!Although my main engine for creation is a fierce desire for self expression, a part of me also wishes to beseen and understood; and for my work to form part of a larger context. Especially in my more queercentric pieces like Fruiting Body, an important aspect of the work is to show facets of us that may nothave been seen before, or perhaps are seen less often. I find it crucial to represent queerness inmultidimensional and unseen ways. Growing up closeted, I was always most entranced by strangenessor queerness in art and media, whether explicit or coded. It felt simultaneously searingly new and likesomething that I recognized intrinsically, almost viscerally. It gave me a deeper understanding of myself,something that I desperately hungered for.
Now, it feels essential for my work to contribute to that continuum; and provide that same knowingfascination to someone else. This might sound quite cliche, but it really is very special when someone hasbeen moved by or spoken to by my work, even if it is a single person. It’s like the closing of a cycle thatbegan with creation: the work has finally reached its audience and created emotion within them. Besidesthe act of creation itself, that is the ultimate goal.

D: Has the place where you grew up influenced your work?

P: Absolutely. An unexpected but welcome consequence of my psychoanalytic sessions has been new insight into myown body of work. Over the past few years, I have begun to understand why certain images keepresurfacing, or why some themes or ideas ring especially true. Symbols and metaphors previously hiddenin my work suddenly reveal themselves to me, invite me to go further in and mine the caves of mysubconscious to see what I might find.The deeper I plunge into myself, the more I realize how influential my Mexican upbringing has been. Andas I understand the power my past holds over my present I am able to harness it. My city is a place full ofoverlapping, contradictory cultures and my work drinks from the turbulent wells of garish and violent visuallore that result from these fusions. At times this influence is obvious, but even my seemingly leastMexican pieces have traces of my past and culture woven through them. Everything I make is a reflectionof myself, and my city forms an integral part of that.In line with the contradictions that make up my country, I have been nourished not only by the love andsupport that it has provided, but also by the pain of growing up queer in a deeply traditional and religioussociety. My occasionally tormented past provides truth to my work. Although it’s steeped in fantasy andmythmaking, the pain grounds it in honesty and imbues it with necessary pathos. The wounds, as painfulas they have been, are just as beautiful as the love.