“¡Hi, Basquiat! Magilla Gorilla” Featured on the Cover of Flash Magazine – Read the Full Interview Inside

John Roberto cover magazine

I am thrilled to announce that my artwork, ¡Hi, Basquiat! Magilla Gorilla, has been featured on the cover of Flash Magazine! (Sant Cugat, Barcelona, Spain). Below, I am sharing the complete text of the interview.

Title of the Work and Technique:
¡Hi, Basquiat! Magilla Gorilla
Acrylic on canvas. Mixed media. 79 x 106 cm (2023)

Where have you exhibited this work?
I exhibited this work at the Autonomous University of Barcelona as part of the exhibition “Art and Exclusion,” for which I was both curator and artist. The piece is a tribute to the great American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is inspired by a drawing Basquiat likely made when he was very young of Magilla Gorilla, a cartoon character created by the Hanna-Barbera animation studios in the 1960s.

What message are you trying to convey through your art, and what are the most recurring themes?
More than messages, I like to convey emotions. However, lately, in the face of situations of injustice, inequality, and violence, I have felt the need to make political and social critiques. I believe art is a good medium for catharsis. The problem is that these types of works are difficult to exhibit since not everyone has to share what you think. We live in such a polarized society that sometimes the artist has to self-censor, although that is neither the purpose of art nor the function of the artist.

Can you describe the creative process, from the conception of an idea to the final work?
I don’t work with a preconceived idea. Usually, I start by filling the surface with spots, lines, and splashes, using a roller or a spatula. Sometimes I let the surface “contaminate” with the paint from other paintings I am working on. Then I like to draw invented or real graffiti that I have previously photographed. I prefer real graffiti because I know that behind them there is someone for whom those letters or figures mean something. Next, I treat the surface with a sander to remove some paint, trying to integrate the texts and images. Then, I add elements all around, according to my free criteria. I have always liked adding external elements to the work, such as tubes, metal pieces, and other artifacts. For example, in the work Hi, Basquiat! Magilla Gorilla, I added two crochet pieces made by my 96-year-old mother-in-law, Lourdes. Near the end, I use a laser machine to create templates or stencils with characters that I superimpose on other elements of the composition. Finally, I add some random layers of paint to achieve a more worn effect and give spontaneity to the work.

What does art mean to you?
Art, for me, is the opposite of everything else; it is the counterbalance that stabilizes the scales of my daily life, giving meaning to many things that would otherwise be just a blank canvas.

What challenges have you faced in your artistic career, and how have you overcome them?
The main challenge I have faced in my artistic career is not having formal training in Fine Arts. Not because it is an impossible limitation to overcome, but because in the journey of growing as an artist, academic training helps a lot in finding your own language, which makes your works distinguishable from others and connects the artist with their work in an inseparable way. Unfortunately, in the social context in which I grew up, degrees related to art and culture had little prestige; I would even say they were looked down upon. In 1990s Colombia, the right thing to do was to study engineering or medicine as an alternative to a life full of economic hardships. However, the path I have had to follow as a self-taught artist also has its advantages. In my case, it has been the gradual discovery of the art world and the freedom to create without having to commit to trends and styles. Besides that, there is the “feeling of creating,” a sensation you experience as an artist, whether you have academic training or not.

How would you describe your artistic style?
I am passionate about urban art, graffiti, the aesthetics hidden in chaos, chance, and anarchy. This is my style.