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Meet Diego Juarez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Diego Juarez.

Diego, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. I was lucky to have parents who were fairly supportive early on and took me to museums and galleries whenever they could. But going through high school, I was encouraged by my peers and teachers to pursue a more steady, reliable career. The STEM fields were heavily marketed to us as students and there was little to no information or resources for any creative career paths. I internalized the messaging I was receiving and became deeply ashamed of making art and kept it a secret. As someone who was queer and Latinx in a predominately white, upper middle-class school, I tried to do everything I could to avoid bringing any more negative attention to myself.

The shame I accumulated in high school was something I carried with me into my undergraduate education and I did not paint for two years. I felt deeply insecure and did everything I could to deny doing what I knew I wanted to do with my life. After several major life transitions, I finally started painting my junior year and it was like I could finally breathe again. I was surrounded by professors and graduate students who encouraged me and gave me the freedom to explore what my art could become. I found that the best way to combat my fears and insecurities was just to paint as much as I could. My time in school was not always easy but it did teach me a valuable lesson about trusting my instincts and showed me that making art is not something I merely want to do, it’s something I have to do.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
More recently, I have had to adapt—as we all have—to working from home amid this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world in the last stretch of my senior year during the week of my first solo show. I had to take down the show the day before my opening night. I was devastated and felt like all my hard work had been for nothing. Since moving home and beginning online classes, I have found that my motivation and my productivity has become much more erratic and despite my best efforts, there are some days when I just cannot bring myself to paint.

I learned the value of taking a step back and being kind to myself. I think lots of people struggle with feeling guilty if they are not taking this time in quarantine to be super productive and make art every day. But sometimes, it is equally valuable to take a moment to reevaluate and reflect on what direction to go in moving forward. I know that I can trust myself to resume working when the timing is right. There are so many people who are struggling during this time and it is essential that everyone practice compassion and empathy with themselves so they can practice it with others.

Please tell us more about your art.
I am a painter that utilizes language and abstraction to make art that reflects an emotional connection to the world around me. My paintings are based on poems and observations that I make as a part of a daily writing practice, which I have maintained throughout my life. For me, writing is an essential preparatory exercise, like sketching, that lets me work through broad thematic interests as well as specific emotional or intellectual concerns. The paintings take visual cues from art history and emphasize light, gesture, and process. When I started painting, I was obsessed with controlling every facet of the picture but since then I have learned to work with my mistakes and they often become my favorite parts of the paintings. By embracing chance and risk, I am able to form unique compositions that develop through a long process of layering and a careful negotiation of intuitive mark making.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
One of my favorite memories of childhood is going to see the Tim Burton retrospective at LACMA in 2011. I have been a huge fan from the first time I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas and he was a huge inspiration for me growing up. I vividly remember walking into one of the first rooms in the show that was filled with tiny drawings he had made on old pieces of newspaper. I remember being fascinated with them and wondering where they were in the show to begin with. The drawings reminded me of doodles I would make on all my math notes. They were just old scraps of paper, but they were beautiful. I think it was the first time I can remember relating to a major artist and it is to this day one of the best shows I have ever seen.

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Image Credit:
Ivette Peña, Audrey Hernandez Peterson

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