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Oct 17, 2017

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Contreras Paredes

An interview by Jesse Leaneagh

Photographed by:

Manny Rionda

Mau Contreras-Paredes explores boundaries graciously. Despite the scale of his large public artworks, they do not scream for attention. They imprint on the mind like a suggestion that lingers longer than any intrusion would. Encountering some of it: a multi-storied helix at the Avia/Hyatt complex, a revitalized neighborhood in zone 4, or passing a bridge above the highway that leads to Antigua, his work situates often on the line between public/municipal space and ventilate the bureaucratic grid in which cities often seem to place us,  without our consent.


His public art – meticulous, clear, careful, calm – is often so removed from its environment that it appears less an intervention than a suspended instrument of some kind. His public art intimates’ other contexts, other possibilities, different from the one where we play our daily roles. Its unexpected strangeness opens fleeting cause for awe and even gratitude within a place that – like all the world´s most vibrant cities – can on a bad day become a sprawling labyrinth, impersonal and fast.

I know that you work in plastic arts; that besides painting you’re working with sculpture; that you’ve already curated two exhibitions at Conceptió, your gallery space; what else am I missing regards to current practice.


The first semester of this year (2017) has been a period of leaving, learning and readapting. It took me a while to finally find the courage to start a new body of work, a series where I bid farewell to my blue hues, among other things. I am also working on a huge project in collaboration with Leo Bianchi, which we hope to develop during a residency in Shanghai. It goes beyond object-making, we aim to awaken and engage the viewers’ five senses all at once. For me, it is a very exciting experience since this is the first time I will be collaborating with someone else. I believe that Leo and I can come up with very interesting dialogues to challenge my comfort zones.

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What is your process like in public installation? Can you talk about recent work from initiation to approval to “completion” or removal? What is an upcoming public installation?

AVIA´s mural I the first project that comes to mind. Spanning 3-stories (almost 15 meters high), it is the largest public work I have completed to date. I was interested in presenting a proposal in July 2016. They were looking for something vertical, that had a sense of movement. I had recently finished another mural at Casa Llerandi, where I developed a kind of spatial accordion that pulled, distorted and contracted color planes. I was very satisfied with the result and thought it could be a great idea to develop the concept further. My proposal included two of these accordion merging, dancing around one another, elevating themselves at different speeds. A few months later my proposal was approved, and I was told I had to execute two-thirds of the mural in two weeks since they were hoping to open the commercial spaces on that date. Initially, I thought it would be impossible to produce high-quality, high-precision work within that timeframe, so I hired a few assistants. Looking back, this was probably the worst decision ever. The assistants’ assistance looked more like sabotage then contribution, whatever I painted they damaged. So, I decided to finish the mural by myself. In the end, these sections of the mural were finished on time, leaving only the third floor on hold. A month ago, I finally got to paint the last section of the mural, and I couldn’t be happier with the result; the mural is no longer headless.

Can you talk about your approach to color? Specifically, I am wondering about what appears to be a new exploration in gray, how gray resonates for you, whether you can talk about what prompts a color preoccupation to bloom or fade for you

Usually, the color palette for a specific series is guided by intuition. However, blue has always appeared in my work for two main reasons. First, blue is my favorite color, I am instinctively attracted to it. Second, whenever you look at the sky or at a body of water, they appear to be blue, when they are in fact transparent. In that sense, blue was conceptually the perfect color to illustrate the imaginary architectures I am interested in. whenever you see something blue in a painting of mine, you might be imagining it, the ‘thing’ might actually be invisible.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wasn’t going to use blue anymore. The decision was more of a gradual development than an abrupt tantrum. I had employed blue hues in every single work for almost 6 years, and gradually it had become my go-to comfort hue. There wasn’t anything interesting about it anymore, it seemed that I had used every single blue I could come up with. Furthermore, the structures I was increasingly documenting were not abstract or transparent anymore, they were heavier, more real, making blue underrated and odd.

This could totally be a projection, but your paintings seem to reckon subconsciously with the landscape of cities. A condensed blueprint recalling their directions. Do you think of space often in terms of cities? And do you find your painting process to be emotional or a place you can be somewhat grounded?

I believe cities are one of the most interesting inventions humans have come up with. They come and go, they expand and contract, they create and annihilate. They are essentially a record of the passage of time. I often think of space in terms of time, rather than cities. It is interesting to think about how space becomes evidence of a life past lived or a potential new life, how space is the result of layers of time sandwiched together.

As of my painting process, I believe it is very raw and cathartic. It allows me to pour all my messy anxieties into pristine calculated shapes. The more I paint, the more I understand that I might not be able to square my life and get rid of all the messy borders, but I can at least paint a perfect square to vent about it.

Liminality, the memento, these are some of the concepts with which you’ve titled your work and represented it. Are there big ideas or concepts you ate wrestling with right now?

Though I might say I am still working around the concept of liminality, I am currently very interested in blueprints. Blueprints are the perfect liminal object, they inhabit this weird gray space where they represent something to be built (something that has the potential to be real), but that is not built yet. There is always a chance that they will remain ideas on paper. Do they become less real if they aren’t built? Or are they real in another kind of dimensional brane (like Plato´s world of Forms)? Are blueprints beginnings or endings?

Do you ever approach space or material you work with as charged with “energy”?  Museums + galleries in the USA for example, are very preoccupied with pop psychology magic wand-type language now, talking about “activating” art spaces, “engaging” art audiences – yet I see you as more of an engineer mind, clearly connected to material practice. Are there ways you flirt with “magical thinking,” let’s say, in your practice?

Of course, I think the energy my work has gained through the process of fabrication, my hand strokes, its color. And my mood remains in the work through its lifetime. However, I think it is problematic whenever people think of energy can also be something that is released slowly, in a kind of ritualistic way. I believe my work and my choice of materials diffuse energy in that way, they do not produce a sudden shock but aim that through contemplation and detailed observation the viewer is affected. You probably have to look at my work many times to get the ‘boom’.



“As of my painting process, I believe it is very raw and cathartic. It allows me to pour all my messy anxieties into pristine calculated shapes.”


Jesse Leaneagh is an independent writer. He formerly led initiatives for the Walker Art Center’s. Performing Arts department, and later designed exhibition openings at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

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