The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Director's Welcome

In thinking about periods of collective disconnect amid lifelines of individual search and the urgency of tomorrow, one is reminded of the fragility and vulnerability of this lifetime journey. On August 1, 2017, we lost a remarkable SoVA alumnus, David Cuatlacuatl, in a tragic car accident. David was born in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, 1989, and as a first-generation immigrant he completed his MFA (Drawing and Painting) in 2015. His MFA thesis statement, Rich Flavor, Poor Taste: I am Without a Home, is reproduced below. David’s art continues to educate us.

David Cuatlacuatl: I am Without a Home

Journeys begin in places of uncertainty, whether artistic or geographical. In the process, the original idea which catalyzed the journey is deconstructed and often elided completely in the final destination/finished product. The meeting of divergent identities gives importance to movement, migration. In my practice, a single formal decision can take me to a place of dissatisfaction or sense of incompleteness; so too the migrant is perpetually unfinished. Instead of living embodiment of one’s place of origin, a person is a work of art constantly in revision. My work is both a means of coming to terms with my immigrant status of dislocation and is itself a type of journey in miniature. I am without a home because too many homes reside within me. By absorbing, digesting, and visualizing the various identities and places I have inhabited, my artwork lays claim to the ill-defined and in-between spaces. I plant my flag in every-shifting soil.

The confident sensation of rootedness is perhaps our most important and least recognized need. Rootedness gives stability to identity but also bears the potential of devolving into fervent nationalism and racism. I respond to an age of intense mobility, both voluntary and coerced, with hybrid processes and mixed media. A dislocated temporal presence is connoted through the use of found materials which carry the imprint of their former lives. Selected application of assemblage disorients the fictional and illusionistic space connoted within the frame. Using strategies of modern art and vernacular forms, I blur boundaries of low and high art. I often attempt to take a neophyte approach to dismantle structures of hierarchy, to dissolve barriers of property and value.

My practice is defined by questioning, by prodding the legitimacy of assumed hierarchies, which separate artistic mediums and people with equal force. I continually oscillate between figuration and abstraction, producing suites of work in bursts of creative energy. There is a modernist bent to my investigation of traditional painting problems (flatness, illusion, color composition and rhythm) which I explore equally in both modes of representation. This exploration happens concurrently with my investigation of national and cultural identity in flux shot through with humor and postmodern pastiche. Traditional issues of painterly representation bleed into the problematized means by which one’s identity is portrayed and read by others.

I am a collector of objects, attracted by their color, texture, form, and scale. I forge relationships with my surroundings through my interaction with these objects. Simultaneously respecting and bracketing their previous history, I bring them to my studio and host them in my work. The struggle to place these orphans in a new context and setting of formal investigations drives the creation and compositional possibilities, in both a serious and playful way, I question established perceptions to make the viewer aware of hidden or unnoticed elements of reality. This process may be thought of as a surrogate for my own displacement and re-contextualization.

My artistic inquiries are based on biography; they are also concerned with economic, political and social structures, as I investigate notions of identity, language, boundary, otherness, and displacement. Lately I have gravitated towards the fields of contemporary archeology and anthropology. I am interested in the relationship between illegal immigration and neoliberal globalization; concurrent phenomena in a world that circulates goods whilst restricting people.

My practice looks at cultural hybridity with attention to notions of center and periphery. Lost in Translation is a recent body of work, which relies on various recognizable forms of art. The works challenge the notion of paintings’ two-dimensionality. The content and materials aspire to exist in both fictional and real space similar to the paradoxical status of nations and borders. The series functions as a metaphor for illegal immigration from Latin America to the United States. By presenting visual stereotypes I question my sometime reluctant host country’s understanding of its immigrants. My body of work comprises a linear fictional narrative weaving together Anglo and Hispanic Cultures, personal memories, oblivion, strangeness and the commonplace.

I am excited to see how future interaction with mediums outside my culture may potentially impact communities outside of my own. I have been sufficiently exposed to western influences while undertaking my individual artistic practices. In this era of globalization, new perspectives rapidly supplant traditional values and concepts, which formed my personal foundation. Exploring and learning how to reflect the aspirations of the present-day society by incorporating avant-garde western elements while remaining connected with my traditional cultural heritages will continue to be major challenges for me. My work is a way of indexing this struggle without offering a clear-cut message or solution. To do so would perpetuate the monolithic/questioning sense of the bounded and defined which globalization has rendered problematic and untenable.

David Cuatlacuatl. Pony Indiferente. Mixed Media. 2013.