Interview With Javier Marin at J. Johnson Gallery

April 23, 2013 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The J. Johnson Gallery at Jax Beach is the latest iteration of the cultural dynamism created by the Jennifer Johnson/Bruce Dempsey creative partnership. Whither that partnership has wandered, the cultural landscape has re arranged around it, and good things have followed. Such is the case with the sculptor Javier Marin, whose gorgeous work greets all visitors to the Jacksonville Airport. Since meeting Bruce in Mexico, Javier has had regular shows with J. Johnson and we were privileged to meet up with the passionate sculptor inside the gallery itself.

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

It would be a disservice to plunge into an interview with Javier without giving a bit of a profile of his life and work.

In !962, Marin was born into a family with ten children, many of whom have grown up to pursue careers in art or architecture.He was born int Michoacan, Mexico in 1962. He studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas Academia de San Carlos (UNAM) from 1980-1983.

In 2011, Marin made international art headlines with his installation and show in Rome at the "Mattatoio" (there is a pretty great link to photos from the exhibition in rome in our previous article here on metrojacksonville).  With a certain characteristic morbid humor, Javier installed giant horse sculptures in a complex where they had previously been slaughtered.  The Mattatoio is pretty much the grand debut for European haute culturati.  Its basically the national Museum of Contemporary Art for the Italians, and its located in a roman counterpart of the MeatPacking district in New York (except more Haute and more Italiano of course)  Here is the official description of the MACRO Mattatoio:

Rome’s ex-Mattatoio (slaughterhouse) complex is now an active site for cultural happenings and artistic events. Situated on the edge of the Tiber River in the recently gentrified and decidedly hip Testaccio neighbourhood, the MACRO Testaccio is an ideal site for a community of cultural experimentation. Built between 1888 and 1891 by Gioacchino Ersoch, architect emeritus of the City of Rome, the pavilions of the Mattatoio illustrate the transition from classicism to modernity and provide an important historical example of the monumentality and rationale of turn-of-the-century industrial architecture. For many years, Rome’s Mattatoio was considered among the most advanced industrial designs for the modernity of ingenuity of its organization and architectural tenacity. In 2003, two pavilions from within the Mattatoio complex, comprised of 105,000 square metres (43,000 of which are covered), were assigned to MACRO for use in the development and dissemination of Contemporary Art. In keeping with the bistros, clubs, and nightspots that surround it, MACRO’s space at the Mattatoio is open from 4pm until midnight. The scope and layout of the space make it particularly conducive to grand multimedia explorations. In this context local, national, and international artists from the visual and other arts interact and generate a reconfiguration of the Arts through the fusion of different modes of creative expression. Arousing a vast and diverse public, MACRO is a dynamic and progressive institution emerging as a multifaceted cultural polestar within which the value of contemporary artistic expression asserts itself.

Central America and Mexico in particular has been a great emanation of sculpture lately, and Javier is one of the most exciting of the young passionato to be creating in the milieu.  It is amazing that he is represented so well here in Jville.

Like the Jaume Plensa sculptures adorning the Veterans Arena, his work is of such a high profile (and likewise nearly undocumented in Jacksonville itself) that it would seem to be a mystery how the City came to be associated with the sculptor, and this was one of the questions that I set out to answer when we made arrangements to interview Marin.

In doing the research for the interview I thought it was also fascinating that he has siblings in the fields of the arts.  I wondered whether or not they various siblings (especially the brothers) were collaborative or competitive, and how the dealt with the inevitable comparisons that would naturally arise about their work (humans, being what they are crave for pattern recognition, after all)

There was some question as to whether or not we would be able to interview him.  J. Johnson is a gallery that deals in major works after all, and despite the friendly nature of our relations (and of Dempsey's fairly democratic approach to people in general) sometimes they have to weigh whether or not local press is a good idea.  But this is true of all arts organizations and publications in general so not a real concern.

The only real question that came up was from the delightful young Wesley Grissom, Bruce Dempsey's girl Friday.  Javier doesnt speak English, which would be a real problem for an english interview.

Even though I emailed her with the information that I can actually speak Spanish very well(which isnt really technically true, I speak Portuguese fluently, but I also lived on the West Coast for a while and created enough of a internal language bridge between Portuguese and Spanish that I can understand well spoken spanish fluently enough) the long silence seemed to imply a casual approach to the claim.

But then a few days before the opening, the lovely young thing that is Wesley Grissom emailed me that Javier had an interpreter coming with him and that the interview was on.

Which was exciting.

The night of the opening, Joshua Taylor and I were running a little bit late, and I was considering playing a game of Tardy Chicken when i got an email from Wesley apologizing that Javier wasnt with us yet.  With relief I texted her back politiely that I guess we would have to simply wait, no worries, and since we were just leaving from downtown to the beaches gallery, I could say that truthfully and just relaxed.

Now a J. Johnson Gallery Opening is a beautiful, lovely fearsome thing.

The gallery is only a couple of blocks from the beach and is located in a Sargosso Sea of cheerfully landscaped semi tropical parking lots that are filled to the brim with tasteful late model cars.

Disembarking from these cars are a small army of well exercised women of means, their suitably dapper but otherwise invisible male companions and enough expensive shoes to power a small empire.  Tight Black dresses cling to the yoga maintained physiques of the svelte women.  More conservative black dresses with plenty of frilly distractions and daring cut lines conceal the less so.

One ascends the small stair well, at the top of which are attractive young greeters, who politely welcome you inside and the whole affair feels exactly as one imagines these things have been happening amongst the Smart Set in Florida since the 1920s.

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

Inside is a cacaphony of people. The cavernous, perfectly lit interior is filled with Marin's gorgeous, romantic art.  It is lit as well as the Smithsonian, with dramatic white light that captures each leonine head, and underscores every sculptor inflicted lash into the bodies of the Sculptures themselves.  The crowd circulates and chats and drinks and marvels at the work.  As well they should because the work is literally magnificent.

Naturally both Josh and I know a solid number of people at the event and we get lightly sucked into the social whirl.  When i tell some of the matrons present that I am going to be interviewing Marin, I am greeted universally with a peckish kind of mischief.

"Oh!  He's VERY handsome, Stephen!"

"Yes!" one of her companions exclaims. "You know he's been here several times before!"

"Wait till you see his companion!  He's VERY cute too!"

I assure each group of them that I will fill them in on the details.  I begin to wonder about the sculptor as Cassanova.

I text Wesley as though weve been there for hours.  She agrees to meet us at the elevators in the back.

When the elevators slide open, Wesley is a bit of a vision, in a colorful dress whose top is a royal purple with a dropped hemline below which is a gorgeous tomato colored bit of skirting.  Against her pale skin and strawberry blonde hair, she is like a piece of art herself.

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

Josh and I are led to the private sitting area upstairs, a room which I feel privileged to be in.  Each space that Bruce occupies is as elaborate as the inner sanctums of Byzantium and admittance is a graded process which fewer and fewer people ever attain.  The room we are in is reserved for buyers, artists, and the occasional journalist.  As you can see from the decor it is wonderfully comfortable and unpretentious, the well worn antiques and the improvised sitting area are designed for comfort but not permanent residence.

After a moment another set of doors slide open and we are with Javier and Eduardo.  Eduardo being the translator that Wesley mentioned and the cute companion that was the source of matronly admiration in the gallery below.

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

We exchange greetings, and I listen as Wesley slowly sounds out several innocuous spanish language syllables.  Eduardo is charming and set her at ease.  I decide it would be pointless to deprive anyone of the fun of an interpreted session, and so I simply commence the interview in plain old english and let Eduardo do his job.

Stephen:  This is not your first show here at the Gallery, and Jacksonville apparently loves you and your work.  So many people see your beautiful piece on their way to the Airport.  But how on earth did you come to be so intimately involved with Jacksonville?

Marin:  Well that is all Bruce Dempsey.  Bruce was in Mexico and he came to one of my shows, and arranged to have a meeting, and it ended up being a good and long relationship, but it was definitely as a result of Bruce.

Stephen:  Interesting.  By the way I loved the show in Rome.  

Marin:  Really, how do you know of the show in Rome?  Were you there?

Stephen:  No, but then that is the lovely nature of the modern world and the internet isnt it?  I was able to look through a few hundred photos of the show itself.  Just amazing work with the horses.

Marin:  Yes, and of course, it is funny that they were in that space.  you know before the MACRO acquired it, it was a slaughterhouse, so it was interesting to have the animal scultures standing in the same place.

Stephen:  (As a matter of fact, I had no idea that the space was a slaughterhouse, as I hadnt really looked up the history of the Rome location)  No way!  Thats odd.  And Poetic.

Stephen:  You were one of several siblings

Marin:  There were ten children.

Stephen:  And several of you went into the arts.

(The artist ticks off a few of the professions, sculptors, painters, photographers.  Eduardo adds architect, which Javier had forgotten.  I assumed that Eduardo must also know the Marin family fairly well.)

Stephen:  And you have a brother that is also a sculptor:  Jorge.

There is a subtle tension suddenly introduced to the friendly proceedings.  I forge ahead anyways, but decide not to draw any comparisons or contrasts to the work of the two.

Marin:  Yes.

Stephen:  Well I was wondering if the two brothers ever collaborated on work.  If they do joint shows or compare business notes or anything like that.

Marin:  Dazzling smiles.  No.  They do not.

there is only a half beat of downtime.

Marin:  They never even discuss the business.  None of the brothers and sisters ever do.  Its an unofficial unspoken rule, but they never discuss business at their family gatherings or events.

Stephen:  Really?  So just family as family and never any artistic or business stuff?

Marin:  Nods in the affirmative.

Stephen:  Well what drives you artistically, what inspires these passionate works would you say?

Marin:  When I get up in the morning, I do not have a choice about sculpting.  I just get up and I begin to work.  It is the onl y thing tha I can do.  I make these sculptures and people ask me where they come from and I do not really know.  They come from within me and I begin to work and sometimes I look up and its been many hours and I don't know how the time has passed.  I work because I have to.

(I have been around several of these kinds of artists, before, Lee Harvey being one of them.  Where the art itself is the Muse that drives the artist, and comes from a primal place unconnected to their ability to explain it.  I can accept this answer because I have witnessed it to be true.)

for a better explanation of his work, here is a passage recently written about his style:

“De 3 en 3,”  Javier Marin’s personal sculpture exhibition arrives in Rome – fourteen monumental sculptures will fill the Terrazza del Pincio, and the Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, a series of smaller works will be exhibited in the spaces of MACRO Testaccio – La Pelanda.

Javier Marin makes treasure of the lessons of the great masters of past, particularly Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino and Michelangelo; he re-elaborates themes with images and subjects that – while emerging from the culture of Mexico – are wholly his. The human figure is at the center of the artist’s endeavors, male and female nudes, torn and fragmented – play center-stage with sensuous warmth. His material of choice is resin – mixed with amarath seeds, dried meat and tobacco leaves, which give it the peculiar coloration – he also works in marble and bronze. The exhibition lands in Rome after having traveled to several major cities in Europe – from the Musee des Beaux Arts in Brussels to the Piazza del Duomo in Milan. The show started in Pietrasanta, where the artist produced many of the pieces and will travel next to his native Mexico, where it will be part of a major retrospective of the artist’s work.

There was more, mostly inconsequential pleasantries, but during the process we felt a warmth and a curiosity very alive in the room.  I told him that I didnt expect to find him as approachable and warm as he is.

Marin:  I didnt expect that I would like your eyebrow line as much as I do.  Its like one of my sculptures.

After that, it was apparent that Wesley felt like it was time to get the artist to mingle with his admirers and patrons, and so we parted.  Somewhat reluctantly.

Marin is an amazing artist, and Jacksonville is very lucky to have him and his work represented here.

As in so many other things, we can thank Bruce Dempsey.

Stephen Dare

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013

photo by Joshua Taylor, 2013