Marginalia - Mexico

Pablo Helguera

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04.03.2020

#57: On Artoons

Every month Marginalia invites an artist, curator or project to provide a series of images that will serve as the background of Terremoto, in relation to their practice and current interests. At the end of each month, the whole series of images is unveiled. Here is the selection of February of 2020.

I’ve been drawing since I can remember. There hasn’t been a time when I have not drawn. I remember, for example, when I was five or six years old, illustrating my sister’s piano music sheet, inhabiting a Mazurka by Chopin with expressions of every kind. I drew cartoons, inspired by Steinberg’s and Quino’s drawings, as well as by the books of Tintín and Astérix and the comics by Editorial Navarro that me and my brothers bought every week near our house. When I was twelve years old, my grandma took me to Guadalajara to see the murals by José Clemente Orozco, and I decided to become a muralist. Ever since my goal was to create serious work, thus completely hiding humor and cartoons from the public. I never stopped drawing cartoons, only sharing them with family and very close friends. Eventually, my work gravitated towards performance, collaborative processes, and conceptual strategies. 

Many years passed. In 2008, already in New York, when I finally accessed the mysterious territories of social media, and not wanting to share too many of my personal photos, I had the urge to create a drawing in the style known as single panel –an image with a footnote– such as the ones from the New Yorker magazine. The drawing built up a following, and it drove me to create another one. And another. And another more. The process had a therapeutic aspect for me, and at the same time it became an opportunity for me to share my views on the complex social dynamics of the art world –an interest always present in me and that inspired my first book: Manual of Contemporary Art Style.

Sometime later, I started receiving invitations to replicate my drawings in other publications. Writer Andras Szanto, who invited me to participate in one of these publications, was the one that suggested to me that the inventions, that up until this moment had no name, be titled artoons, given their subject and format. The drawings acquired an almost absurd virality. I received emails from places like Cairo and New Delhi, commenting that the artoons were very famous in their local art scene. It was very surprising for me that these scenes and comments about the social interactions around contemporary art had a resonance in places I have never been to. Such reaction was proof for me that, in reality, the dynamics present in the art world are really predictable and replicated in various latitudes. They are perhaps proof that, although art is a discipline that prides itself on radicalism and constant transformation, its social and economic context is extremely rigid and conservative. Something that, of course, lends itself to a humorous treatment. 

 

Pablo Helguera, New York, 2020

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