Artist Pato Paez Shares How to Engage More with Art and Social Justice

Artist Pato Paez describes his latest collection "Niqāb," why he collects forceps, and how the community can engage more with art and social justice
NYC Artist, Pato Paez, Art, NYC Art

Argentinian-born Pato Paez is an artist, curator, and creative director who has built over 15 years of experience in the art world. He has been titled an “enfant terrible of the art world, ” and his art has been characterized by bold swathes of deep color, with designs often influenced by obstetrics and medical instruments (which he has also been known to collect). You may also notice some of his murals around the world at select locations of the restaurant Serafina.

NYC Artist, Pato Paez, Art, NYC Art

Pato Paez

He has earned a distinguished position in the international art community for his knack for outfitting business and retail spaces with the ideal pieces of art. And he seems to have a knack for bringing together a business savviness to the art world and some creativity and flair to the business world. He’s founder and creative director of Imuri Project, an NYC-based art consulting studio that provides site-specific art collections for the interior design industry as well as head-curator at PotatoMike, an online art gallery, and community for artists and collectors.

Moved by the outcome of the presidential election he has turned some of his focus towards work inspired by the current political climate. We caught up with Pato to discuss his background, his latest collection “Niqāb,” 25 unique silkscreen prints on paper, and other upcoming projects.

You finished medical school but decided to become an artist in New York City. How did you know you wanted to become an artist?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but, for what I thought were practical reasons, I decided to study medicine. I entered medical school at a very young age, I was 16. In Argentina, where I grew up, one goes to university right after high school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I guess medicine made sense then. In med school, I was obsessed with making art—all of my papers had very elaborate illustrations. During these years, I also became interested in the three subjects that continue to inspire my work as an artist: obstetrics, plastic surgery, and narcissism. While I never practiced medicine, those formative years clearly continue to influence my career.

And what about New York City drew you to live here and establish yourself here?

New York is New York, there are no other words to describe it. I was fascinated by it from the moment I arrived in the early 90s to do a sort of student exchange program. I loved its energy. I was hooked; I knew I had found my home. I went back to Argentina to finish med school and, as soon as I was done with my course work (before my internships), I bought a plane ticket back to New York. This was 1996.

How do you balance the business side of what you do and the artistic/creative side? Do you prefer one over the other?

Warhol once said “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” I wholeheartedly agree with it. I think an artist MUST approach the work with a business mind, and at the same time approach the business side of their career with a creative mind. The sweet spot to make a living as an artist is to create authentic work that taps into what people are already tuning in. This way, the work becomes a collaboration between the artist and their audience.

I enjoy both sides of my career. I love creating work, and I love promoting it. I also enjoy promoting the work of artists I believe in.

Much of your work seems very large scale, such as the several murals you’ve done over the years. What is it about doing things big that interests you?

I love working on large scale pieces. I guess I have a loud personality. Ha, ha, ha. I think my work has its biggest impact as installations.

Your bio explains you have “the ability to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time” and your de facto title is “enfant terrible of the art world.” Tell us more about what this means.

I like to push buttons and get people fired up. Often, I’ll say something that would trigger some strong emotional response in someone—it’s not always negative, though. I believe that’s part of my job as an artist: to constantly instigate.

Let’s talk a little more about your latest collection “Niqāb.” It was motivated by the current state of our political climate. Tell us more about it.

Niqāb is the cloth that covers the face as part of the sartorial hijab, and it’s worn by some muslim women in public areas. The idea for this collection began from a silkscreen I have laying around the studio. First, I printed the same image on 24 pieces of paper. I wasn’t sure then where the process was going to take me. After hanging them on my studio walls for a couple of weeks, I decided that they needed something abstract on them. So, I started printing black blocks on them. And suddenly, I realized I was printing niqābs over them. I guess I was unconsciously motivated by the current political issues of our country.

As a side note, you should know that I have several collectors in the Middle East, and I travel there often. A couple of months ago I spent 9 days in Saudi Arabia working on a project. It was a fascinating experience. I’ve also shown work in Turkey and Lebanon.

How are artists you are connected with engaging in political discourse right now? Do you see people coming together more frequently around social justice than before the election?

I think the current administration has forced everyone to polarize. One cannot remain neutral in the face of such injustices. Many artists have begun to produce phenomenal work inspired by what’s going on. We’re seeing a lot of collaborations and very explosive pieces, specifically in the street art world. It’s very exciting!

How can the broader community engage themselves in art and social justice so they have an impact?

Support the arts! Art shouldn’t be for the few, art should be for the masses. I’d say…find an artist with a message you believe in and support them. And by “support them” I mean: encourage them to continue producing work and putting their message out. Artists always need the encouragement of their audience—-it energizes and inspires us.

What projects do you have in the works for 2017?

This year, I’m working on some really exciting projects. One of them is my new baby, The Commission Project, for which I’ve partnered up with a group of young curators to provide site-specific work by different artists for both private and public spaces.

I’m also designing, curating and installing the artwork and murals for the newest Serafina in New York. The restaurant is scheduled to open in the spring in TriBeCa.

And one last project to mention is a collaboration with two Argentinian artists: Gonzalo VillaMax, a fashion designer, and the photographer Pato Rivero. For this project, I hand-printed a collection of fabrics, which will be a part of Villamax’s new collection and Rivero will take care of the editorial work. I can’t wait to see the final product!

Finally, we like to ask all our interviewees, “What is something you have done that may be considered uninhibited, edgy, or unconventional?”

I think my entire body of work is unconventional. As I said earlier, my job as an artist is to push buttons and make people react to the work. Much of my work is inspired by obstetrics, and that makes some people uncomfortable. I love collecting vintage medical books and surgical instruments as pieces of art. Some people get really freaked out by my collection of forceps, which I often have on display at my home.


Learn More About Pato:

PatoPaez.com | Imuri Project | PotatoMike


 

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Co-owner & VP of Operations, John is a thinker and a doer. He's a whiz at working through policies and procedures but loves taking time to explore the urban environment in which he lives and calls home. He also appreciates getting his fancy tickled.

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