Art Patron Magazine | Laguna Beach | Palm Springs
Palm Springs - Laguna Beach

Juan Manual Alonso

Juan Manual ALonso

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For an artist, the source of inspiration—his or her muse—is critical. In Greek and Roman mythology, the muses presided over the arts and sciences, and have been traditionally personified as women. However, the source of inspiration can take many forms. In this Q and A with Juan-Manuel Alonso, Art Patron explores the sources of inspiration that stimulate a prodigiously creative artist.

 
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Alonso was born in Cuba, raised in New York, and now resides in Palm Springs. His career has included designing jewelry for Tiffany and clothing for Nino Cerruti and Williwear, as well as teaching design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Miami Dade College, and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

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Do you have a muse? Muses? Have they changed over time?

My muses are the inspiration for my work, and I cannot create without having them constantly present.  Inspirations come to me through feelings that grow out of my path in life. As an individual and as an artist, I am learning by experimenting every step of the way. From canvas to canvas, I take the viewer on a visual trip of image and color. In the process there is a very noticeable progression from one piece to the next. I want the viewer to take the time to explore each piece as part of the trajectory of my life.

In one series of works I was inspired by Afro-Cuban mythology and the posters of Paul Colin, whose simplified images we can see in the Revue Nègre of the 1920s, when Josephine Baker was the center of Parisian life. Now we are once again approaching the 20s, but in a new century.

Has music been an influence?

Music is very influential, since I like to create rhythms by fitting colors and forms into a pattern that will stimulate all the senses at the same time. I like to think that viewers of my work will be stimulated in the same way that they might be by sound.

The power of sound transports me. Listening to Mozart, for example, takes me into a sublime space. On the other hand, jazz takes me into a syncopated space where the rhythm jumps, creating emotions of the sublime in a totally different way. Music creates moods that change according to how the sound itself is created. Color has the same emotional power for me.

What is your favorite book?

One of my favorites is Remembrance of Things Past, in which Proust paints a portrait of his time by describing in detail every nuance of a society on the verge of change.

Do you have a favorite photograph—a family photo, a photo of an artist, or a photo by an artist?

There are images and photographs from the many stages of my life that have stayed in my mind. The sensual images of Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst and Helmut Newton have stimulated the sensuality of my lines.

There are also a few photographs from my childhood in Cuba that evoke the nostalgia that comes from growing up in a foreign country, giving me the same feeling I get from reading Proust. There are those memories of times past.

What are your favorite designs?

I enjoy the classic forms, placing them in unfamiliar contexts and creating a new version of the old. This results in a form of collage in which familiar lines can be seen in a totally new light.

There was a time in my life during which “labels” were a thing to have. But as I have grown as an individual, I find that is not the label but how the piece is worn that makes the statement.

Talk to us about food. Do you have favorites?

LOL! When it comes to food, I like it all, but eating meat is not for me. Fruits, vegetables, rice and beans make me feel much better, and eating them raw gives me incredible energy. But am the first to admit that am human and not perfect. LOL …

Do you keep indigenous artifacts in your studio?

I am a great admirer and collector of African statues and other art, especially the fertility pieces—they have an incredible magical power. I also have statues of saints left to me by my mother, an aunt and an ex, none of them still living. I enjoy juxtaposing them, as they are part of my upbringing. This is the reason Afro-Cuban mythology influences my work.

What about travel? Has it inspired you?

I have been very fortunate to have worked in the fashion industry. It has taken me all over the planet and influenced the work I do now. It has opened me to so many different cultures and helped me become who I am at this moment in time.

In order to make the time in transit more pleasant, I started keeping a travel log in black sketchbooks. Well! The books became a library of drawings, expense reports, poetry, and summaries of important moments. The books became my best and trusted companion—my confidant! When I transitioned from designing to working as an artist, I turned to my black books as a depository of ideas. They were extremely useful, I tell you.

Is there an object in your studio that is most important to you?

Every single object in there has a purpose. My studio is like an installation that changes as the art changes from one painting to the next. I arrange the objects according to what I happen to be working on, placing them in vignettes for inspiration. All of them are related to my life path, to who I am, to the work I produce.

How has mentoring influenced your work?

Being a mentor allows me to pass down to someone else in a short period of time all that has taken me so much time to learn. It opens the door to someone else to continue the process of learning. To me, life is a learning experience. A time comes to pass all that knowledge on to a younger person, making it so much easier for him or her than it was for oneself.

What is your relationship with antiques and other vintage objects?

The relationship I feel with such pieces is that they are there to teach us with their beauty and staying power. It is up to the individual to learn from the forms, to make sure that they are taken to the next level, made to work in a different space and time. Having it all in the mixture creates an interesting tapestry. Making all of those different elements coexist is a work of art in itself.

Have there been personal challenges that have inspired you?

Overcoming cancer and surviving it for five years now has given me a totally different perspective on life. Coming that close to not being around to tell the story convinced me that what I do has to make a difference—not only to me but to the whole.

It has also given me strength and power over the unknown. The little things that most people overlook have become a very important part of who I am. It has given me a very clear understanding that time is of the essence and that no time comes back. So every second is important to me, and in the same way I see details in every single area of my life.

Has there been a person—a muse—who inspired you?

My parents were an incredible inspiration to me. They left our country after a revolution, left everything behind. They started all over again to make sure our lives were better and to give me a chance to be the free individual I was born to be. Through them I learned that the ability to adapt is what gives us strength to survive whatever comes our way.

Have your muses influenced the diversity in your work?

It is all about taking that leap of faith into the unknown, believing in yourself and continuing to do what makes you happy, no matter what anyone else says. When you do it long enough, someone will notice; someone will pay attention.

In every period of my life there have been people who influenced me. But what makes my creativity flow are periods in which groups of creative individuals come together and create a new school of thought. One of those times is the period from the late nineteenth century through the first three decades of the twentieth century. During those times, the creative forces changed the established order.

What do you do when feeling creatively blocked?

When that happens to me, I turn inward to see what it is that makes me tick. Once I find it, I come out and continue to create. It is all about having a vision, a clear vision of who we are and what exactly makes us happy, and in the process beautiful things happen.

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Is there an object in your studio that is most important to you?

 

Every single object in there has a purpose. My studio is like an installation that changes as the art changes from one painting to the next. I arrange the objects according to what I happen to be working on, placing them in vignettes for inspiration. All of them are related to my life path, to who I am, to the work I produce.

How has mentoring influenced your work?

Being a mentor allows me to pass down to someone else in a short period of time all that has taken me so much time to learn. It opens the door to someone else to continue the process of learning. To me, life is a learning experience. A time comes to pass all that knowledge on to a younger person, making it so much easier for him or her than it was for oneself.

What is your relationship with antiques and other vintage objects?

The relationship I feel with such pieces is that they are there to teach us with their beauty and staying power. It is up to the individual to learn from the forms, to make sure that they are taken to the next level, made to work in a different space and time. Having it all in the mixture creates an interesting tapestry. Making all of those different elements coexist is a work of art in itself.

Have there been personal challenges that have inspired you?

Overcoming cancer and surviving it for five years now has given me a totally different perspective on life. Coming that close to not being around to tell the story convinced me that what I do has to make a difference—not only to me but to the whole.

It has also given me strength and power over the unknown. The little things that most people overlook have become a very important part of who I am. It has given me a very clear understanding that time is of the essence and that no time comes back. So every second is important to me, and in the same way I see details in every single area of my life.

Has there been a person—a muse—who inspired you?

My parents were an incredible inspiration to me. They left our country after a revolution, left everything behind. They started all over again to make sure our lives were better and to give me a chance to be the free individual I was born to be. Through them I learned that the ability to adapt is what gives us strength to survive whatever comes our way.

Have your muses influenced the diversity in your work?

It is all about taking that leap of faith into the unknown, believing in yourself and continuing to do what makes you happy, no matter what anyone else says. When you do it long enough, someone will notice; someone will pay attention.

In every period of my life there have been people who influenced me. But what makes my creativity flow are periods in which groups of creative individuals come together and create a new school of thought. One of those times is the period from the late nineteenth century through the first three decades of the twentieth century. During those times, the creative forces changed the established order.

What do you do when feeling creatively blocked?

When that happens to me, I turn inward to see what it is that makes me tick. Once I find it, I come out and continue to create. It is all about having a vision, a clear vision of who we are and what exactly makes us happy, and in the process beautiful things happen.