Briefly describe the work you do.
My work is informed by a pluri-lingual experience. Play with various languages is integral to my practice and thought. Art, specifically painting, is a powerful vehicle to bear witness to the joys and tussles that make up modern life. I paint the things I feel fondness for as well as the things I detest. I paint to put a face on the things that help me, that see me over–– things that I hate and fear. Things that I have no control over, and am attempting to understand or admire. Inevitably I steer towards the spiritual, the political, the facetious, the fantastic and the biographical: all these ––all at once. These often take the form of abstraction, comics, letterforms, and figurative in my painting. If I have combined these, I can say I’ve been successful.
I am comfortable as long as I’m painting, whatever the form or medium–– a wall or a watercolor are all the same to me.
There was a moment in which I felt I was committed to video, film, writing and I am still, but currently my multidisciplinary tendencies are be expressed and explored in the world of painting.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I begun to take my creative life seriously at a very young age–– I was a teen. I grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a completely different place than it is now, (now it’s ground zero for hipsterfication). Back then, it was a real paradise, a great place to grow up poor. I mean, I grew up rich in every way. The neighborhood was made up of immigrant families and artists. My family fled El Salvador to get way from the war there. We arrived in SF, in the heart of San Francisco’s cultural center. In true San Francisco fashion, it embraced us. The place was, and to this day is covered with murals and this was the days before everybody and their mother called themselves a ‘street artist’. (There’s a misinterpretation about murals–– many people think that murals are a way to make a place look cool and, though that’s true, there’s so much more to the practice. Murals express the narratives that lay at a community’s heart. I feel like much of today’s street art, though aesthetically ‘hip’ is missing this vital piece). Through murals I was able to understand the world around me, my own history. Though I am a painter of many means, I am a participant of this rich visual heritage and it is my foundation. This is my creative genealogy and was my introduction to painting. Politics play a vital role. It’s only natural that in some way, this very powerful notion of art will influence my approach and thought.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I am a hybrid. I mean, I am a painter, so I certainly need a central space to work and house my equipment. But my “Painting” is happening constantly, and I don’t strictly mean that in some abstract airy way. I have had to learn to truly be mobile. I keep a book with me at all times, a painting book, filled with painting solutions: ends, beginnings, visual ideas, raw bits of compositions–– raw bits of life. Often times, entire compositions that later turn into canvases, or walls. I would say a portion of my work is necessarily mobile. Nomadic. Murals are site-specific. Paintings on canvas require a studio. Some of my work requires a laptop and a ton of investigation. I operate in all of the above. I think the unifying strain is that it pertains to me–– that is, I am always doing one of these.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I am committed to art and to the experience of creation. I am comfortable working on community and site-specific projects. I love working in collaboration with artists and also non-artists. I have no problem operating in places that have had what’s called “evidence of violence” or in war zones. I thrive under the possibility of reinventing these spaces and their significance to communities living in them. The funny things is though these tense situations are natural to me, I’ve yet to master the art of schmoozing at a party or art event.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
In the past I’ve been a pretty committed night owl. Beginning early in the evening and working into the late night. Most recently though, I’ve been starting in the morning and working the entire day–– starting at 10am and finishing at 6 or 7. This is practical for the other parts of life, and works fine.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work has gone through several changes in recent years. I’m completing my MFA. It’s been 2 years of intense work. My ideas of painting have been turned upside down, and turned upside down again. I think I’ve matured and given myself the liberty to be myself, and to understand my unique contribution to the conversation.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
There are so many. I’m reluctant to make a list, because inevitably I’ll forget someone–– but here goes. I wouldn’t be an artist without the key crucial moment, of running into Barry McGee characters while riding around the Mission on my bike as a kid. I would not be making murals had I not met Estria Miyashiro via The Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center–– Estria put me on to Baron Storey, who I studied under at CCA(C). There I met Claudia Bernardi, who’s philosophy of Justice & Beauty has given me the gift of purpose. As far as peers, Sam Rodriguez is a force to be reckoned with, I can’t understand half of what he does. Writer Russell Morse is a twin-soul. Poet Anthony Cody’s work has pulled me out of darkness. As far as master –– this title I can only bestow upon John Walker, a sage of painting. I’m lucky to have studied with him. He’s a national treasure. He has had one of the longest-running careers in regards to teaching painting in America. The line of his teacher-pupil genealogy goes back to Rafael. Most people just don’t have that type of history with the craft. And he’s still doing it. Most painters aren’t up yet by the time he’s already put in an hour or two in his studio. His sheer love for the practice is enough to inspire admiration. Last but not least, where would I be without my mom? No, seriously.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I would say the other pursuit upon which I could fully give myself is human rights.
I worked as a journalist for a long time, 15 years with the Pacific News Service, which is now called Newamericamedia.org. I also did daily news for the Spanish language news channel Univision 14 for a few years. My day consisted of running around the Bay Area with a huge camera on my back chasing fires and tamale festivals. It was great!
For the future–– the only other practice I’d like to dedicate myself to is teaching. I love people and I love art.
Josué Rojas (b. 1979) is an American artist living and working in Boston, Mass. Rojas was born San Salvador, El Salvador and raised in San Francisco, California, where he was introduced to the arts through the practice of mural painting.
Rojas is a visual artist, working with a range of material formats within the discipline of painting. His working approach is nimble, accommodating watercolor sized paper and book-sized paintings, canvas and large-scale murals.
His visual concerns are centered upon examining social blind spots employing the poetic, tragic and often the humorous. Formally, Rojas’ method is committed to intrepid experimentation and play.
Rojas received his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 2004 and is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Painting at Boston University.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.