One of the most interesting things about art is that, although it can be appreciated simply for its aesthetic value and serve as an exhibition of an artist’s skill, more often than not, it has the potential to be and do a lot more both for the artist and his audience. Art can give the artist a voice which allows him to create new narratives and unique perspectives and, in doing so, gives him the power to shine a light on untold stories, unheard opinions and unseen lives. Editorial cartoons and comic strips, for example, serve as the perfect instrument to bring about important social commentary on topics that are often difficult to address. Through artistic skill, hyperbole and satire, these art forms provide the artist with an opportunity not only to express his individual opinion on a subject matter in a captivating and amusing way, but also initiate dialogue within the community allowing it to begin looking at and thinking about answers to the complicated issues the artwork brings to light.
Art Motif Magazine’s next featured artist is West Phoenix Suburbs cartoonist Joel Rivas “El Capitán”. Joel is not only a talented illustrator who is able to skillfully bring his Chicano-SciFi visions to life on Bristol boards, but, more importantly, he is a powerful voice sparking important community conversations and discussions through his artwork. Take a look at Joel’s interview below to see how his ingenious cartoons have served both as a means for individual, soulful freedom of expression as well as a means to encourage engagement and involvement of a global community.
What is essential to your work as an artist? In order to sit down and create any kind of art, I need to be both inspired and “in the mood”. Inspiration can come from any source, really. It can be anything— current events, social injustice, the holiday season, my emotional state, my culture, tacos, dreams, vintage guitars, UFO’s, parallel universes, etc. When I say I need to be “in the mood”, I mean I need to be in a creative state of mind. That being said, life has taught me that conditions are usually not conducive to a creative environment. Since I want to be a prolific producer of art, I have found it necessary to create that creative ambiance myself. Whether it is piping in the right music or grabbing onto some positivity, I try different things to get into that creative state. Sometimes you can’t wait for the right moment to create art, you’ve just got to jump in, grab that pencil and fake it till you make it. Same goes for inspiration, you need to keep those spiritual eyes open. You need to be connected to your five senses. There is something out there that is reaching out to your creative spirit, you just need to be present to capture it. I’m sure many of my fellow creative peers can relate to this.
What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your art? My mom is an artist—she paints, draws and is a pianist. Her father, my grandfather, was a musician and a poet. My daughters are heavy into the performance arts. The arts are in our genes. Art is something that I was born into, it is who we are. In addition to being a musician, I am a sketch artist—specifically, I am a cartoonist. My style is essentially comic book art. As a child, I remember the first time I picked up a comic book. Right then, at that moment, I understood that one could use art to tell a story. Till this day, I still love those old vintage cartoons. I would spend hours reading and studying the Sunday funnies that used to come in the paper. I always made it a point to find the editorial cartoons, those were important to me. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention how much of an influence MAD magazine had on me as well.
How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? You know, being that most of my work is either Sci Fi or social commentary, I find that my subject matter does not easily lend itself to showcase my culture as much. However, I am a Chicano. I am Mexican-American. I grew up in a community where low-riders, oldies, Tejanas and Norteño music all coexisted in a beautiful, bilingual melting pot of Saturday morning, red menudo. I love my heritage. I love my culture. It is a big part of my identity and I will not shy away from it. While many of my themes do not lend themselves to being Latino in nature, I still tend to mix in some of my culture into my work. When I create my pieces, you can expect to see an extraterrestrial vaquero or a mariachi robot.
How has your artistic practice changed over time? Slowly but surely, my work has started to take on more of a social commentary/pseudo-political tone. I have personally seen how powerful a cartoon can be at striking an important emotional chord with society. I have seen how effective it can be at capturing a moment. I understand that I have an important voice in society. It doesn’t matter how serious or whimsical I make a piece out to be, I am always mindful to use my voice effectively in my work.
Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? I would say that, while I tend to jump around from theme to theme, I generally stick with what I call “Chicano SciFi” comic art.
Do you have a preferred genre, style or medium? I am a comic art cartoonist. That’s the style that I like. I find it to be my creative home. I have tried my hand with different mediums, but I am most comfortable with my pen and ink/art markers on Bristol board. Again, it’s “home”.
Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your works? I have learned that if you are blessed with a gift, your purpose is to bless the lives of others with your gift. I have been commissioned to draw many pieces for people. Most are grateful and tell me how much my work means to them. I genuinely appreciate that and it does make my day. However, there was one particular occasion that left me speechless and in awe. I drew an editorial piece as a response to the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. The attack happened on a Friday afternoon, Arizona time. When I arrived home, I drew a simple pen and ink piece on a 9”x12” Bristol board. I drew the Statue of Liberty hugging the Eiffel Tower. I took a picture, posted it on social media at 1:00 AM and then I went off to bed. By the time I awoke Saturday morning, my piece had gone viral in Europe and in the U.S. It had gathered many online discussions, commentaries and arguments. All on different forums and social sites. I was not able to keep up with all of it, it was a bit overwhelming. I contacted a sibling who works in public relations and asked him for his thoughts. He told me that the amount of attention and social reach that my little drawing generated in 36 hours was the equivalent of $100,000 worth of marketing. I was left speechless at the amount of attention my little drawing got. It blew me away. I had to rethink my whole approach. It was at that point when I realized that we, as artists, have a more potent role in society than we realize.
What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Find a community of like-minded artists who will encourage and challenge you. Whether it is a local group or an online community, don’t wing it alone out there. As I mentioned before, I am a musician and the one thing I have learned as a musician is that you never want to be the best musician in the band. You need to hang around with other accomplished and more experienced artists who will bring you up to a higher level, not bring you down or keep you stagnant. Also very important, create art! Don’t stop! Do not allow discouragement or “bad vibes” keep you from creating. Just get up and draw. If you are not feeling it, just fake it till you make it!
How does a baseball slugger snap out of a slump? By continually swinging at each (good) pitch. How does one snap out of their creative block? By continually creating. You have a gift. You have a voice. Do not take for granted what you have. Do not underestimate how important your voice is and, please, please, please, do not silence your voice when the world needs to hear it!
Who are your favorite painters? Leonardo Da Vinci was the man.
Who are your favorite composers? J.S. Bach, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin
Who are your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? Superman and the Justice League of America. Also Voltron, the 80s Lions version.
To learn more about Joel and purchase or see more of his work, click on the following links: