Art and Commerce pix
As artist-in-residence at Chicago wall-covering manufacturer Maya Romanoff, Juan Carlos Macias soaks up the influence of design
Kelly Beamon -- Interior Design, 8/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The painter in his Mexican studio.
The mixed-media Apuntes Preliminares.
Ajiro wood-on-paper wall covering, a Juan Carlos Macias pattern for Maya Romanoff.
Romanoff pondering Macias's Lecciónes de Anatomía Para Abogados, an acrylic on canvas.
An untitled acrylic on canvas.
Two Macias-designed prototypes for Maya Romanoff's Beadazzled glass-bead wall covering and two colorways from the company's glass-bead Marquetry line.
When neo-expressionist painter Juan Carlos Macias moved from Guadalajara, Mexico, to the Chicago suburbs with his wife and son, it wasn't to become a wallpaper designer. He'd earned a slot in a cultural-exchange program, and he planned to keep working on portraiture dealing with what he calls the absurdities of the human condition. But real estate is destiny: His tiny apartment could barely hold his massive canvases. Unrolled, they covered the entire floor.
A chance meeting on a local tennis court led to a visit from wall-covering manufacturer Maya Romanoff, who—himself an artist—appreciated Macias's predicament and offered him a deal. If he would create pattern studies for the company, he could have a free 300-square-foot studio on the second floor, right next to the sample department. A year later, he's designed roughly 35 patterns. He's also started to look at painting in a whole new light, with the results slated for galleries north and south of the border.
With your fine-art background, were you confident you could produce patterns?
Design isn't completely foreign to me. I have a bachelor's in architecture from the Universidad de Guadalajara.
Did you originally want to be an architect?
Since childhood, I always painted and drew. But when I began my university studies, Guadalajara had no bachelor's programs in the visual arts. For anyone interested in painting and drawing, the closest option was architecture.
How do you and Maya Romanoff work together?
I sketch out my ideas, then visit the sample department to see how they'd look as a wall covering. A wood-on-paper design inlaid with floral patterns is one of mine. So is the pattern of squares on the cover of the company's sample booklet. Some of my other ideas related to the ways that different-size glass beads refract light along linear patterns. Those particular experiments led to a line called Beadazzled.
Manufacturers often collaborate with artists. How is this unique?
Collaboration is one thing. To have an artist inside the factory walls—that's unthinkable for most companies. And it's surreal to be doing something so completely different from everyone else around you. That really struck me when I brought in a nude model to pose.
Did you always have an affinity for repetition?
I've been creating series of images for many years. Among artists, my fascination isn't that unusual. Matisse, Escher, and Calder also played with patterns.
Have your new surroundings affected your art?
The patterns immediately intrigued me and became a part of my work. Flowers bloomed. Without noticing, I began including patterns on pillows and blankets, then carpets and walls. Fragments, initially, became dominant features.
I've also noticed that the patterns I've been working with seem to generate a flow of energy between myself and the people around me, and I've started painting groups of figures, which is significantly different from my work in Mexico. Down there, I generally focused on only one person, sometimes a very raw image—even death. And my work was usually critical of society, the government.
Besides pattern, what about color?
For a while, I was using a lot of blue, a color I equated with Chicago because of Lake Michigan.
And your materials?
I've used the Beadazzled glass beads to cover whole images. Now I'm experimenting with beads being just one part of a painting, less visible at first. One example is a 6-by-8-foot interpretation of an ex-voto, a religious painting that commemorates a miracle. My version has beads embedded in it.
Compared to your early work, those are major differences.
People might say that I'm reflecting the visual images of the sample department and countering the gray Chicago winters with colorful flowers. But am I joining the general happy-holics population and celebrating my own personal good luck? No. It just may be, as someone told me recently, that every five years we all experience a radical life change.