We get on a live video conference Madrid – Miami connection. On the other side of the line is Alexis Diaz (Puerto Rico, 1982) in his studio located in the Wynwood area, known for being one of the neighborhoods with more street art pieces per square feet. The visual artist and muralist, known for his detailed murals representing nature, life and death by brushstrokes and Chinese black has several scattered throughout the area.
It all started back in 2006, when he developed a line of T-shirts with his designs. He wanted them to be a walking gallery and to have his art spread all over the world for a fair cost. Until he discovered muralism. He started painting the walls of his native San Juan and for more than a year he did it without getting a dollar in return, until he was called out from Miami to participate painting in Wynwood during Art Basel 2011. That first wall outside his island had a huge repercussion as magazines he had always admired, such as Juxtapoz, began talking about him. It was the time were the boom of Instagram and other Street Art blogs had arisen so that first wall traveled all across the network. His next big thing was the Brick Lane octopus-elephant he did in London that opened him the doors of Europe.
In a pleasant conversation and with a very natural sense of humor, we take a tour across his warehouse studio to discover every corner of it, the projects he’s now developing, the next series of prints that will shortly go on sale and the artist’s creative process. Pure Puerto Rican pride. Click here to see the full video.
«The studio is about 100 square feet and it’s located in the Wynwood area. I have some of the prints of designs I’ve done over the years hanging here and there. This one, the octopus-elephant is a special one, it’s the first wall I made in London. It was in 2013 and it was a major turning point for me. It’s probably the most popular mural I have ever done and it made my work widely known abroad. When I started painting, the only idea I had in my mind was the elephant, I had no idea what else I was going to do. I was in front of the mural until the idea came out. London is a very chaotic city, everyone’s on top of everyone… I say it’s like New York’s grandfather. It was like an octopus, I felt that way. I was painting it in the Indian neighborhood of Brick Lane and people loved it, it was a nice experience».
«I posted these prints of ‘Seed’ last Thursday and in four minutes the one hundred editions were sold out. The ones below are already visible with the last three ink coats. I always start with a sepia color, then a sienna green and at last a bit of black ink. The golden lines I drew them with the ruler. I also sold a special colored edition of ten, because I posted a test on Instagram and I saw that people liked it», says the artist, who is quite active in the social media. «I used a 300 gr cotton paper that holds the water very well, it’s important because when I start with all those ink on water layers the paper still does not wrinkle», he continues. «Here there’s a test of the next print that I will put up for sale. It’s inspired by Puerto Rico, celebrating the anniversary of lasts year’s political crisis when we kicked out some corrupt politicians from the government. The design I did it for a project that I started to work work with Adidas, it was supposed to be a T-shirt but with the Coronavirus crisis it has remained stagnant. It will go on sale on July 24th on my website».
«I’m working on a few animal hybrids sculptures. I still have to paint them, there’s a whale – penguin, a rat – dog (or something similar!) and the evolution of an antelope», he says about the sculptures he’s thinking of taking to his next exhibition at Stolen Space in London, which has been postponed for the moment. «At the beginning when I started to paint I liked to make animals that had a lot of texture and over the years the whole process has evolved. According to the space where I work, I identify the animal that is the icon of that place, I try to make it survive if it is in danger of extinction and I mutate it so that the animal adapts to this new ecosystem that humans have created out of all our destruction. It is a way of showing how animals are preparing for a new world and how they will evolve. A little science fiction-wise», he says about his creative process and work with animals. «I have several books where I get inspiration from, like “After Man” written by Dougal Dixon in 1982 about what animals are going to be like in 500 million years», continues Alexis. «I have ordered several dissected insects online and I have to start working with them already this week. I need to wear a mask because the smell is already strong from the liquid they use to embalm them. They stink! The idea is to use the wings of one or the other insects and put them together with the scorpion, add some dried flowers… I like to have a balance in my compositions so it doesn’t look too dark. I bought this tool kit to open the animals and be able to mix them together, I am going to be a professional doctor!», he says with a laugh.
«I was one of these stubborn people who thought that technology was never going to beat the human hand until my girlfriend bought me this iPad a couple of years ago… I’m awful with technology so it took we a while to get used to it. I felt like a professional with Paint and this was a total challenge!», he laughs. «But it’s actually the best thing that has been done for artists in a while… Now I can have the exact measurements of the wall. Before I used to draw it on a little notebook and Maths are definitely not my thing, the wall never fitted right», he says joking. «Before, the idea I was working on was direclty developed on the mural, I used to absorb the energy of the place, it was a more fun process but it took much longer… Now it seems that we are in an era in which we have to do everything as fast as possible so it’s very useful», he says.
«The Art Museum of Puerto Rico has been the project of which I am the proudest. It’s the most important artistic institution on my island and I was invited to participate in the permanent collection that changes every six years… I thought I was going to produce a piece when the opportunity of doing the complete facade came out. It’s the entrance to the artists’ house! It was a lot of responsibility and there were lots of sketches done but nothing was really coming out. I spent a week and a half just walking inside the museum watching the works piece by piece and getting to know the artists. After two days of painting the facade I got off the crane and didn’t like it: we erased everything to start all over again. The drawings talk about the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, about the American colonization… It took me 27 days to finish it working non-stop every day and getting 3-4 hours of sleep», says the Puerto Rican artist.
«One of the main reasons why I moved to Miami is because in Puerto Rico I was a disaster. I used to go out with friends every day, we started in the morning going here and there and I hardly painted… I had a studio there for three months and I think that in all that time I only made two sketches. When I stopped in Miami I was able of doing one or two paintings in that same time, so I gave up, in Miami I concentrate much better. I go from the studio to my house and from my house to the studio, I go out for dinner with my girlfriend and I have a quiet life. And if I miss my mom, I just get on a plane and in two hours I’m home», he says. «But in Basel of course we have a few parties here in my studio. I have all these photos hanging at the entrance. Here you can see Ever, there is Connor Harrington, Zed, D* Face, London Police, Case Maclaim, Pastel, Jacopo (Never2501) dancing with Elian Chali… The complete gang! » Alexis says.