Mercedes Llanos [Interview]


"In painting resides a feeling of transcendence which drives my practice...."

"We are ordinary, mundane creatures juxtaposed with a seemingly divine nature. This reality becomes apparent in between moments, and the more I observe, the better I sense them.  My work relies on the memory of happenings, interpersonal encounters, and the validity of material reality.  I manipulate form and space to create scenarios of psychological conflict in uncanny settings, aiming to empathize with the viewer through disconnected and often apathetic figures.  

I use the canvas as a platform for digesting past events, where I relive experiences, immortalize moments, and create new ones through the act of painting.  Most of the time, I start my paintings with images from photographs that I collage with images from my head as I begin my drawing.  Color and line becomes a mix of impulse and realism.  As I allow myself to work intuitively, one can see some very perplexing instances throughout the paintings reminiscent of emotions, dreams, and that unexplainable in-between.  As I’m repainting these moments I travel back to them; the action becomes instinctual, the feeling reinvented, and the moment eternal."

-Mercedes Llanos

Interview with Mercedes Llanos

April 2018 Digital Resident

MHM: What inspired you to explore collage? What do you think you have learned from the process?

ML: I create paintings doing a sort of collage in my mind, and thought that actual collaging could be helpful for my artistic growth.  Collages are something I’ve always been interested in but never really gave myself the time to do. I will incorporate collage into future paintings as part of the process.  I learned that I love painting too much and I’m really impatient.

MHM: When did you start painting?

ML: Painting, with a capital P, when I was a sophomore in College (2012).  I took my first oil painting class and absolutely fell in love. It was like a drug.  But I have drawn my whole life, and I painted here and there, it just wasn’t really available to me and I was much more interested in drawing.

MHM: What is your current mindset about art?

ML: This topic is an ever changing struggle for me.  I love it and I don’t know if I would be alive with it.  The thing currently is that I feel pressure to make art, that I have a duty, or obligation, to say something meaningful through my art and that’s a lot for me to handle.  Sometimes I would like to be a normal person, you know? Enjoy things like watching movies and playing sports, having small talk with friends and going shopping, but it’s really hard for me to do.  In the back of my mind I’m always thinking “I should be making art..." Well… unless there’s alcohol involved (then I forget... I don't know if you should add that!) But then again… the hangovers are super regretful and all I think is “I NEED TO MAKE MORE ART WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE!!!” Hungover art is pretty good most of the time though.

MHM: What is your process like? How do you select the images you want to paint?

I live in the moment as much as I can and I see life as a chain of reactions. I’m constantly reacting to things and that is shaping my life.  I allow change, and seek it. Same with my work...

ML: My process is usually very intuitive.  I don’t like to plan things and my life is a bit chaotic but as well controlled.  I live in the moment as much as I can and I see life as a chain of reactions. I’m constantly reacting to things and that is shaping my life.  I allow change, and seek it. Same with my work, I usually have about five paintings that I’m “working on” at all times. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for them to tell me something.  They guide me most of the time. That’s why I like painting, it really allows much more time with the painting than I would have with a drawing. So I get to have conversations. I start the conversation by drawing every time, but i don't know if I finish it.  I use a mix of photographs and memory, all of them are personal events that reside in my mind. Painting allows me to understand events better and to be other people for a moment.

MHM: You work a lot with memories of happenings and encounters Can you tell us a story about one of your paintings?

"Situacion Critica" by Mercedes Llanos.

"Situacion Critica" by Mercedes Llanos.

ML: The Painting “Situacion Critica,” which means "critical situation," is a self-portrait that I began in an Artist Residency in the Amazon Jungle of Peru and finished months later in the United States.  The painting emerged from experiencing Ayahuasca, a plant medicine used for healing by indigenous people of South America. I was in a moment in my life where I cried very often and for unknown reasons, so I visited a Shaman and he encouraged me to try it to get rid of my “entities” or “demons” who were preventing me from thriving.  I was like, "sure, why not?" Well, let’s say that I died and came back to life in a few hours. I mindlessly got myself into the worst pain I had ever felt in my entire life! The worst trip of all trips, but I survived! And that’s the beauty of it. Thanks to that plant I was able to see the wrong in my life and my doings, what I had to change to become better, and became aware of my qualities.  I saw my purpose in life and that was so beautiful. So I began the painting the day after that and it is a mix of the subconscious and conscious mind, where I talk about the physical and ethereal aspects of being alive. There is darkness and I am perplexed, but looking closer one can see a form of growth emerging from my being.

...Thanks to that plant, I was able to see the wrong in my life and my doings, what I had to change to become better, and I became aware of my qualities.  I saw my purpose in life and that was so beautiful.

MHM: What is your relationship with color?

ML: I use color to speak emotionally rather than logically.  It’s a way to create impact, but the kind of impact you can’t explain.  You get the feels but you don’t know why. At least that’s what I am aiming for.  I choose color intuitively and impulsively. It also acts as an extension of my figures, referring to the energy fields through interpersonal interactions.

MHM: You just got into Hunter! One: Congratulations! Two: How do you imagine your work will develop in Graduate school?

ML: YAYYYY so excited!!! I am really scared. Like I said, I want to say something, I just don’t know what.  I think I will delve deeply into the psychology of humankind, and I will be painting much larger. I also feel compelled to make political work at this time, but I still need the work to be authentic and it’s hard to balance.  Being in New York will be really intense. I will let nature take its course.

MHM: How often do you paint? What keeps you motivated to continue making work?

ML: I want to paint a lot, every day.  I always have something in mind to paint - it’s pretty crazy. But I have periods of working everyday, and periods where I don’t go to my studio in a whole week or two.  But I always have a sketchbook with me. It never bores me.

MHM: What are you currently reading or listening to?

ML: Right now my life is too extremely hectic to stop and read. I’ve been trying to do audiobooks or podcasts but I can’t focus on them.  I’m close to finishing a book called “How To See” by David Salle. It consists of many essays that talk about the psychology behind the work of well known artists such as Alice Neel, Alex Katz, Andy Warhol, and George Baselitz to name a few.

MHM: What artists are you enamoured with currently? Are there any contemporary artists making work that speaks to your practice?

ML: Amy Sillman, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas come up immediately with contemporary artists. With my work right now, old masters Gauguin, Munch, and Matisse come to mind. The fauvists have really shaped who I am as a painter.  I never really acknowledged it, but they changed the game.

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