Carlos Rolón

Look at the cracks in the corners because sometimes there’s a lucky penny there.

Chicago based artist Carlos Rolón opens his solo exhibit at Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) September 5, called Classic Tracks: “Migrating Rhythms” celebrating the migration and the music of cultures that make up the Bay Area. Presented alongside the regional mobility-themed exhibition New Terrains: Mobility & Migration by the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA).

What led you to do this exhibit here at MACLA in San Jose?

Carlos: In general, I’m very selective in who I work with, what projects that I take on, and what I do because everything I do usually is tailor-made specifically for the space. It’s curated for the space. Every part of every wall, every inch of the floor is thought of. With that, which is also very important, is how do I take advantage of that space, then think of the public and how they would interact with it as well?

For this exhibition, I’m actually having a very good time installing and working in the exhibition just because I think this [MACLA] is an incubator space to allow me to explore different ideas, which is important.

I’m going to be transparent. It’s not that this institution is any less important than the San Jose Museum of Art. They’ve done programming that they’ve had artists in before the museum down the street even considered showing some of the artists that they’re showing now. That speaks volumes.

Those artists were also able to experiment and find a voice. That’s what this place provides. What’s great is because I’m so regimented in my studio practice that I’m able to go outside the boundaries. To give you an idea, I’m very interested in this idea of experimenting with new technology and what that means.

We’re doing a set of works that are going to be strictly print-based, but I’m creating it on the computer. I’m very interested in what that’s going to look like, what that’s going to feel like, which I haven’t done before.

Did you decide to do something more with this technology because it is Silicon Valley?

It has nothing to do with Silicon Valley. It was more the idea of experimenting. We’ve been talking about this in my studio for the past, I think, year and a half now.

Is it that you’re curious about new materials?

Yeah. My studio’s also a laboratory. We’ve had stuff printed, I’ve coated on top of it, I’ve painted it, I’ve stuck it out in the snow, I’ve let it rain on it. You do these things, you’re looking for ways to discover a new direction of the work. The only way to do that is to experiment.

We’re doing a set of works that are going to be strictly print-based, but I’m creating it on the computer. I’m very interested in what that’s going to look like, what that’s going to feel like, which I haven’t done before.

The majority of your work has been paintings.

It’s all done with oil on linen. Some acrylic, but all the recent work has been oil on linen. It’s very meticulous. There’s a quality to the work that I expect. We give it several coats, we give it probably a dozen layers of gesso, we sand it down very meticulously until we get an eggshell finish. There’s a

quality to the material that we use. There are certain paints that we use that are of high quality.

Again, I love the idea that I could be more loose with this exhibition, I could have things that I’m not so constricted with. I’m very interested to see what this is going to feel like. I know what it’s going to look like because I’ve already laid it out, literally, on the computer and with Sketchups, Rhino and all that other good computer stuff.

I’m interested in the final product. It’s a process, so there was something that looked amazing when we projected it on the wall. We’re working on it, and it looks amazing. Looking at it in retrospect, we may have to add a little bit more of that but that’s part of the process, that’s part of tightening things up, of experimenting.

Sometimes as an artist, you have things that are like little roadblocks, and you have to switch. Other times, you get the “happy accident,” where it’s like, “oh, I didn’t even perceive that…”

Yes. Perfect example, I had this idea that I’m going to have this repeated wallpaper pattern that would be completely repeated. Then I’m sitting with Damien [Kelly] (Visual Arts Engagement Coordinator) who works here, and he put the image in his computer just kind of kicked on and basically blew it up 1,000 times of what it was. I was like, “Stop.” Keep it right there, this is fantastic.”

It was a happy accident, and I’m glad that we didn’t push forward and try to get something, have an expanse where we were going to put something in getting this specific wallpaper made. Again, if you look at some of the work I’ve done before, you’ll see this particular language being repeated. But I’m not doing that in this case, so it feels much looser, it feels free, it feels open.

Again, that concept for this background that we’re doing as “wallpaper,” is actually turning out to be more of a painting than wallpaper. Now I’m incorporating painting, taking something that I’m doing digitally, but being painted.

What is the theme of this exhibition?

There was a lot of going back and forth with Joey Reyes, the “Jedi master of MACLA” [Director of Engagement & Dialogue]. There was a lot of ideas tossed around, Then, I feel like it was light bulb moment. How do you take a thread and basically weave a pair of pants? How do you put it together to make something completely new? It’s a new hybrid. We were thinking about how do you take that thread and how do you weave that thread along to bring everything together where the dynamics are so different.

On a personal level, people are not that different. Even in different communities, they probably share the same ideals. They listen to different music, but they feel the same way in their heart. We were thinking about what could we do to make that very cohesive. All of a sudden, music just popped up. This could be interesting. We felt that we were on to something.

The main concept, then, is how music has mainly brought a culture of people together and the idea of these mashups that happen.

I feel that music is such a universal thing. It just brings so many people together. At the same time, when you look at a classic cover of a possible musician from India or from Vietnam, you look at Los Tigres del Norte, and you look at their album covers, not that different. The instruments? Not that different. Languages, definitely different.

Even the themes that they’re singing about are very similar. Love, relationships, struggle, beauty.

Yes, of course. Identity, which is the most important thing. Everyone has a strong connection to identity through music, and again that’s the underlying story behind the exhibition. Will we incorporate elements that are visually stimulating? Yes. Is the underlying story there? It’s very concrete.

What are some elements we can expect to experience in this exhibit?

Carlos: We’re going to be playing Vietnamese music. When you look at it, does it sound strange? Possibly. Is it visually stimulating? 110 percent. Will, it strangely and seamlessly come together and make sense? For sure.

What have you learned in your career, and what, then advice would you give to artists who are starting out?

I would say two things. One is to be completely honest with yourself. If I can go back to the beginning of the career of where I’m at now, first and foremost, make sure that it has a story that’s honest. I would say that should reflect your personality.

You should never change the way that you act, talk, or the way that you behave just because you think that you may lose a chance on not getting something, either physically or monetarily, from someone. I think once you create that, things will open up. Things will become much easier for you on a day to day basis.

I would say the last thing is to keep your eyes peeled and have them open and really learn to be objective. Don’t be stuck on something or one thing and to really keep your eyes and look at the cracks in the street. Look at the cracks in the corners because sometimes there’s a lucky penny there.

Sometimes, there’s a little gem of something that you’re walking by, that will spark an idea that you never notice because you’re so preoccupied with thinking about finances and thinking about things that have nothing to do with your day to day but more with stress. Thinking about the stress of life that you’re missing out on the opportunity to be creative.

Classic Tracks: “Migrating Rhythms”

Exhibition | Sept. 5 thru Nov. 11

Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA)
510 South 1st Street
San Jose, CA 95113

Instagram: macla_sanjose



Interview & Photography by Daniel Garcia

This exhibition is part of a collaborative exploration of how bodies move through social and political spaces in Silicon Valley. South Bay arts organizations band together to present a series of cross-disciplinary exhibitions and programs that explore how bodies move through social and political spaces in Silicon Valley beginning in the spring of 2018 and continuing into 2019. The project addresses timely topics such as bicycle transportation and urban planning, navigation and orientation, public protest, immigration, and migration.

More details on exhibitions and participating organizations

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