Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted

Carlos Delgado’s ‘Faces of the System’

The Toronto based visual artist talks about capturing expression in abstract portraiture as a representation of various masks we wear throughout life.

Published: November 3, 2017Words: Mikkel Bertelsen & Carlos DelgadoArtist Link: artcarlosdelgado.comInstagram: @artcarlosdelgado

There has always been a special place in my heart for artists, whether performative, visual or musical, that have reached a certain level of success entirely on their own. The DIY approach is something that is more indicative of the North American culture that I can relate to. While I find the more generous amount of governmental and culture subsidies that are available to artists in Europe – particularly in the Scandinavian region – to be a picturesque model of “how things should be” within the art industry, my heart still leans towards the artists that have had to hustle.

By this, I don’t mean the hustle that comes with navigation the artist funding bureaucracy, or cutting through the Gallery nepotism to get your name known – that exists in every facet of the industry, no matter where you are in the world. What I mean by hustling, is doing things that would never even cross your mind as an established artist.

Paying to enter art competitions as a visual artist. Touring shitty dive bars and getting paid in beer as a musician. Setting up your paintings on various online shops to sell. Getting paid to choreograph a dance at a retirement home. I have met artists that have done all of those things, and I respect them for it. That’s the DIY artist hustle.

Now a well-established artist that is represented by Lohme Gallery in Malmo, Gallery 133 in Toronto and Gallery Chaos in Serbia, when you look at the history of Toronto based artist Carlos Delgado, you can see that he is no stranger to the artist hustle. If you Google his name and dig a little deeper, you will find that over the years he has worked his way through entering his work into several competitions, submitted for awards, and placed his work on numerous online galleries – all to get to the place where he is now.

Now I’m not saying that selling work on online galleries or entering into art competitions is somehow lesser than the more traditional route of attaining gallery representation – quite the contrary. What I will say it that I find it far less common in countries where artist subsidies are less plentiful that here in Denmark. It’s a different type of hustle and one that is more DIY.

As Delgado set up to display his newest collection of work, Faces of the System, in Lohme Gallery through November, I spoke with him about his work and what inspires him to create.

Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted
Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted

Now you were born in Colombia, but you relocated to Toronto. Were you establishing yourself as an artist before you moved to Canada?

I had always made art, but there was a point in my life where I had to stop for eight years. About a year or two before I came to Canada I got back into my art and went to the capital of Colombia to focus more on it. There I met my wife, who was living in Canada (originally from Serbia), and we decided to start a life in Canada together. Since I have come here, my art has always been my main focus and the knowing that coming here; I came to give all of myself and do art.

How did you begin developing your style as an artist?

Even though I was already in Canada and was part of art collectives and was learning how the art platforms move around town, I realized that before anything I needed to find my style based on creativity and just being free to create something of mine. I’m self-taught, so I wasn’t focusing too much on techniques, but I knew that I had a talent in being creative so I just pushed myself to create and get out my own expression.

The large majority of your work focuses on portraiture in an abstract sense. Tell me a little bit about your fascination with the human figure and expression.

My fascination with the human form is based on exploration how each one of us creates our own walls to disconnect from each other – often times expressed through the body and the face. The most vulnerable moment when one can see the soul of the person is in the expressions that people make with their face and body. At the same time, there are a lot of masks we wear to create separation from each other and instead focus on the systems around us, getting a job, being part of the daily life.

I tried to look for love, sadness, compassion and other feelings and pull out emotions from the faces. I love when I create work that people as they look at it they also have their own interpretation and their feelings are reflected back to them, whatever that feeling may be.

Expanding on that, you’ve said that your work, “Focuses on capturing the subtleties of emotions and experiences as expressed through the face and the body.” Yet stylistically, your work is more abstract than realist. How then, do you define this specific “expression” in your work?

Even though the faces are abstract, they still define some aspects of the face that can determine the expression, for example, just focus on one eye, or one nose, or the way the color is used or a simple line or dot somewhere in the eye or the way the colors are layered. I think this invites the viewer to explore the face and find the expression. Sometimes I use things like eyes looking down, the position of the face, play with shadows, etc. – to bring these expressions out.

With that said, take me through the process of how you create one of your portraits?

I am very fascinated with creating just black lines very fast with liquid acrylic and finding connections between the lines. From here I start to add water and discover the shadows until the face forms itself. The process is very organic; it can be man or women, it shapes itself. After the black lines, I add color sometimes to the face, sometimes to the background first and let the color guide the mood, expression, glance, defining points, etc.

Do you work muses or models in the traditional sense?

Not for the faces. Although, I am starting to work with models on a different series which expresses more of the body.

Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted
Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted

In juxtaposition to your oil paintings, you also work in street art – replacing the paintbrush for the spray can. Tell me about how you transition from using two very different mediums?

I find the spray paint to be a very fluid and soft process. I have done more street art before, but I like to play with structure, and this is why I prefer oil and acrylics over spray paint. Spray paint is a delicate process, but I don’t find the same intimacy as being in the studio with my paints.

When I was researching for this article, I discovered that you also engage in a lot of writing and personal commentary about your scene, community, and experiences. Do you find writing part of your artistic practice?

No, I have someone who helps me with that. I am good at speaking my thoughts and talking to people face to face. I have someone who translates my thoughts in proper English grammar into my blogs, but talking about my process and my experiences is a big part of my artistic expression. I like to share with people the process because I think it is an excellent part of connecting with people. I always have people coming to my studio to talk and share.

Alright, so down to the current business. Tell me a little bit about this exhibition, Faces of the System, at Gallery Lohme?

Whenever I have my art somewhere, it is an extension of my series. However, I was also very inspired when I was in Europe and Malmo in September and be part of a new culture, so I created some specific pieces for that show that came from that inspiration. One essential thing for me is to create universal art that can connect to people no matter where they are.

Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted
Carlos Delgado exhibition at Gallery Lohme image for Blacklisted