Juan Carlos Pinto is an artist and art historian working in New York City.
A native of Guatemala, his art is as expressive as the colorful and lush Central American nation. Pinto’s artwork is poignantly aggressive and projects a revolutionary declaration. His art is abstract painting, tile work, wood work, stencil spray, the use of non-biodegradable plastic and glass. Most of Pinto’s media comes from salvaged material and found objects.
Transcript of the Interview
Konstanze: Hi, Carlos. It’s so nice to see you.
Carlos: Hey, Konstanze. How’re you doing?
Konstanze: I’m so happy to have you here. You’re one of my longest friends in New York City. I was always intrigued that you use a lot of things, sustainable things, and garbage to make art out it. I think my reader will so much appreciate the kind of art you do.
What inspired you to be a sustainable artist?
I think it always starts as a tantrum. I’m not so happy person. And I get angry with the subways system once, and that motivate the whole recycle of the metro cards. And without…basically it was a tantrum. I use the New York City Metro cards to create collages with the option the card give you. But it always starts with a ta
ntrum. I was angry with the system. I make a poster and I placed the poster protesting the public transportation crisis all over. And that was the beginning.
But I always was attracted to recycle. I think I became aware of mosaics made from ceramic, broken ceramics with this artist from Havana, Cuba. The name is Fuster. He got a place in Havana called Fusterlandia. And he like Hundertwasser, like Gaudi. And when I came to New York, I find out this artist in the East Village.
The name is Jean Power. He was putting little tile in
the light poles. I found it silly. And I work with him for a little bit and after, my wife told me about this artist in Philadelphia. The name is Isaiah Zagar. This guy is one of the biggest mosaic artist in the United States and I had the opportunity to work with him for a full summer.
And basically, that was the whole process because I didn’t went to school for art. Basically, the streets of New York give me the techniques and the materials to keep it up. Now it’s too late to stop. You know what I’m saying? I already did my share of time. And it’s kinda… New York is kinda dirty. The city gives a lot of trash. I think it’s very organic, very responsible somehow. And recycle and reuse. Plus, it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper than going to the art supplies store. You go to the corner, pick up some stuff, and bingo.
Konstanze: That’s amazing.
How would you describe what you do?
Carlos: Never. I never stop trying to give a name to that really. I think I’m okay if somebody calls me a mosaic artist. Sixty, 70% of my materials are repurposed.
Did you had a job before you started being an artist? What did you do before?
Carlos: I came to New York to try to be an artist. In my country… I come from Guatemala. I already have a degree in college. I was teaching in college. I have some kinda… I was a young professional, but I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. I think I was too young for that. The responsibility is too big and you’re not ready for it. I think teaching kids of the same age is not a good thing to do because you gotta modify. You have to really design your behavior. You don’t have the time to make the same mistakes of any 20-year-old does. So, you skip the 20s. And I had to leave the country trying to become an artist because everybody thought I’m crazy or something like that because I already have a profession. A nice social position, good income, and on, but I leave everything behind and I choose New York.
What do you love most on your work?
Carlos: I don’t know, and I think with no doubt is the challenge to ma
ke it better. Mosaic making is an old form of art but go exactly in the opposite way with us because we’re getting old, and the eyes are failing, and on, and on. And the mosaic form is getting more pure. You master to a certain level the technique in a better form with the next. So you’ve got to challenge to make it better. I think that’s the motivation.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Carlos: Let’s do it. Yes, let’s do it.
Contessa: Totally true with you.
Is there any music you prefer to listen to?
Carlos: I like tango. Maybe because my mother’s name is Argentina, but I like tango. Tango, if you pay attention, the Spanish they use, it’s like a gangster music. It’s a heavy thing. Plus, I didn’t knew there is a tango people around the world. We’re sharing the studio with Finnish artist named Mickey. And he told me the Finnish people have a lot of tango too. Very interesting.
What’s the last gift you gave somebody?
Carlos: The last gift. I think it’s every day though. You’ve got to give away every day. And more you give, more room you have to create more. Eventually, when people start paying money for your artwork you’ve gotta be more careful now because you gotta keep the value of the market, no? Example, I give away these things since I make these with recycled, like, the soda and beer cans. And that’s a good gift too, because it comes from…for free anyway. Take you, what? Ten minutes to make one. And sometimes it’s good to though, but it’s always… It’s every day. I think that keep you alive.
Konstanze: I mean, I know how generous you are, and I know how much art I have of yours, and how much, in all of my places, there’s art of yours and I know. It’s great to get art pieces.
Carlos: I think it was sign, right? We did the 7 Miles to Kingston sign as well.
Konstanze: Yes, you did the sign for my house.
Carlos: In that time I was doing a work for this company, they asked me to imitate the subway style of sign making. That’s the reason we did your sign like that. It’s all recycled, plus, it’s in the old school subway style because you and New York, the connection is there. You know what I’m saying? It’s like now you out of New York City, but it’s still in the whole capital of New York State.
Do you have a favorite piece of advice to give people?
Carlos: I think in this time we’re living, let’s try to compose COVID as a better version of ourselves. So it have to be a recognition. We have to be a little humble, do a little retro analysis of ourselves. What you doing good, what you doing wrong. Recognize that and try to amend the mistakes. Embrace life. I think it’s… I hope we gonna come out as a better version of ourselves.
Do you have a hidden talent you would like to realize?
Carlos: I have a problem with cameras. I get a little sweaty. Good thing the weather is changing now. It always I’ve been like, raining.
Konstanze: You look good.
Carlos: And I have an experience, once the people from ABC, this big channel., they call me to do an interview. And he asked me the same question. And I told him, “I have a problem with cameras.” And he said, “Well, you gotta speak with my cameraman.” And they put the cameraman on the phone and say, “Carlos, don’t worry. Tonight only 5 million people gonna be seeing you.” Oh, God. I start sweating. The guy was like, “Damn.” I mean, it scare me, you know? And the interview gonna be next day in the Bishop Gallery here in Brooklyn. And I went to the interview. This big guy was waiting for me. I walk I’m around the gallery, the gallery display all my work, and very nice there. Twenty minutes later I say, “Well, I’
m ready.” And he say, “The interview’s over.”
Basically, he place all the cameras around the gallery, like bug the place, and he just walk around and talk with me. And I got no idea I’m being… I think it’s the most organic way of confront your own fears. I realize there is nothing wrong with a camera in front, you know? And plus, English as a second language is another problem. Because you have…you’re aware of your accent. You’re aware of..you sounds different. All that kind of awareness is more basic fear. But I think I’m more calm on that thing. I said, “You know? It’s okay. Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
Konstanze: I know now where you were born, in Guatemala. Any city in particular where you were born?
Carlos: I born in the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, but when I born, my parents move to the inland, a little town called Quezaltepeque.
If you would have unlimited income, would that change the way you live?
Carlos: I’ve reached the point of I just call… I just what I call of vocation. Was my dream do what I do. Meaning it’s not a work for me. And it’s not about money or fame. But if money comes as a collateral of good work, bring it on. I don’t know. I think my capitalism in amount of friends that I have because I have people who I have no doubt if I need something like food or something like that, I have friends.
And, of course, I never go there because I’m trying to be self-sufficient. And I have a good partner. My wife, Amy is, you know, she’s independent. And no, there’s not a problem with it. But it could be good to have enough income to have any space out of the city or that thing. But that’s doable. We have to be based on a plan, and a plan who don’t gonna distract you from what you do.
What is the most difficult project you have ever engaged in?
Carlos: When I start doing portraits with the cards, I start doing like a dead famous people. Almost following Andy Warhol, you know? Kinda celebrity worshiping type of thing. One day somebody ask me to do the portrait of her mother. I kinda hesitated because for the first time I’m gonna portrait an alive person, and an alive person who somebody care about. I remember the original portrait makers like Sargent or… They were portraying people before photography. And basically, that was an art form for the people who cares whether what portrait by artist. It basically seemed like I go back to the original form, the reason of portraiture.
I took the challenge. I think that was one of the heavy ones because when I give it away, I was expecting, “No, this not my mother,” or something like that. But they like it. And every time that I see them, and I see the portrait because the lady pass away, and the importance of the portrait became almost sacred, almost like a holy. And now I can say I can make a portrait but I’m going away of portrait humans. I’m portraying animals now. And it’s a different challenge because the animal don’t want to complain or copyright, like, sue you because copyright.
Konstanze: Mm-hmm. Of course.
Carlos: And it’s a new dialogue coming because since the artwork is having some value there are other interests who happens because, you know, people gonna ask for a share of the money. Now, I’m portraying animals basically.
Who would you aspire to be?
Carlos: I hope is a better version of myself. Because this part of the life you have to learn how to get old with certain grace, with certain elegance. So, I don’t want to pretend I gonna do the same thing that I did 30 years ago. Because even physically, I’m still the same relatively young and I still having energy. I have a good team of work. I’m surrounded by these people who have a lot of fire. Again, I think if I surround myself with that creative type of brains and active bodies, I can challenge myself.
Konstanze: Carlos, it was so great talking to you…
Carlos: Thank you.
Konstanze: I know a little bit more about your art. And I’m happy that my following can see what you do, can see your art. I know you for a long time, I know what amazing work you do. I’m so happy I had you here and you took the time to talk to me.
Carlos: Thank you. And, you know, we’re always here. No problem.
Konstanze: Thank you, Carlos, always for your support.