The first time I heard about Jimmy Pena was in 2010, he was to do a talk in my first art class, drawing I, with Ben Herrera. I, unfortunately missed that day because one of my kids had a doctor’s appointment. All I knew about him was that he was a local artist who made a living creating art and he was very talented. I regret that I had not been there for the talk. As I submersed myself into the local art scene, his name would pop up time and again. I remembered my instructor talking about a technique he used with charcoal on wood. I LOVE charcoal so that intrigued me immensely. I knew I would want to meet him one day and learn about his career in art.
I sent him a friend request on facebook, we did have some mutual friends and he was gracious enough to add me. Time went on and I finally asked him if he would participate in my new art blog by doing an interview with me. He accepted and I was thrilled. I met him at his studio at Kspace, he was very kind and forthright and treated me as if we had been friends forever. I highly respect his work as an artist and now meeting him, I am a bigger fan than I was before.
He has been in numerous art shows from Delmar’s National Small Drawing and Sculpture show, The Art Center and other galleries in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and San Angelo. During the course of our interview, I realized this is a man with a natural born talent in art that had venues and organizations seek him out. It was a pleasure to conduct this interview and I learned a lot about art and the art field just by listening to him. So here he is.
How did you get into the art field?
I have been creating art all my life. I thought everyone did it. When I was in fifth grade and on I wanted to be a football player. I really loved sports, I played high school football, I was in track. My mom was a nervous wreck about it. Well in the ninth grade I had a knee injury and then in the tenth grade I injured my other knee. (He pointed to his knees to show me the scars from the two knee surgeries he underwent.) I was crushed that my athletic career was over at that point. Art was always there. I would carry my drawing pad everywhere with me.
If I was in a place where I did not know anyone, I would pull my pad out and draw. I was known as the kid with the drawing pad. I was known as the ‘artist kid’. When I was fourteen I did a portrait for a friend. For school functions I always volunteered for any artwork they needed.
When did you start showing your work professionally, at what point in your career did you feel it was time to put your artwork in the public eye?
Well, I ended up dropping out of high school my senior year. My father worked at the refinery and I knew I had a job there. I worked there for some time but I was not happy, I didn’t want to grow old doing this kind of work. After I worked there, I ended up working as a bartender at a night clup that was really popular at the time. I had a lot of fun there, I think I had too much fun and I realized this was not what I wanted.
After that I joined the Army and there I was with my portfolio always in hand. I was stationed in Germany and the job I was assigned to had mistakenly been filled by someone else. I realized at that time while I would be there I would end up being the “gofor” doing what odd jobs were assigned to me. I did not want that so I convinced my first Sgt. to allow me to do a mural in the mess hall. Everyone liked it but at the same time, it was difficult because I was only a private but I was given a key to the mess hall, I was able to set my own hours and so others were not happy about that. When I was stationed somewhere else I was able to do another mural for the Army. I did a total of 3 murals in different places I was stationed at.
Wow, that is quite a feat. What happened when you got out of the Army?
After the army I did odd jobs. I had a friend of mine, Ben Wright, he was my mentor at that time. He got me a gig doing a mural outside of what is now known as the Surf Club. I offered to do this mural for free because I was trying to get some exposure for myself as an artist. Well there was a disagreement regarding the payment for the installation of the panels and it did not work out. It stayed up unfinished but this was the piece of artwork that got me a commission to do a mural with La Pesca Restaurant that used to be downtown.
Wow, this reminds me of Michelangelo, was it hard to paint the ceiling?
(He nodded yes) I then asked him how long it took to complete. He stated about eight months.
He went on to talk about earlier times.
At 28 years old, I was diagnosed with Rhuemitoid Arthritis. It was a very difficult 10 years for me as I grew depressed over this. I was not seriously pursuing art at that time.
Then in 1994, it was the passing of my brother that pulled me out of depression to move forward with my art. It was a year after my brother passed away, I started painting again and my first painting was “From the depths and towards the light”, It was not actually of my brother but the painting was a lot about him.
That is amazing. Ok so who is your favorite artist?
Well I took art in high school. I really learned a lot from the masters, DaVinci, Michelangelo and others. Since I did not get formal education as in an art degree, everything I learned was from imitation. I feel fortunate to have so many friends who do have degrees in art and I have learned a lot from them. I see myself appreciating a more abstract form of art as I grow.
What types of art do you prefer?
I like all kinds of art. I remember when I was fourteen years old, I wanted to learn to paint with oil and I did that for a bit but I eventually went back to acrylics. This is a painting I did when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old.
How impressive, it looks just like a picture! Ok can you tell me what is your ‘method’ do you have a routine you follow when you start working on creating an art piece?
Here is it, Wake up, I have to have my coffee, take the dog for walk. Then I head over to my studio and work about 4-5 hours a day. There are times when I will listen to the same song over and over because it fits the mood I am in for that particular piece.
As far as mediums and supplies, there was a time when I did not have materials and so I went to the back of my studio and picked up a piece of wood and started working on it.
I had wondered how that came about using wood in the way you do.
Yes, I found it to be a good canvas to work on, I also like to add newspaper clippings to my artwork to have the piece say more what it is about. In the beginning I was using newspaper as just another material and then I realized I could use the text such as the headlines as another element to the piece to express more, what I wanted to say.
Can you give me an example?
This piece was inspired in 2008 from the Mortgage and Loan crisis that was going on back then. I actually did this in 2009. I remember this image flashed through my head and I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I got some models and I had my references, and then I used headlines in the newspapers as the skin of the figures.
At times I feel an obligation to myself to get these ideas out or to acknowledge what others are feeling. This piece fills in the gaps of the questions I feel were being asked about this situation.
Detail of Confounded by Jimmy Pena
I have to admit when I got a closer look at the piece and the detail with the words on the text, it moved me.
Can you tell us about one of your most favorite pieces of work or work you are most proud of?
I have been asked that question before, so I am going to tell you what I told them, the piece that I am working on is the one I am most proud of.
When did you first discover your creative talents?
Actually before I learned to write, I was drawing pictures.
Did you have a lot of crayons as a child?
No, didn’t like crayons too much, they were not sharp enough, not crisp enough.
What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
I have come to realize lately that a lot of what motivates me is what pisses me off. I guess you could say it is a form of therapy and there is usually something I feel needs to be said when I come up with a concept for a piece of art. I am finding that sometimes, nothing needs to be said as well.
Being an artist can be a challenge at tmes, who would you say has been a great source of support in your pursuit of a career in art?
The year after I got back from the ARMY, I met my future wife, Linda. She has encouraged and supported all of my efforts. We will be celebrating our 26th anniversary in October.
Oh that is wonderful! Well congratulations to both you and your wife.
How will you describe your style?
Hyper realism but I try to add a different element with what I am trying to say. I want to create art that is different.
I remember when I was in kindergarten, our teach wanted to hold an art contest. So she told everyone to draw a picture and at the end of the class we would all vote on who had the best picture. I looked around at my classmates and all the other kids were drawing those box style houses and a tree or windows and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to draw whatever everyone else is drawing. I want to be different.
So I took my pencil and started drawing circles and just doodle all over my page. When I realiezed I could see some recognizable shapes I used my colors to color them in. I saw a foot here and something else there. So that is what I did.
Then at the end of the class we were all called up in groups of 4 or 5 to stand in front of the class holding out our art. The teacher would hover her hand over our head and the rest of the class were instructed to clap to the degree that they liked the art piece. All the kids got some claps here and there, and then when the teacher put her hand over my head, everyone fell silent. (He laughed about it) I had no one clap for me but to this day I am still this way, I want to do something different and unique to me.
Any influences or anyone you look up to when it comes to designing?
I think of Picasso, I was not a big fan of his work at first but what I did like about him is that he would get bored and would venture out and try new mediums, new techniques, he was evolving all the time and I see myself going in that direction as well.
Tell me about Kspace, how did you get here?
It was the late 90’s and Kspace was already established. In 1990, one of the founder’s of Kspace, her name is Rachelle and I met during a commission I had with the Museum of Science and History. I was working on mural art piece there, and she was there. We became aquaintances. Then several years later, I received a phone call and it was Rachelle, she invited me to be a guest artist at the annual open house, a show they were having.
The night of the show, it was packed, probably about five hundred people. There was a woman trying to reach me during the show. She ended up offering to be my patron and pay for my studio space. I was flattered and took her up on it. I could not afford to rent the space back then so this helped a lot.
She eventually wanted to commission me to do a portrait of her and her husband, she was very specific to how she wanted it done. I would have done it for free because of her generosity but she insisted she wanted to pay me for it. So I worked on this portrait for three months. Well after I provided the portrait she stopped paying for the studio rental, I had to call her a couple of times to collect payment and well after that the relationship turned sour. I decided that I would figure out how to secure the studio rent from there on out and here I am. Regardless of all this, Kspace changed my life.
Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on?
It is titled “Worship this”. It has to do with our economy and the BP oil spills. I still remember when one of the spokesperson who was addressing the crisis on television he said, “and to all the little people, we are sorry.” Well that sounded to me exactly what this piece is about.
Detail on Worship This by Jimmy Pena
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
(He laughed to himself) then he said, “My friend Ben Wright and I were talking and I started telling him about this great idea I had for an art piece. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, don’t tell me about it, just DO it!”
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I am really interested in working with photography and sculptures that I am working on. Some of my pieces take a very long time to complete and I looking at other materials to create something unique but also consider the time it takes to create it.
Lastly, any words of advice for aspiring designers/artists?
Do it because you love it and be yourself. Stay humble. Competition is not always a great thing. Do what makes you happy.