Interview with Luis F. Romero: Drawing Spaces, Finding Places

Luis F. Romero was born in Mexico, grew up in Puerto Rico, and is currently living in Chicago. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has since shown his work internationally. Using his own paper-and-found-object architectural design, Romero builds multi-layered collages, swirling 3-D structures, and op art creations.

Luis Romero Image 69
Courtesy of the artist

ArtStyle: When you talk about your work, you refer to your pieces as drawings created with interior spaces. Could you elaborate on your use of space and what it means to make a drawing?

Luis Romero (LR): I've always been interested in drawings as objects and their physical presence. At first I was particularly interested in irregular paper and its sculptural qualities — the way it interacted with the imaginary space of the drawings. At some point during grad school or perhaps a bit earlier, I was drawing on found objects and making marks follow the object so that the object became a drawing of itself. One of the things that interested me was how these “object-drawings” had a space into which you could see — a sort of privileged space. This evolved eventually into working with layers of paper, which allowed me to do drawings that grew organically and expanded. In other drawings, what interested me was using the layers of paper to break up the image and to suggest an interior space that is not visible. The impulse all these projects have in common is a desire to make drawings that become places.

ArtStyle: You seem obsessed with mark making or doodling with a black marker. Could you describe these marks?

Luis Romero Image 19
Courtesy of the artist

LR: Well, these marks are very much related to writing. Writing depends on a system with its own logic, and that was very useful to me. Writing also gave me a sense of specificity that I liked. It didn't feel arbitrary but necessary. Writing can also exist on the surface, not inside the imaginary space. It can grow organically, and everywhere the letter exists can be the center.

ArtStyle: What do these marks mean to you and how do you want the viewer to see them?

LR: It depends. I've used these marks in so many ways in the past — to camouflage found objects, to make the reading of the object difficult. In the works where the object becomes a drawing of itself, I used the marks to emphasize the object and to make the object more artificial and more “real” at the same time. It made the object intelligible, like a word. I have also done works where the marks create a sort of optical illusion. In all these projects, the marks seem to destroy or re-shape the object.

ArtStyle: In these tiny collaged objects, it looks like you are using scraps of paper and trash that could have been found on the sidewalk. Where do you get your material?

Luis Romero Image 09
Courtesy of the artist

LR: From the sidewalk, from my work place, and from the art store — wherever I find something that I like. I want to say that I'm only using things I find in my environment, my daily life, and that is true, but I do have to admit that I prefer found trash because it’s raunchier.

ArtStyle: They are reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters‘ work. Do you like his work?

LR: I do like Kurt Schwitters, but I can't honestly say that I've been interested in his work the way I've been with other artists whose work has obsessed me at some point. The pieces you are talking about evolved out of work that I was doing after seeing a particular piece by Paul McCarthy in which he used paint to deform an object. It felt very shamanistic. After I had been working on this type of piece for a while, I remembered that old story about Joseph Albers making Rauschenberg go out into the street and look for trash to see how color occurs in different materials. That anecdote must have been in the back of my mind because these pieces came about, in part, because I found that it was easier for me to work with color as found material. I was reading Giacometti‘s biography when I first started thinking about these pieces. Hirsch Perlman's photographs also led me in this direction.

ArtStyle: How do you see your work today with all the contemporary art around us?

LR: What I do is very personal and it has its own justification. Of course I am interested in what other artists are doing. But contemporary art is just a part of what interests me. If I had to place myself, I would say that I do feel something of a kinship with contemporary artists working with the abject in art or with the “melodrama of vulgarity” as De Kooning called it. But at the same time I feel we live in parallel universes. I tend to prefer artists who are in the periphery of art without being outsiders. Their work feels like a refutation.

Luis Romero Image 07
Courtesy of the artist

ArtStyle: As individual pieces with ripped, torn, bent, and stapled pieces of paper, the composition seems monumental. Why do you create them so small that they can fit in the palm of your hand?

LR: Well because these little pieces are meant to have super concentrated power; they need to be small. The more concentrated, the more powerful they feel. It's like a fetish. They need to fit into a hand so that they can be touched and manipulated. At that size, they remain intensely cerebral. Other more recent pieces, also small, use paint more freely.

ArtStyle: You make these relief pieces with stacks of papers and different textures. Are they meant to be viewed as books?

LR: Yes, among other things. They have a linearity but also have space. I mean to say that your eyes are not meant to read sideways, but the progression is towards the interior of the drawing. The image does not exist on a single surface but is an intellectual construct. They are very much related to Op Art.

Luis Romero Image 06
Courtesy of the artist
Luis Romero Image 37
Courtesy of the artist

ArtStyle: Where do you get your source material for your art? What is your inspiration?

LR: Ideas come through play, I guess, through interaction with the materials. I am very intrigued by the notion that you think through the materials in the same way you think through words. In writing, for example, you may start with a clear idea but once you deal with words, the words themselves take you places you don't expect. So it's not about revealing something to yourself but about the relation with the material, or about finding yourself in the material, projecting yourself into the world.

Luis Romero can be contacted at:

For more of Luis Romero's artwork, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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