Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the whos and whys.
Arthur Peña is more than just an artist, although that's how he would identify himself. This Oak Cliff native is on a mission to transform the way Dallas looks at art, one attempt at a time.
Peña's paintings, which he calls "Attempts," are an ongoing conversation between the artist and the art. "Each Attempt is me calling painting and it never picking up," Peña told Arts + Culture Texas. "At a very base level, the Attempt speaks to the anxieties of the human condition, of never getting an answer."
In a way, Peña's work to revitalize West Dallas is a continuation of this conversation. Only in this case, the community is answering the call. As the founder of Ware:Wolf:Haus and new music venue Vice Palace, as well as the co-founder of Deadbolt Studios, Peña is building on the progress that has already been made in nearby Trinity Groves.
Peña's work pushes the boundaries of what we consider a painting to be. Using everything from dried-up bugs to his own bedding in his "Attempts," he's challenging traditional aesthetics and is one of the most forward-thinking painters in this city. There's something playful about his experimental approach and it's turning heads both locally, and nationally, as Peña recently exhibited at This Friday or Next Friday in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Our hats are off to Peña, not only for his creativity, but for his commitment to pushing the Dallas art scene to a new level. Peña still has a long way to go and that excites him. We picked his brain on what he thinks remains to be done and what makes the Dallas scene prime real estate for experimentation and creativity.
When did you first think about becoming an artist? My mother will tell a story of a 5-year-old me watching her paint. Apparently she left and told me not to touch her work. When she returned I had pushed my hand in her oils and pressed it against the canvas and said "I made it better." A few years later in school I went on a field trip to the (Dallas Museum of Art) and saw a Rothko painting that completely tore my little self to pieces and I didn't know why. That stuck with me. In my teens I started to ride the bus to the (Dallas Museum of Art) every day one summer. And I mean every damn day it was open.
When did it stick? I remember seeing a cubist still life by Picasso and knowing that he was important and trying to figure out why. I would just look at these paintings and think about who painted them and how these people were different from me. I realized in my teens that they weren't different from me just focused, obsessed even. That's the seed for whenever I decided to just start painting. And honestly I don't know what else I'm good for.
What motivates your desire to create? My fear of death. Everyone I've ever loved. Those who broke my heart. An aching for those I have hurt. All the painters that are doing things I think I can't do. A nagging, addictive personality. I have tons of anxiety and I see my work resting in that realm. My attempt paintings don't usually take long to finish and that is due to the almost manic work ethic while they are being made. There is urgency in them and that urgency comes from the unease of the absolute unknown just around the corner.
What do you plan on doing next? Make more paintings. Get back into writing and interview more artists. make plans with my friends to further turn Dallas into what we think it should be. Focus on the second iteration of the band in residence program that I initiated out of my space Ware:Wolf:Haus, as well as work on booking rad shows at my other venue Vice Palace.
What is the hardest part of being an artist and a venue manager? I didn't realize before how much planning this whole thing takes. There is a small part of me that thought that things would just happen. You make good work and eventually it will get out there. Although I still think that is partially true there are a lot of moves that need to be made. That could be finding the people you think are interesting and talking to them, following up on a meeting and sometimes just down right planning a full frontal assault on the culture of this city. plans are a big part of what it takes to stay relevant and I really enjoy thinking about what is coming up next and going after what I want.
What do you enjoy about being a part of the Dallas art scene?
First and foremost everyone involved in this community supports in some way. It's different for everyone, but I think we all care. Yes, some more than others, but I'll take that over a totally apathetic community. I think there is room here to do what you want and make this city into whatever you want. Right now is a time where people are listening. An artist can really consider their role in Dallas and there are not many chances in an artist's career where they can have control over how things play out for them.
We all know that Dallas is having unprecedented national exposure for its artists and that is exciting but also it doesn't mean that we should rest on our laurels. This isn't going to last forever and that's OK, but we need to all recognize that although it may not sustain, there is an incredible opportunity to make a mark on the history that is being written right now. I think we are all working with that mentality, not taking it for granted and really making a collective effort to raise the bar.
What do you think could be better about being a part of the Dallas art scene?
It's a learning curve, that's the real problem. The general public and even some of those who are directly involved in the art scene are still not used to having so many choices. It's gonna take time for people to learn how to navigate the city and its galleries and events. It takes planning to figure out where you should spend your time. I would just ask that everyone go to shows and that means going to the ones that you may not necessarily think you will like. Go see something that bores you, that scares you or something that you absolutely love. Whatever. Just get out and support this city because Dallas is full of people who are busting their asses to make this a rad place. Beyond that, talk about what you saw with your friends or the people you went with. There is a strange sense of southern politeness that can suppress honest discussion of art. It's not taboo to say you didn't find something interesting or to have a heated discussion about something you disagree with in the gallery. We need to discuss what we think about our visual culture and as a community we need to encourage each other to do so.
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What was your latest success in your career as an artist?
I'm not trying to be facetious, but I have to say it was being in the studio earlier today. So much about being an artist is simple: show up and get to work. A million things can stop you from doing that. I am grateful that I get to do what I do. If that's not success I don't know what is.
See Peña's latest attempts at Barry Whistler Gallery from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, as part of a group exhibition, One Night Stand.