Self-Taught Artist Ricardo Paniagua Creates Art on Assignment

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For Ricardo Paniagua, the canvas is sculpture and his sculpture is a canvas. He uses vivid colors to reconfigure recognizable shapes, suggesting interests in geometry and psychedelia, and to talk to Paniagua is to talk to someone inspired. His self-taught artistry and varied creative outputs are what he considers "assignments" from somewhere otherworldly, somewhere spiritual. If his art is transcendent, he can only take credit for the execution, not the idea.

"In my dreams, it's like someone is giving me instructions on how to paint something," Paniagua says. "Then I wake up and I have to make it. Right now, I'm backlogged on paintings I need to make."

For the last 10 years, Paniagua has been creating a body of work, working quietly in his studio day after day -- although it might be incongruous to describe anything he does as quiet. When Paniagua walks into the room you notice him; if you're friends with him on Facebook, he will occupy your newsfeed. He says what he wants in his own distinct way. And when the Latino Cultural Center invited him for a solo exhibition July 11 through August 30, there was something strangely apt about labeling it a "retrospective" -- in spite of his status lying somewhere between emerging and mid-career artist. At 32 years old, Paniagua still has something to prove, but he's ready to show off his mettle -- not just in his painting either, but in his life.

"I've been painting seriously for a decade," Paniagua says. "And now things are shifting. I feel like the universe is telling me it's time to make a few changes."

Paniagua had just learned that he'll be moving at the end of June. After several years making a home in the Continental Gin Lofts in a live/work studio space, the landlord is raising the rent, which is forcing quite a few of the longtime artists out of the space. For Paniagua, this marks the beginning of a transformative "hustle" period of his life.

"This is my breakout year," he says. "I'm thinking maybe I'll move to Mexico City or maybe I'll go live at The Bridge and teach homeless people how to make art. I'm not sure yet, but I have a good feeling about what comes next."

What for another man might seem like misguided self-confidence follows a pattern for Paniagua, who crafted a career in bold defiance to the path of graduate programs or traditional visual arts training. He doesn't hold an MFA in painting; in fact, he never finished high school. His childhood was spent ricocheting across Texas and California, occasionally living amidst gang culture.

"It was crazy and there are things I'm not sure I want to put out into the world," he says. "I don't want to be an artist like [Jean-Michel] Basquiat who capitalized on his poverty. I want people to know me for my work."

Certainly, Paniagua's work is getting out there with recent exhibitions in places as disparate as Houston and Zürich. And it's been well-received across the globe, making this exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center overdue.

Ricardo Paniagua - Retrospective: 2004- 2014 covers the artist's scope of work and presents many never before seen large-scale pieces, ranging from an early project with billboard canvases to his final works made in his Continental Gin studio.

"My art is getting out into the world in ways I'm really happy with, but it can be difficult for a working artist to get recognized in Dallas," he says. "Gallery shows can sometimes be an insider's club for MFA artists. I think this show at the LCC will be a game changer."

That Paniagua would face the loss of his home and his biggest show to date within the same month seems fitting for an artist who built his career on an unstable foundation. But the future doesn't look dubious in his eyes, because he has paintings to create.

"When I have time, I can see my next piece in my mind," Paniagua says. "It's this beautiful blue with gold laced through it. I need to make it. I can't not make it."

See Ricardo Paniagua - Retrospective: 2004- 2014 at the Latino Cultural Center (2600 Live Oak) from July 11- August 30.

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