1. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Rafael Navarro; I was born and raised in Mexico City. I’m a visual artist based in Downtown Phoenix. I migrated to the US in 1989, I’m the oldest of five children, but all of them live happily in Mexico City. I’m the curious one in the family, I guess, the one that wanted to know what’s on the other side of the border.
I paint and make sculptures depending on the space available to work; when my work space is limited I have to hold back in three-dimensional work, I dislike the internal, and external limitations, but you have to make it work with what you have.
I have worked in almost every media; I like to experiment with different materials and subjects. I have worked on ceramics, printmaking, steel, copper, paper, silver, wood, and found objects. Many times I tend to add three-dimensional elements to my paintings. Many of my pieces have a surrealistic touch. I work on many different things. I tend to switch between themes and materials to keep my mind stimulated. Many of my pieces are related to music, the cycle of life, and iconic landmarks.
2. How did you get your start?
I have been making art ever since I was a child. I always felt the need to make things with my hands. Growing up my favorite toy was modeling clay. My mother has always been my best supporter whose sacrifices bought me my first modeling clay, my first paint set, my first color pencils. My father has the talent for making quick sketches, but he always had to work hard his whole life without the opportunity to develop this talent. When I migrated to the US 25 years ago, I saw the possibilities, so even when I hardly spoke any English, I signed up for an art class at SCC. From then on I was hooked, I continued taking art classes every time I had a chance.
Paper maché has a long tradition in Mexico. I started making paper maché sculptures for Dia de los Muertos here in the US, at
that time I had difficulty finding a gallery in Phoenix that would show them, but a small gallery in Tucson, Arizona – Jose Galvez Photography and Gallery – took them, and sold most of them. That was my first experience with galleries. My good friend, photographer John Holechek, was the first person that encouraged me and helped me on making my first portfolio by photographing all my artwork. I’m eternally grateful for that. Later on I challenged myself by taking on other mediums and subjects. I was like a sponge, always eager to learn new methods, and processes, always experimenting with new materials. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been very satisfactory.
3. What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from many places: other artists, music, my childhood memories, my cultural heritage, and my environment. I keep my senses open and my brain creates images from all that stimuli. As a child I remember watching a documentary on René Magritte, it made a great impression in my young mind. I also remember as a child spending long chunks of time in the numerous museums of Mexico City.
In the last few years, Chuck Close has been a great inspiration. He says, “Inspiration is for amateurs, for the rest of us we just have to show up and do the work… every great idea I’ve had grew out of work itself.” This is something I totally agree, I have lived it, I think about this everyday, and I try to live by it. I recommend anyone to watch a short video called “Letter to my Young Self” by Chuck Close. [watch here]
4. What do you like about AZ?
I love the mild winters here and the fact that I don’t have to worry about tornadoes, flooding, snowstorms, earthquakes, and all that kind of stuff, we only have to deal with the unkind heat. I like Phoenix because it’s very much a blank canvas with many possibilities. Sure it is not perfect, but no place is. I like the people, especially the numerous supportive friends I have made here, and I love all of them. My first memories of coming to Arizona are the blue sky, and the orange blossom smell; I think this is why you will find that blue sky in many of my paintings.
5. Where can we see you(r) work?
I share an art studio with my artist friends Abbey Messmer, and Joe Brklacich at The Lodge Art Studio on Grand Avenue and McKinley, in Downtown Phoenix, and we’re open to the public during every First Friday’s art walk. Please come visit.
6. What would you like to accomplish before you die?
I’m always open to learn new things. Travel offers the opportunity to learn about other cultures, languages, customs, currently I’m planning a trip to Italy right now to visit, and take a marble carving class. I would like to keep creating artwork until my last day.
7. What is your mantra?
Besides the advise from Chuck Close about inspiration and work, I think holding on to your dreams is very important. Never give up, be consistent, and take steps to reach those dreams. Another important thing is to be kind to yourself, and to others.
I still own a paper mache Dia de las Muertos sculpture of a skeletal paper boy made by Mr. Navarro in 1996. I purchased it from the small gallery on 4th Ave. in Tucson. I have moved several times since buying it, and it has survived many near disasters. It is a bit worse for wear, but it remains one of my favorite pieces outside of my collection of works by my son Jesse Berlin