One of my greatest appreciations within the art world is the attainability of meeting your idols and establishing a relationship with them. Now, exactly what kind of relationship that is depends on the sincerity of your idol–sometimes egos may get in the way. Gratefully, for me, I have curated my inspirations and influences to consist of individuals that are full of creativity and whose ethical reasonings match their level of creativity. I believe that if you're able to reach out to your icons and demonstrate how they've influenced you, why not break that barrier? What's the worst that could happen, they ignore you and become your rival instead? Or they appreciate you and your work then years later you end up living with them in their home...oh
This is literally my life.
The year is 2010, when my high school senior art class consisted of simply finding images to redraw for a grade. And of course where do I turn for inspiration, Tumblr, duh. Back then if you woulda told me that a portrait I randomly found on Tumblr would belong to a solid connection of mine today, I wouldn't have believed it. Although its progressing, Tumblr continues to be a place where images are constantly stolen. Artists aren't properly tagged, making it difficult to trace the work back to its creator, let alone actually knowing if their page is updated with current contact information. Because of this, I was often reluctant to post my own work for fear of not being credited. We've all heard the stories when bad things happen to good people; so and so gets a full ride to university with a stolen portfolio, photographer loses a lawsuit over record company stealing her images, artist loses settlement over claiming edited copywritten material–granted, he deserved to lose! ---I just wasn't expecting much from Tumblr where I first found the work of Alexander Guerra, a queer photographer emphasizing in self-portraiture and the combination of alter egos with the male physique.
At first glance, I wasn't aware that they were self-portraits. Being the idiot that I am, I figured he just photographed the same model. The more I scrolled, the more I wondered, where is the photographer? But low-key was intrigued because of this ginger that was consuming all the images, I wasn't complaining but wanted to stay connected to the artist and follow the artistic journey of this bunny traveling around the world. I didn't learn that Alex was the photographer and the model until his feature in the Advocate a year later and instantly fled to Facebook to hopefully add him as a friend. Surprisingly, he accepted a few days later and the rest is history.
The most intriguing series of his to me, for several little coincidences, is Rabbit Regimen. It was shot during my birthday month, the asymmetry of the triangle on the mask has symbolic meaning to me as well as the overall canary yellow vibe matches my personal aesthetic, inside and out. The standout image that was my phone wallpaper for half of 2012 is of the Rabbit nonchalantly leaning against a seafoam colored building, coyly looking off into the mystic skies of Miami Beach.
What pulled me in was the masculinity of his body, of course, contrasted with the femininity of the bunny mask. What did this connection mean? Then I noticed the length of the key necklace and its journey to reach the navel, how it mimics the same line as his happy trail. While the key rests on his abs, my eyes trace his torso and appreciate the human form. Its tone, its patch of hair, its freckles and gradients–all are enticing. Then my attention pans to the environment around him and how the awning blocks most of the viewers perspective. Aside from a tarnished fence with alluring leaves in the background and the teal wall, I'm left curious about this rabbit's habitat which I'm sure relates to a regimen. Lastly, and most importantly is the mask, with its exposed stitching and complementary colors, what sparked the combination of these elements? The yellow feels inviting, but the harshness of the purple or black triangle across the left side adds a contemplative element of wonder. I remember my first thought about this image was, certainly, what's he thinking about behind that mask or is it a persona or emotion that didn't manifest itself until the mask was on? ---My curiosity with his masks and locations have given me a few unanswered questions, I hope to have an artist-to-artist interview with Alex during my time in Miami to finally resolve those.
So, as I made my way through university classes, slowly but surely honing my artistic skills, I often sent my sketches and illustrations of Alex to him. Why not? Social media put me in direct contact with my influences, why not reach out to him for a critique or his opinion when it was so accessible? That's pretty bold of me, I know, but I believe that mentality of seeking critique is the academic in me. Now, I cringe every time I look at my old work, and even his responses were tailored to not be too heavy-which I greatly appreciated. It was enough to keep me motivated but also forced me to rely on myself to push my work away from tracing portraits or find an appropriate concept besides attraction.
Northern Lights Digital Portraits: 2013 vs 2018
Fast forward to 2017, to the third year of Art Gaysel where I finally got to meet the Rabbit! After following the progression of Hotel Gaythering since its construction stage; when the uber dropped me off, I took a moment to just look at the building and appreciate its existence. All my life I've longed for a community where I felt like I belonged. I felt it briefly four years ago in Barcelona, but not like this. Seeing this place in front of me filled my heart with so much love, a permanent smile was embedded on my face as I walked up to the front door that proudly exudes inclusion literally on its walls. I went to the front desk and was instructed that Alex was around the corner. As I made my way to the hotel library, he was helping Derick, another Black, queer artist, hang up his installation. I sat my things down and wanted to help immediately. Releasing we needed more tools, Alex told me to follow him upstairs to get them and to show me to my room. We head for the front door which is opposite the bar where a drunk guest is being obnoxiously loud and rude. He notices my headwrap, points at me and yells, "Hey look, it's Aunt Jemima." Alex and I look at each other...awkwardly laugh to the elevator. Finally able to greet and hug him, he takes my bags and apologizes for that guest's behavior. Great. That bitch tainted our moment! Now when we reminisce on the first time we met, we're haunted with that waste-of-space comment about my headwrap-mind you, it didn't even resemble Aunt Jemima's. But the next day, you best believe I went and bought some vintage kitchen plaid fabric and wore that shit proudly. You wanna call me out my name and expect me not to own it? Please.
Fast forward a little more to today, I've finished graduate school and journeyed to Miami, now working at the place that gave me so much joy last year. While also living at Alex's home with him and his husband while I get on my feet. I often wonder what would have happened if Alex hadn't accepted that friend request back then? I'm for sure certain I wouldn't be here right now. Grateful isn't big enough to match what I'm feeling, I'm in complete awe of his and Stephan's generosity. Truly, my heart is so full.