Carlos Betancourt I stumbled upon Carlos Betancourt when visiting the booth of Ruiz-Healy Art at the Dallas Art Fair . After talking to the owner and director Patricia Ruiz-Healy, she told me that the artist that created the artwork I kept looking at was present at the fair. I got to interview him the next day. Carlos Betancourt is a Puerto Rican artist living and working in Miami. Betancourt is a gifted photographer; he possesses an exceptional skill to arrange colors to conform a perfect fusion. Betancourt’s imagination goes beyond any boundaries with a persistent order that arranges its characters in stark positions to create harmony, sometimes from total chaos. He assembles and juxtaposes an infinite number of objects creating a flashy but perfectly harmonious work of art. Plus, he is a really cool guy to talk to.
Carlos Betancourt: “Look at this chair!… I’ve never met him and I would love to share with him one day.”
(Betancourt talking about the similarities between his work and Michael Craig Martin’s).
Laura Cunningham: So were you influenced by him or was it pure coincidence?
CB: No, these are some things that I was influenced by prior and then I see Michael Craig Martin’s recent works and there are parallels, it’s fascinating, when things like these happen between artists. I would love to share with him one day. I haven’t met him I just know his works through the years; I would like to introduce myself and tell him that he is really influential on my work. I think one of the most important things is being influential to others. I hope he takes it like that. I’ve heard he is a great guy.
LC: How were you introduced to painting?
CB: Painting, I think is the natural progression. It’s a 5k thing if you’re going to be an artist and that’s how it started since I was a little kid painting. My goals were architecture and design for many years. I always wanted to leave painting aside being a visual artist but I was helpless against what you know is your destiny. So I painted for many years went to art school got my degree in design, never stopped painting aside and all the progressions down to photography. I work in many disciplines: performance arts, installations, sculptures, and a lot of 3 dimensional works but always with a similar language that keeps on growing, I like to say I keep on adding pages to the book, chapters, there are a lot of parallels between my paintings and my photography too.
LC: So besides Craig Martin who else influences your works?
CB: At different times, different people from Cindy Sherman, The architects are very important to me like Morris Lapidus. I just had a solo show in Miami called “Lapidus Infinitus” after Morris Lapidus. Jeff Koons’ big time, the simplicity of thought and yet totally complex, he welcomes all things kitsch which I do. Damien Hirst has an influence in every contemporary artist. I like a lot of artists that have to do with my work. I have a great collection of contemporary art.
LC: Do you have a favorite?
CB: Consistently favorite I have to say Jeff Koons but from the big ones mhh… all I have from Michael Craig Martin is a signed catalogue! (He laughs out loud). I love Peter Beard, I love his photography, very eclectic but Lapidus always surfaces, you see him in my work even photos of him. I do a lot of reference to the artists that have influenced me or architects, pop cultures, figures. So if you see (looking at one of his works) I do have a direct connection with artists that influence me.
LC: Artists complain about lack of freedom when working with commissioned work. Do you work differently with a commissioned work?
CB: With commission work I collaborate with Alberto Latorre which is an architect I know from many years, so by its nature I’m already collaborating with someone else. It’s really hard to get these commission works if you don’t have a team. Alberto thinks parallel to me and has very similar approaches maybe more minimalist than me. In commissions you compromise more. You are working with a team, you are working with someone that has set you some boundaries and I have no problem with that. I enjoy the challenge of limiting myself. I always say as an artist you have so much freedom and the ultimate expression of freedom is being an artist. You can wake up and be whatever you want and contradict yourself the next day if you want to, really, and it’s ok. So you do have to work with certain boundaries to really create your voice and your language at the same time.
LC: What are these boundaries specifically?
CB: I think they are more physical than poetic, they are site specific. I think the artist no matter what, wants to get his true identity across and he will fight for that but you can’t compromise with composition, skill, materials, and if they don’t have a big impact on your concept, if you are working with conceptual art, if the material is significant then you cannot change it, you compromise with something else. When you are working freely in your studio in comparison, you put your own boundaries too, at least I do. Once I reach a plateau that I like, I don’t want to spill all over it because for an artist is the entire world, your food, your fuel! And there is so much beauty out there, so much to get moved by, you have to choose. This moves me more than anything else and I stick a lot with kitsch, the elements of kitsch. I always try to focus on the artists that move me and if you want to, they’re relevant to their times. For me pop culture is a constant source that keeps on cleansing itself and renewing itself. On day is Black Eyed peas then is the Lady GaGa, I love it.
Re-Collecions VIII Autumn 2008
Print on fine art paper 72″ x 72″
LC: Your colors are so powerful, where do they come from?
CB: I think a lot in composition first, like many artists. I think in color that’s very abstract so I can look at my work in two different ways, the figurative and conception and the composition as art for art sake, these colors work for me. There is this abstraction in front that speaks to me. There are many sources, but some people being raised in the Caribbean with such bright light and colors; but you know Warhol was not raised in the Caribbean or Michael Craig either, so it’s about composition, it’s about being an artist, it’s about making the colors work for you, I think that’s a very intricate part of my work and I’m glad that you asked me because most people just go directly to the subject matter.
LC: What would you like for people to see on your artworks?
CB: It’s difficult because it is abstraction, is what works for your mind. I always say that being a visual artist is in a visual context. If I knew what I was saying in text, I would be writing books, essays. It works in a visual level for me and when I have an idea, a goal, a direction, the idea comes visually. I have to execute it no matter what, I don’t know its meaning but when I have the idea visually, many times I can put words in it. Many artists can’t, we play a lot with the idea of giving verbal explanations or reading essays, we leave that for you and other people. I think strictly visual. When someone comes to me and tries to talk to me I say: “draw it for me and then I will understand it”. My brain is wired like that. Color is like that.
-Betancourt shows me this powerful work below called “The Last Supper”.
“The Last Supper” This for me is a color composition; this is what the brain does. You see the reference of Damian Hirst, there is Jeff Koons. This has a direct theme, it’s figurative it’s called “The Last Supper” but for me is about color composition more than anything. I selected each item in here from her clothes to her blouse, to her dress and I think it is successful in a subconscious level because of the placement of the color. So it’s in a level of abstract, I love the mystery in my work. I don’t really look for answers but for questions. I’m impressed when I see Michael Craig’s work and you see the same objects of reference and, I don’t know the answer and I don’t think he does either and I love that connection, it is visual, is like “oh, he understands! He understands why I love this chair and why I use it… understanding without words.” All these things happened one day on a sketch, all thrown. I know what character will play each thing. I call these people and tell them “Today, you will be holding a pigeon … do you have allergies or a problem with holding a pigeon?” (He laughs).
-Most of Betancourt’s artworks are very powerful either in color or in subject. This particular work shows many different objects, some held by people, or should I say “characters”. There are catholic candles, pre-Colombian works from his personal collection; ofrendas done with cakes; there is the Guggenheim; there is Audrey Hepburn, the elements: air, fire, earth; there are flowers, bananas, crystals you name it. You can examine one of these artworks for a long time and discover endless subjects that spark your imagination. You may visit www.ruizhealyart.com to learn more about Carlos Betancourt.