Artist of the Week

Juan Neira

December 9, 2019

Juan Neira was born in Bogota, Colombia in the year 1992. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019. Neira currently lives and works in Chicago, IL.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

My name is Juan Neira. I am an artist who works with fiber in a sculptural form.  My practice focuses on the failure of language to express complex emotions. As a maker, I think of creating objects whose existence questions the way we understand language. I constantly think of ways to create objects that exist within opposite qualities: soft objects that look sturdy or stagnated bodies that bathe themself in movement.

As a sculptor, how do you begin to think about installing your work?

When it comes to installing my work, I think about how objects can have a proactive state. By slightly raising a piece from the floor or tilting it against a wall, the art object begins to partake in an action. It no longer simply exists, it is an active body. It starts taking up space, not only physically but visually.

Juan Neira, “Verses”, 2018.

Juan Neira, “Verses”, 2018.

What materials do you use and why?

I primarily use fabrics and concrete mixtures. I love the unseen tension of textiles. Fabrics come to life as a result of forcing threads to bond with each other. In fact, I consider it a process of hostility. Hundreds of threads partake in an act of soft violence to exist as a single object. But even as they are tied down and tensed up, the nature of fabrics is of a smooth and fluid object. It is easy to manipulate but it’s difficult for it to stay in a permanent shape. This is where I add multiple bonding agents to the fabrics to harden them up and keep a sturdy shape.

How has it been living and working in Chicago for the past (almost) 3 years?

I originally came here to get my MFA at the School of the Art Institue of Chicago. Soon after arriving to this city, I realized that this was the place I wanted to call home. I have a great studio in Humboldt Park and I have been able to successfully balance my studio time and personal life. Chicago is truly an amazing city for working artist.

Juan Neira, “Patch Me Up”, 2018.

What significance does the color black play in your work?

The way that black reflects and absorbs light is what brings me to predominantly use it. While the artwork uses the same black pigmentation to paint all of it, every different fabric absorbs the pigmentation in different ways depending on its qualities. The consistency and thickness of different fabrics will make the same pigment have a slightly different hue. This process mutes the individual colors of the textile pieces while highlighting their different textures. This gives me the possibility of creating bodies that exist as a singular unit, yet are recognizable as the result of smaller pieces.

Can you talk about the relationship between weight and emptiness in your work?

In my last body of work “Because I Lack The Specific Language to Express This Weight” I focused on the state of my mental health which has always had a lingering feeling of emptiness. Oddly enough, one experiences an overwhelming weight while being in a state of emptiness. How is that one can feel completely overwhelmed while existing in the rawness of desolation? The journey of deciphering emptiness as a human experience has left me with the ungraspable obscurity of its identity; a condition that we all share yet cannot concretely articulate. Realizing this has pushed me into creating bodies that seduce the viewer into seeing them as artifacts of the concealed. Opulent and tragic monuments that commemorate this feeling that we cannot express with words.

Juan Neira, “Because I Lack The Specific Language to Express This Weight”, 2019.

What’s your studio or workspace like?

I actually just moved to a new space! It is full of my work and the different textiles that I sort. I think the most interesting part of it, is the wall that is covered with the big panels I have worked on. It looks as if you had zoomed into the drapery of a baroque painting. It is in Humboldt Park, and anyone is welcome to visit me!

How has your work or perspective as an artist changed over the years?

My biggest change in art came from becoming an art educator. I have worked with museums in the areas of Interpretations and Learning and Public Engagement. Which led me to learn the importance of clear language in the art world. There is a lot of work out there that exists in a bubble of art lingo that does not reach or benefit anyone. I have become really critical of that type of work or spaces.

Juan Neira, “It Lingers”, 2019.

Who are some of your favorite artists or designers?

My favorite artist is Felix Gonzales Torres. The way he wrote about his work and how vulnerable he was about it, it’s breathtaking. No matter how many times I have seen his work, every single time I feel my heart melting. I am also a huge fan of Lee Bontecou’s work and I am obsessed with Artemisia Gentileschi’s work “Judith Slaying Holofernes”

What are you working on now? Any major changes or developments in the studio?

I just finished a body of work that will be shown in Miami during Art Basel week, really excited about it. In this work, I have gathered different textiles and hardened them through a new chemical mixture that makes it capable to hold heavier fabrics such as burlap.

Juan Neira, “No Memorial for the Martyr”, 2018.