Mere hours after hopping off a London-bound flight from Montreal, Puerto Rican animal-splicing artist Alexis Diaz got talking to VNA’s Jodie about how things are looking for his rapidly expanding career. Having made a splash in London’s Shoreditch area last year with his iconic Octophant, Alexis let us in on his upcoming plans for his current return visit and gave us an update on how things are shaping up in the street art scene of his home country.
JS: Hi Alexis, thanks for talking to us! It’s great to hear you are coming back to the UK again after your last piece was so well received! What are your plans this time?
Alexis: On the 12th of July I plan to paint a mural and a canvas or two in Bacon Street, Shoreditch, however at the moment I am still pretty undecided of exactly what it is going to be. I am thinking of creating a couple of idea sketches and posting them to my instagram, allowing people to vote on which one they want to be painted!
JS: Where did it all begin for you? What lead you to street art initially and who inspired you to get to where you are today?
Alexis: I began to work murals in 2010 under the name La Pandilla alongside my friend Jaun however two years ago we split to pursue our own interests. I have been drawing from a very young age but street art always caught my attention above traditional methods because I felt that traditional, paint-on-canvas style had its limitations. I could create a piece and have one person buy it, put it in their home and they’ll look at it, their family will look at it, even their friends might look at it, but in the end they will be the only people to see it. This wasn’t enough for me as I had always dreamed of creating art for all people to enjoy. I wanted to create art that was accessible and not linked to economic status; from the poorest to the richest. That’s what led me to work in the streets.
Alexis: At the time in Puerto Rico the street art scene was very limited, only really realized using typical spray cans, any other mediums were generally either completely missed or even frowned upon so I felt quite limited. This was until I began to experience works by Keith Haring who was a big inspiration and encouragement which finally me to step outside aerosol and begin to paint the street using other means. This allowed me to get comfortable within a style of my own and develop a personal technique.
JS: As you spoke about using personal techniques, what methods do actually use to create your works? And is there meaning behind your carefully considered combinations of completely different beings or are they aesthetically based?
Alexis: I work with small brushes and ink to create a mixture of realistic representation alongside a surrealist concept with bright backgrounds. The subject is always important to me as I create combinations of animals according to the ecosystem of the place I am working. I use local stories, feelings and my imagination and also evolution and impulses of the times to create a personalised response to wherever I am. It is a pretty exciting way of working and means that every place I go I produce something really individual.
JS: What is the street art scene in Puerto Rico like at the moment and where do you see it headed in the future?
Alexis: As of 2010 unfortunately the art scene has diminished. Some friends and I set ourselves the task of taking back some wall-space left by the decline in both art and economy in Puerto Rico, especially in neighbourhoods around the Santurce area. We began filling these abandoned spaces which began to kick-start local artists also.
By 2012 I had begun to travel with my work, visiting many different countries. During this time I saw how the rest of the world had developed and recognised the ways in which everywhere else street art had begun to embed itself as a huge part of artistic and social culture.
Alexis: I set out to create a festival of street art in Puerto Rico as I had seen be hugely successful elsewhere, calling in some international friends to help me plant the idea of street art as a seed and help it grown, encouraging an international focus and thus attract other artists to paint in Puerto Rico.
From this I created one of the first international urban art festivals, Los Muros Hablan which means The Walls Speak in Spanish. It has run for two years already and we have already had participation of incredible artists such as Connor Harrington, Roa, Da Least, Faith 47, Aryz, Jaz, Axel Void, Interesni Kazki, Inti and many, many more. We hold it in Santurce, where it all began for me. I use this festival as a chance to show gratitude to the neighbourhood which first gave me the opportunity to paint the streets, grow in skill and start the beginning of my career.
Puerto Rico has since grown to be an amazing outdoor gallery of street art, in my eyes one of the most important locations in the Caribbean for scene and free expression.
Alexis has since posted his two plans for the London mural up for vote on his instagram account. In sketch form he has drafted out two stunning possibilities and raised them for judgement. Do check them out and have your own say on your favourite before the winning design is painted on the 12th!