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Jay Berrones

Jay Berrones

photo by Mercy McNab
photo by Mercy McNab

Whether in some delicious new cuisine or conceptualized in imagery sliced up on paper, collage artist Jay Berrones knows how to mix together the right ingredients to stimulate your artistic palate. The graphic compilation of vintage imagery creates a modern perspective eternalized by a commentary into the mind of this Houston native’s art.

ELEVEN: What got you interested in art?

Jay Berrones: I’ve played music forever, it has always been a form of expression for me, my uncle always played guitar and we always played together. I grew up on the blues, country, Tejano and all kinds of different music. There was also always skateboarding and drawing as a form of expression. Growing up in Houston, there is a lot of graffiti so I also tried to get into that but it never stuck with me. All the stuff that I have been doing lately is a reflection of feeling frustrated with feeling like I am not fully accomplishing an expression through music or skating, and it lead to collage. A lot of kids like myself, didn’t really get too encouraged to make or pursue art, especially not in South Texas, because the focus is on getting a job, married, having kids and a family. Making my art felt like more like a civic duty, to show people that if you have the gift, or are able to get lost into something beautiful to not be afraid to do that.

11: What made you choose collage work?

JB: My girlfriend stabbed herself with an x-acto knife one day when she was cleaning and rather than paying mind to the fact that she had hurt herself I just got really excited that I found an x-acto knife. If it never happened I would have never stumbled into collage. I had done collage here and there in the past so at first it felt nostalgic and then it turned from just silly images into an OCD kind of cutting things out. As I made more and more compilations, the images that I selected seemed to start to talk to each other and form their own dialogue, almost as if I had nothing to do with it. Then it started to come together as this sort of divine poetry that was happening and it became nice to be able to execute an idea immediately and graphically.

11: What is the selective process that you use to find images?

JB: It changes a lot, at first it was only about what striking images I could find and how they came together. More recently I’ve become interested in magazine layout and the history of magazines. I am really into Life Magazine and the history of magazine publishing being more ephemeral than it is today. Certain magazines have a different feel, reminiscent of different decades. I am really into the history and how intensely talented the people were in the ’50s making photo-journal magazines with photo presses, etc. These are the magazines that I have been collecting as of late, and getting back in touch with the grassroots magazine feel.

11: Is there any common message or theme underlying the final products that you create? Some of it seems to speak a lot to qualms with technology.

JB: It’s always been about ridiculing reality. A lot of collage tends to be surreal, similar to the Dada movement. Being able to put images together that are so far on a spectrum from each other is kind of like being able to reach into what is inside of the artist’s head. A lot of technology is a symbol for today’s day and age: TVs, typewriters, phones, anything machine like, which offers me a chance to utilize images of these objects as a symbol of where our generation is headed with technology. In general I think my perspective is that through technology we are heading away from each other, which is kind of scary.

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11: How has being a chef helped you in your artistic expression?

JB: Food is a basic fucking need; you have to eat. The most basic and intriguing part of cooking food is the communal aspect. I am not interested in being able to stroke my ego about how good, cool or advanced my food ever was, but I learned how to manipulate ingredients to help to bring people to a table. I learned knife skills through cooking, but also how to make people smile, I never felt like a Picasso but I was able to facilitate making people feel happy. I think that is the best part about collage in general, the images are stark graphic and you can be immediately drawn to how profound images can be in juxtaposition to each other. There was a show that I did in Seattle, and people’s faces where just stuck like magnets to the collages, people gravitated easily towards having a conversation with each other as a response to what they were seeing. If a piece of art on the wall or putting a meal in front of somebody can have that effect of starting a conversation amongst people, then mission accomplished.

11: What inspires you to make art?

JB: Confusion, and a lot of ADD as well. I draw a lot of inspiration from not having complete thoughts ever, and so each little image I cut out represents its own thought. By the end, if it comes together then it’s like I am making sense of the thoughts in my head. I am influenced by work ethic and the manner that people go and attack the things that seem challenging. One of my biggest influences that inspired me to be me and not worry about shit around me is Mark Gonzales, an old school skater that still skates really hard and still does off the wall weird shit. It’s inspiring to see somebody that doesn’t have to fall into the routine of the world around them because that is hard to do. My lady is also a very incredible influence, sometimes I make too many excuses and she makes none, she is a photographer.

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images used Courtesy of Harry Smith Archives

11: How do you think that being from Houston has influenced your artistic perspective?

JB: I am pretty proud to say that I am from Texas. I have been to San Francisco and I have been around hard working artistic people, and it is cool to be able to gain some inspiration from that. Rather than make my art define me though, I also always crave to be able to be just a dude who just wants to eat some good food and hang out. Houston is a huge city, seven million people, and it’s also a huge ambassador of people who are just easy going and don’t fuss about much. It’s an extremely humble town, but people also have to hustle really hard. I like to make sure that at the end of the day I am still just being me, that’s what Houston people are all about. We don’t have any grandeur about being in the New York Times or anything like that.

We’re just a bunch of blue collar weirdos. I realize it’s not a destination or somewhere that people may consider to be beautiful, but if you know what to look for I think it’s also one of the most beautiful places. It’s filled with blue collar people that want and have the time and luxury of finding still somewhat cheap places to live and to express themselves. It comes out in a really cool way because it’s one of the most diverse places of this country with representations from every kind of culture and we don’t shy away from each other. The byproduct of that is insanely beautiful art, that looks and feels and tastes like a Mexican that lives right next to a Chinese person who lives next to a Jewish person, who all live in a black neighborhood. That was my upbringing, and so I try to exude that through my art. I realize that there is not that much of a boundary from one person to the next. If you don’t travel, your next best option is to look at art, because you get to get a taste of how people live and struggle. People should all express themselves so that another demographic could look at their work and gain perspective and understanding about their experience.

11: Any new shows or events coming up where we can see your work?

JB: In June, I will be involved in a show at the Burnside Powell’s. Quick shout out to Kevin Sampsell, who introduced me to all the collage nerds in town. He also hosts a collage night every second Wednesday of the month for free at the IPRC on Division and 10th, it keeps getting bigger, which I am excited about because it means more people to talk to about cutting paper. In June, we will also be doing a skill share to look out for. »

– Lucia Ondruskova