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Carlos Donjuan. Artist of the Day

How Texas Painter Carlos Donjuan Overcame the Fear of Not Belonging

Carlos Donjuan learned the basics of line, tone, shape, and space from painting graffiti as a teenager. A high school art teacher steered him into the studio and inspired him to earn a masters of fine art from the University of Texas in San Antonio. Born in Mexico, Carlos relocated to Dallas with his family when he was a child, and enjoyed drawing lowrider cars, comic book characters, and animals. His large-scale figurative paintings reflect his struggles to fit into his new surroundings while being viewed as an “illegal alien.”

‘Home Team’

Growing up in the US without legal status was a source of uncertainty and stress. Carlos’ parents were determined to provide a better life for their children, but had to work extremely hard to survive. His father passed away from cancer in 2021, leaving Carlos with a fierce work ethic and a similar drive to succeed on behalf of his own children. His paintings of immigrants wearing masks emblematize the experience of struggling to belong.

“Being an immigrant coming to America, working to make a better life, has been nothing short of challenging,” Carlos tells NOT REAL ART. “With the recent political climate, I have found it more important to make my work, which in part addresses the issues of immigrants in America. Conceptually, I dive into the ideas of struggle and success that my family and I have experienced in trying to achieve the American dream. My imagery explores the differences and likenesses of people and how to make that more acceptable. We have this stigma that a person born somewhere else outside of America is not American.” He continues: “I use the visual metaphor of the mask in my work to represent the alienation of people as they work towards acceptance.”

Carlos is represented by Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Dallas and Antonio Colombo in Milan. His arresting mixed-media paintings are included in numerous private collections, including an extensive archive of Chicano art amassed by Cheech Marin. In addition to his success as a fine artist, Carlos continues to pursue his love of mural painting and graffiti, and is part of the creative collective Sour Grapes, mentoring at-risk youth. His goal is to have a solo exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art and to gain tenure in his college teaching position, both to pave the way for other young Latino artists, and to pay homage to those who came before him.

“We have this stigma that a person born somewhere else outside of America is not American.” — Carlos Donjuan

‘Alien Child’
Growing up in the US without legal status was stressful for Mexican-born Carlos Donjuan, whose paintings reflect his struggle to achieve the American Dream.
‘Exumadus #2’
Growing up in the US without legal status was stressful for Mexican-born Carlos Donjuan, whose paintings reflect his struggle to achieve the American Dream.
‘Together Alone’
‘Together We Rise’

Carlos Donjuan: Website | Instagram

All photos published with permission of the artist(s).

Our Artist of the Day series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100s of grant applications we receive. The NOT REAL ART grant is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists. Find out more about our grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York Gallery Director based in Washington, D.C. She has an M.F.A. in Fine Art and an undergraduate degree in Russian Literature. She speaks five foreign languages and is currently in a Masters of Non-Fiction Writing Program at John Hopkins University.

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