Q+Art: Photographer Patricio Maldonado Bares Everything in Joyful Acts of Self-Expression
You see a lot of skin in Patricio Maldonado’s photographs. Fleshy lips covered in blood, bare limbs submerged in water, unblinking faces covered in cum. The Monterrey, Mexico-based artist likes to get personal with his photographs, only some of which are self-portraits. Maldonado’s other photos feel just as intimate, as his subjects stare into the camera, unnerved and smeared with body fluids.
Maldonado uses bare flesh to symbolize vulnerability within sexual expression. “Longing for freedom, the relentless search for happiness, and coming to terms with your own sexuality in a repressive environment are themes I continuously address within my art,” he writes in his artist statement. Though vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, especially in men, Maldonado turns it into a strength, reveling in soft curves, plenty of tighty-whities, and phallic lawn care equipment. While titillating, an introspective streak runs through his photographs, reflecting the early loss of innocence and identity at the hands of a heternormative and cisnormative culture.
“I was extremely repressed as a child and late teenager, and I never expressed my sexuality or found myself within society,” Maldonado explains. “From an early age, everyday life…placed me in a constant state of survival; life felt like a fantasy and reality was uncertain.” Now the artist finds or constructs imagery that reconciles his painful past with his future hopes, dreams, and fantasies. He often uses iconography associated with masculine queerness. Cowboy hats, for example, make a frequent appearance, as do the aforementioned tighty-whities.
Maldonado’s photos tend to “include people with specific aesthetic traits commonly associated with weakness.” The artist, however, is keenly aware of the differences between true weakness, vulnerability, and self-expression. His photographs gleefully ignore the judgement of prudish eyes, choosing instead to create a world where vulnerability leads to joyful acts of self-expression.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Patricio Maldonado discusses identity and empowerment through sexuality, the inherent elitism of art-world spaces, and listening to pop music on repeat in the studio.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Patricio Maldonado: I think I can't speak for other artists, but I'm always collecting photography books which inspire me to produce more work. I'm currently fascinated with the work of Ocean Vuong, the way he tells his stories and how he speaks in interviews mesmerizes me. I don't think there's any book which will make you a better artist, you just have to fill yourself with other people's work until there's no necessity for references.
What are you trying to express with your art?
PM: I was extremely repressed as a child and late teens and I never expressed my sexuality or found myself within society. That same loss of innocence and the need to get it back, to empower myself and find myself through my sexuality is what I'm constantly trying to capture. My nightmares, my daydreams, my fantasies.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
PM: I'm afraid I'll never get paid for the art I make, so I continue to exchange work for free exposure, because I know that to get recognized you have to put yourself out there, and there's not always another way to do that. I've always considered art as an elitist space, and I know that if we don't have connection to certain people we'll never be visible to others.
What person has most influenced your work?
PM: There's a ton of artists who have influenced me. From masters like Robert Mapplethorpe, Ryan McGinley, Nan Goldin and Tim Walker. But in recent times, three specific artists who paved my way: Petra Collins, Nirrimi, and a photographer I have admired since my years in Flickr, Caiti Borruso.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
PM: Watching every Twilight movie.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
PM: My own personal evolution and maturity, which I've acquired through my creative process. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't make the pictures I do.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
PM: To be crazy, eccentric, and to be free. People always hate those who are happier than they are. And to stop glorifying myself or making an idea of me that's not real, to work from what's real and not what we think it is.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
PM: Not necessarily. There's pros to having a college education. You get to know people who'll help you along the way, but I've always thought that you can learn to create by yourself and the wonderful invention that YouTube is.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
PM: I think what I said before—the elitism. There's a bunch of artists out there with incredible work that's not been seen because they don't have the resources to get there. Magazines and the big ones should be always searching for new talent who bring new ideas to the table.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
PM: I'm always ashamed of my fascination with pop music, but Olivia Rodrigo's debut album has been on repeat the last few weeks.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
PM: I know that what I'm about to say comes from privilege, and I guess some kind of luck, but if it wasn't for the pandemic, the pictures I took wouldn't be possible. My friends were living alone, so the intimacy that's necessary for my work came with the pandemic.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
PM: I'm working on a personal project which I currently titled Sanctuary. It's the embodiment of what I've learned the past three years all summed up in new beautiful creations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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