Dulce Chacón is a visual artist and illustrator currently living and working in Mexico City. In 1998, she graduated with a B.A. in Visual Arts from the Faculty of Arts and Design (UNAM) in Mexico City. Upon graduation, she became a member of the artistic collective Atletico, active between 1998 and 2003 in Mexico City. As an independent artist, Chacón’s work has been exhibited in various national and international venues, most recently in the Bienal Tlatelolca in Mexico City; the Manila Biennale in Manila, Philippines and at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. Through her work, the artist has focused her explorations into the reconstruction of events, particularly those related to challenging and tragic moments in human history that belong to our collective memory. Using photographic images as a starting point, she translates those images into drawings as a reinterpretation of fragmented pieces of memory and time.
Back in the summer of 2020 during lockdown I talked to the artist from her studio in Mexico City. We discussed her background, her relationship with the production of photographic images, her career, and her current projects including Cuadernillo de Dibujo, a continuation of her work not only as an artist but as an educator and art promoter. In this project she incorporates collaborations with Mexican artists working across disciplines, asking them to contribute with a drawing exercise related to their personal work that reflects on graphic thought. In 2020, in collaboration with S-Ediciones, this ongoing project became a free publication accessible to those interested in experimenting with drawing as an art form and expressive language and will continue to grow in the future.
Claudia Pretelin: Tell us about that moment when you finished art school. Do you remember what were some of the fears and incentives to start your own career as an artist?
Dulce Chacón: When I finished school in 1998 it was a time of great changes in the art scene in Mexico. It was very noticeable what was happening outside in the galleries and the new independent spaces compared to what I had learned in school. I felt that I was not prepared, and that there were many challenges that I was just beginning to understand to be able to start producing before these new paradigms. I had a lot of doubts but I also saw a great panorama with possibilities for experimentation and fortunately I was able to get closer to other colleagues who had the same concerns as me.
CP: Between 1998 and 2003 you, along with Balam Bartolomé, Bernardo Hernández, Antar Kuri, Heráclito López, Juan Carlos Matus, Nicolás Pradilla, Adriana Riquer, Diego Teo and Rogelio Vázquez, were part of the artistic collective known as the Atlético. During those years, all of you created public art that challenged the formalities of artistic production and the art world. What were some of the lessons that you learned working in collectivity with other artists?
DC: One of the best experiences I had in these first years of professional work was having been part of the Atlético Collective. Working as a collective is always difficult, so one of the great lessons was patience. Looking back at this time, I realized that the decisions we made were very organic since they were made from the affections and the enjoyment of what we were doing. Much of what happened came from experimentation, and the panorama that was forming around us also influenced us to make decisions such as disappearing individualities and always working from the collective. We used strategies that came from other disciplines such as advertising or design and that made us more playful in the forms of production and in the results. We were accomplices and we remained close friends, and when we realized that there was no longer a spark to continue and that we also wanted to pursue individual careers, we decided to end the collective production. The parties and laughter still continue.
CP: Can you tell us about the research that goes into your work? How long does it take before you start working on a new series of work or does it happen spontaneously?
DC: I am interested in certain events that shape the collective memory of a community, that are mediated by the image and that speak of visuality itself, as well as the ways of understanding and shaping “the world”. I am struck by the procedures that are involved in the transition from the photographic image to the drawn image: interpretation, illustration, and evocation, since they are ways of understanding the record of an event.
Although I work in very defined series and projects, there are occasions that they overlap and sometimes I have worked on two or even three at the same time, which becomes complicated because I do not always work with the same technique or tools. I do not start them at the same time but sometimes the preliminary investigation takes time to define their output and they coincide at the time of production.
CP: I’m interested in your relationship with the photographic image and how you borrow from different sources to reinterpret some historical events through your work. We talked about how encyclopedias informed you visually and your way to process information. As photography has been linked to veracity, how important is the idea of veracity in your work when it comes to reflecting events from the past in contemporary production?
DC: The idea of truth in relation to photography is interesting in terms of the false perception of being a document that supports it, that is, although it can effectively be a testimony of what happened, it can also be altered or fabricated. In this sense, rather than the idea of truth, I am more interested in the possibility of working with the future of reality: factual reality, speculative reality and fiction.
Many times I work with images that have low resolution or that their printing on paper is deficient. So I become a kind of restorer of the image and that itself gives rise to modify it and even transform it when it passes to paper. This work with the deficiencies and even the absences of the image gives rise, and has always done, to interpretation, to the imagination helping to complete what did not exist. Drawing itself, in this sense, is a fictional language, using lines and spots to suggest shapes that resemble an image.
CP: In our initial conversation you mentioned the absence of color in your work. Why does your practice rely on monochromy?
DC: Monochromy in my work is related to the photography of a historical moment in which it was only produced in black and white, but also to other types of records such as medical studies, x-rays, ultrasounds, or forms of scientific visualization such as UV radiation, that is, documents that record objects or situations that escape our physical or temporal limitations of vision. The temporal distance is important to support the idea of speculation or fiction, to raise possibilities in the images. This is why I like monochromy in my work.
CP: I have this idea that mistakes or “accidents” (trial and error) are more welcome in the creative process when it comes to drawing. Do you have a particular approach to this idea? Do you keep all your drawings?
DC: Yes, mistakes and accidents are part of the language of the drawing itself, each line or stain that is made is seen on the paper or remains in the memory of the surface used, that is why these mistakes are part of the final piece. Although the ideal is that there are no errors.
Particularly in the handling of watercolor or ink, accidents are part of their nature, you know how they act but you cannot control them completely and precisely because of this random quality. I like to use these techniques because they also dialogue with the image that they help to shape. I don’t do a lot of preliminary sketches and that’s why I usually keep all my preparation drawings before doing the final ones.
CP: For the project Vanitas Portus, featured in the Manila Biennial in the Philippines, I understand that due to the high temperature and humidity challenges you decided to experiment with fabric materials instead of paper. Can you talk about the materials that you’ve used in your practice, which are your favorites, and are there any other materials that you haven’t used yet that you would like to experiment with?
DC: Yes, for that piece in the Philippines it was appropriate to use fabric. I decided that linen was the best for its resistance to the atmospheric conditions. Before drawing with cochineal ink I applied a thin preliminary glaze of rabbit-skin glue to the fabric.
For my drawings, I usually work with cotton papers, Japanese papers and vegetable fibers such as agave, banana, amate or lokta. These last two local fibers from Mexico and Bhutan respectively. Recently, I have experimented with stone paper. Since all these papers have different weights, their behavior is always different depending on the inks I use on them. I really like experimenting with papers because they propose a challenge to solve in order to achieve the images. I also consider that the material also supports the discourse that I work on in my pieces. Another material that I really like are Japanese inks, those that are sticks and you have to grind them. I really like the shades they have and the smell. They are genuinely a pleasure to use.
CP: One of your most recent projects, Cuadernillo de Dibujo, is a compilation of drawing lessons created by different artists living in Mexico that you’ve collected and published in partnership with S-Ediciones. How did you come up with this idea and what new “lessons” did you learn from this collective exercise?
DC: Through my experiences working at Border Cultural Center, an independent cultural space, and SOMA, a non-profit organization funded by artists in Mexico City, I had the opportunity to meet many artists with very different interests and types of work. I have always liked to learn from colleagues and their creative processes, whether doing an exhibition or teaching a class. For me it was a great experience. I really like teaching and I consider it part of my work as an artist. I perceive that in the classroom there is a unique process of creating knowledge in the collectivity of the workshop and the talk. These approaches, as well as my willingness to generate knowledge in my practice, led me to conceive the possibility of doing a compendium of exercises created by the artists themselves in which their interests or their methodologies of their production are reflected.
What is remarkable about this process is that all the artists I have approached have responded with great enthusiasm in participating. But also, for most of them it has been a challenge to develop an instruction that condenses their interests and methodology. Personally, this dynamic of immersion in the work of others has led me to discover many colleagues that I did not know and to be surprised by the great quality of graphic production in Mexico, both in traditional media and in other more experimental ones.
CP: I understand that you plan to continue this project. Would you extend it to an international community of artists?
DC: I love the idea of extending it internationally. I have already contacted several colleagues who are eager to participate in the next volumes. The idea of the Cuadernillo de Dibujo is to continually come out with volumes that contain between 10 and 15 exercises each.
CP: For a long time you’ve also dedicated your work to teaching. What are some of the common fears that you see in people who want to approach drawing techniques? What would be some simple advice to overcome the fear of the blank space?
DC: I think the main fear is not to draw “well” and I think it is derived from the distancing of the practice of drawing, which at some point was our main language to communicate and understand the world. I think the only advice I could give in this regard is to relax to understand that we are going to return to a language that we stopped practicing, and that when we approach the tools with the same fascination that we had as children to experiment, we will develop at our own pace and with our own style. Patience and enjoyment are both important in drawing.
CP: Who were some of the people in your life who have inspired your work or influenced you?
DC: I think my father is my main inspiration. He’s also a painter and he has always supported and motivated me in my decision to be an artist despite how complex it is to be a woman in a country whose balance leans much more to the male gender. He, too, was a teacher for many years and his commitment to his students has been a great example.
My teachers in the arts academy, Patricia Soriano and José Miguel González Casanova, have also been a model of perseverance and good stubbornness necessary to continue producing and teaching.
And there are also several colleagues that I admire a lot and that I am fortunate to have as very close friends. Their company has been of great influence on my work: Atlético, Ana Bidart, María Cerdá, Joaquín Segura, Paola Dávila, Iván Trueta, Oswaldo Ruiz, likewise artists like Magali Lara and Carla Rippey are a great example for my career.
CP: What’s your favorite instrument of memory?
DC: My eyes, when I want to register something in my memory, I stare at it and make my observation. I become aware of the details, then I save it for my personal archive.
CP: Thank you, Dulce!
Dulce Chacón is a Visual Artist and Illustrator. Her work is a graphic reflection about the visual documentation and its methods of representation, having as objective to establish relations between the procedures generated in the translation of photographic images to the drawing (such as interpretation, evocation or allegory), the event to which they belong and the memory that the viewer has of them. The results are visual reconstructions that address events that have appeared in the media, and that make a dialogue between the representation of reality, multiple versions of the real and the imaginary. Among her most important exhibitions are: The Future is Unwritten, Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy (2015); MATRIX 175, Fallen Angels, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA (2016), Reclaimed by Nature, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, Austin, Texas, USA (2016); Manila Biennale, Open City, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines (2018).
If you are interested in learning more about Dulce Chacón’s work, check out her website www.dulcechaconart.com or follow her on Instagram @dulce.chacon.art & @cuadernillodedibujo Don’t miss Dulce’s takeover for the Instruments of Memory Instagram account!
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