Pop Goes Ferrer
By Kelly Drennan
There is something very James Dean about the work of Julio Ferrer. His image of Che Guevara taking a "Chelfie" triggers the simplest word that comes to mind: Cool.
His work oozes tongue-in-cheek. Ferrer's best known work features iconic figures with political narratives in a pop art style. The artist typically outlines his images in black ink and fills in the rest with high-octane colour. His work is graphic, with a comic book/street art edge.
Both a painter and printmaker, Ferrer is so skilled and paints in such a way that it is sometimes difficult to tell which is a painting and which is the print.
Recently, Ferrer added some much needed colour to Canadian politics. In honour of Canada 150, he was commissioned to paint portraits of Canada's 23 Prime Ministers... and paint them he did. They are energized and juicy. It can be noted that this is probably the first time Justin Trudeau will have flaming red hair, and Stephen Harper a magenta suit. Titled "Prime Time", the paintings are currently on display at the Government House in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Ferrer graduated from the National School of Visual Arts (Havana) and The International People's College (Denmark). His work has been exhibited Internationally and he has won numerous awards. Ferrer lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his wife and son.
Check out Julio Ferrer's interview with us and learn a bit about what makes him tick...
"I find that through humour you can get a unique
connection with the viewer. First comes the laugh,
then the deep thought." - Julio Ferrer
When did you first become interested in art?
My earliest memories are from when I was 6 years old. I used to fill notebooks with drawings and was eager to finish one to start another.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working in an interesting commission for a private collector that include the faces of Sr. John A McDonald and George Washington.
What inspires your work?
The world around me. The everyday news. The politics. The music.
Can you tell us a little about your process?
Everything starts in the search for an idea. Once that idea reveals, I make a doodle to remember it and after a few days if I still consider it is a good idea, I do my sketch and I transfer to canvas. My technique is quite slow. In order to get the flatness of the colours I do several layers of each colour until I think is flat enough. Red takes up to 10 layers. The work with the lines is very precise. The larger the painting the more difficult the lines are but that challenge is what I enjoy the most.
What mediums do you work with?
In painting acrylics and oils. In print making Serigraphy and Monotypes.
Which artist/s have influenced your work the most throughout your career?
Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Hokusai.
If you were not an artist, what would you be and why?
I would still be an artist but a musician. My father is a rock musician and I think I would have followed in his steps since I love rock n' roll so very much.
How has your artistic practice changed over time?
My work used to be full of detailed elements throughout the composition. Over the years I have become more minimal in the use of the images. I like to explore different techniques as well and when I feel I have mastered one, I move to another. At some point in time I'll come back to the one I miss doing the most.
What is your dream project?
My dream project is to do large portraits of the musicians I love. The musicians that I started to listen to when I was a teenager. Their music has stayed with me all the time and my paintings are full of their music. It will be my homage to their music.
What is the role of the artist in society?
The role of an artist in my modest opinion is to criticize the bad things that happen in society. Always being smart in the way you project your thoughts and find original ways to reach the people and make them think about any issue that you intend to talk about.
Do you have any advice for someone in school who is studying art?
All work you do take it seriously, explore every technique, find that voice inside of you and express yourself without restrictions. Never give up no matter how many times your work may be rejected, that rejection will make you stronger and you'll work harder the next day.
What would you like others to know about your art that you feel makes it unique?
My ideas, the work with the lines, the use of the colour.
Much of your work has a tongue in cheek message, what kind of experience do you want the viewer to walk away with?
I like the viewer to enjoy not only the quality of my technique but to smile and even laugh with my ideas and to make them think. I find that through humour you can get a unique connection with the viewer. First comes the laugh, then the deep thought.
Can you tell us about the sacrifices and rewards of a long artistic career?
The sacrifices are to dedicate most of your time to the creation which I find is not a real sacrifice if you love what you do. Since 1992 and after studying art for 8 years, I said to myself I was going to make my living as an artist. I knew it was going to be hard but it allowed me with the years to gain lots of experience learning different techniques and never tuning down a commission no matter the subject matter or technique.
The rewards have been from receiving an important award for my work to having the satisfaction that my work is part of the life of somebody. Whether a painting of mine is hanging in their house or they are simply admiring my work in a gallery or online. It is a great reward to feel that people admire your work.
How does working as an artist in Cuba differ from working as an artist in Canada?
It all depends on how we view things. For instance, a painter in Cuba can make a good living selling to tourists. Also there are opportunities to enrol in doing art works to decorate hotels, government institutions etc. Visual art competitions are happening all the time throughout the year. Now, when it comes to finding art supplies things become very frustrating to the extent that being creative is not enough. Here we have dream stores full of art supplies but the people that are truly interested in buying art are a minority and that lowers your chances of making a living doing art. That said, Canada has challenged me to deal with that issue and I decided to expand my work using different media specially in the field of printmaking. That allowed me to get my work to many more places while making the work more affordable. It challenges me to investigate materials more, and immerse myself in a specific technique.
If you could give your younger artist self advice about something you know now what advice would you give to him?
To be patient and never give up on your dreams.
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To read more about "Prime Time" go to:
* ALL WORKS (PRIME MINISTER SERIES NOT AVAILABLE) ARE AVAILABLE AT OUR ONLINE SHOP OR AT OUR OTTAWA STREET LOCATION IN HAMILTON.*
By Kelly Drennan. 2017.