Then There Was Us

In the Studio: Luciano Calderon

2024-02-23 – Interview

Painter, Painting, Bolivia, Artist

Luciano Calderon is a Swiss/Bolivian painter based in Barcelona. Drawing inspiration from everyday life in his native Bolivia and other parts of Latin America, Calderon's striking, graphic paintings are punctuated with text and symbolism, exploring themes of joy, struggle, and resilience.

We recently visited Luciano at his Barcelona studio to talk through his process, practice, and workspace, and the relationship between all three.

Painting colorful by Luciano Calderon
Rayos Y Mechas. 2022.
Acrylic on canvas
130 x 97 cm, 51 1/8 x 38 1/4 in unique

Can you tell me about how your journey started, when did you first become interested in art, was it through tattoos?

I always wanted to do something creative. From a very young age. I’ve never really imagined doing anything else. Tattooing kind of came by accident. It was just because originally the art didn't work out for me. I originally graduated in graphic design, but I knew from my first year working in the industry that it wasn’t for me. It was too sterile. Not enough freedom. So I decided to focus on the art I wanted to do.

I went back to Bolivia to live with family and was able to get a studio and focus on my art because the expenses were so little, did a few art shows, but it didn’t work out as a way to make a living. I nearly gave up on working in something creative but decided to give tattooing a go and it worked out a lot better than I expected. Then, later on, a gallery reached out to me, and for the past few years, I've been back to focusing on my paintings.

And where do you find Inspiration?

In general, my work is about painting what I see or what I feel, and a lot of times to keep my work going, I try to find it in daily life rather than from other artists. That’s one of the issues I’ve had living here in Barcelona; I don’t really find it that inspiring or, the inspiration doesn’t really go with my personality. There is definitely things here, but they don't necessarily resonate with me.

Would you say that Bolivia is where you find the most inspiration then? Where you find the most stuff that will resonate with you?

I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s Bolivia. It can be crazy inspiring. I don’t think my artwork stands out because of its technical quality, what I really look for, and try and translate into my work is authenticity. Whether that’s stuff I’ve seen in Bolivia, or something else that has inspired me like music.

Rotulos. 2022
Acrylic on canvas
188 x 258 cm, 74 x 101 5/8 in unique

Do you listen to music when you paint?

Of course. And I’ve also noticed that the music I'm listening to affects the type of things that I create. Maybe subconsciously.

When you're creating a piece of work, do you have a clear idea in your head of how it’s going to be, or is it more instinctive?

I think both. Sometimes I’ll visualize it and create like a sketch, which is beneficial because it allows me to work faster. But I feel like it can take the soul out of my work. Like, if I look at my work now, and with one, I know I worked from a sketch, and I compare it to another which was more freestyle, this one is better. More organic. But I have to say working fully organic can be really frustrating. You can spend days and days working on something and then go home with nothing. So what I try to do now is have at least a starting point. Like placing one element in there, and then try to make sense from there.

So you’ll have like an idea, or a theme. Or a message that you're trying to convey. Maybe through a symbol or icon, as you use a lot of symbolism and iconography in your work?

I would say a lot of times, Lately it’s often finding an element I want to show. A scene or something that happened or as simple as a sign that I want to reproduce, then try and make something more from it, go with it, letters or whatever.

Acrylic on cardboard framed
75 x 52 cm, 29 1/2 x 20 1/2 in unique

Has working with galleries now impacted your work or mindset towards producing work?

Yes and no. I feel like in a positive way I try and please the gallery, which makes me improve the quality of my work. Like if I was only making it for me I’d probably just work on paper or cardboard because it’s cheap and easy. But obviously, it wouldn’t work for them, would be harder to sell etc. So overall I think it’s a benefit. Maybe in terms of motives, I also have a successful career as a tattoo artist, so I don’t feel so much pressure when making paintings.

How would you describe the themes in your work?

A lot of times people try and push me in the corner of activism, or social criticism, with my tattoos as well. But I don’t really do an effort to do so. It happens naturally. Spreading a socialist message just comes naturally. I would never say I’m an activist. Not at all. Especially knowing true activists and what they do, I feel for me to claim that would be a blasphemous statement. But compared to many artists, with mine the messages are more obvious, which is always what I wanted to do. I was never interested in art that was difficult to understand. I can appreciate the beauty in this kind of art, but that’s not what I’m about. I don’t make work for intellectuals only.

Colorful painting by Luciano Calderon
Sin Rivales. 2022
Acrylic on canvas
89 x 116 cm, 35 x 45 5/8 in unique

And talk to me about the colors, your work is very bright and bold, is that something that you've always been drawn to?

It must be subconscious. All of the artwork in Bolivia, and most of Latin America is very bright, despite the often harsh realities faced in these countries. I look at it like black musical styles, which originated from the struggles of slaves and began as a form of protest. Often the melodies sound happy and make you want to dance, but the underlying message often delves into deep trauma. That's what I aim to do. Create work that is both serious and beautiful.

Colorful painting by Luciano Calderon
Acrylic on canvas
100 x 65 cm, 39 3/8 x 25 5/8 in unique

Give me some insights into the space we're in. Over in the next door, where your tattoo studio is, there's a lot of decoration, images on the walls, etc. In here, it's mostly just your work. What are the essential elements that play a role in shaping a productive and inspiring studio space for your artistic practice?

I try to not visually contaminate my space too much because it can be distracting. If I had more space it would probably be the same. It’s mostly my work in here, and the essentials. Next door, I have a lot of stuff. I’m a person that likes to collect. But I also think it’s important to be able to relax your eyes. Like at home, I have just one wall with paintings. I’m a person that looks so much. Maybe too much. Studies everything, everyone. It can give me anxiety, not having that calm spot to escape to, where my eyes can just take a break from all the visual overload.

You can see more of Luciano's work via his website.
Photography: Josh Bright

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