Tlahtolli: Interview with Xicanx artist Jake Prendez
Today we welcome Jake Prendez, Xicanx artist and community organizer to Xica Nation!
Jake is a longtime advocate for youth empowerment and a renown visual artist whose work focuses on Chicana/o culture, activism, social justice, as well as pop culture and satire. His artistic style ranges from indigenous influence, social realism, tattoo/rockabilly aesthetics, to colorful urban style art. Jake is also a founding member of Puro Pedo Magazine, a satirical magazine for Xicanx activists that had generations of MEChA members laughing while addressing critical social issues of the time.
Recently, Jake was also selected to participate in the NALAC (National Association of Latino Arts and Culture) Leadership Institute in San Antonio in July.
How did your journey as an artist begin?
I was drawing as early as I can remember. I use to love getting those Disney and Dr. Seuss books in the mail as a kid. I use to drag out big stacks of books and stare at the pictures. My parents thought I was going to be a big reader but I just loved all the artwork. By elementary, art became the only subject I excelled at. It was my one refuge in school. By High school I was drawing lowriders, cholos and pachucos. I was told my art was just gangster art and had no value. I tried to study art in college but again it was shunned as too niche. I was so discourage that I gave up art for over 10 years. I didn’t rediscover art till I was working on my masters and took a painting class within Chicana/o Studies taught by Yreina Cervantez. That is when I decided to throw myself into my art and 8 years later I’m still at it and growing every day.
Click on an image to view. To purchase a print, click here.
What types of subject matter do you produce art about?
When I started painting, I painted for myself. If I wanted a painting of the beatles, I’d paint the beatles. If I wanted a painting of Zapata, I’d paint Zapata. I think as I developed as an artist so did my imagination. I began to paint concepts and emotions vs “celebrities”. My art is just an amalgamation of my life and experiences. My art is my childhood, my family, my friends, my crushes, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, Los Angeles, Seattle, tattoos, rockabilly style, pop culture, pachucos and vintage culture, the 80’s, indigenismo, Mexico, chicana/o studies, leftist politics, satire, and jokes all put in a blender and poured out onto a canvas.
Why did you choose this genre?
My art is a reflection of myself. To know my art to understand my art is to understand me. I just try to be myself in my art. Like they say be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
Your recent work highlights complex themes of identity and decolonization. Could you tell us more about why you chose to explore that theme and it’s importance?
I think a lot of my recent work started off with a simple question about how we look at ourselves and relate to our ancestors. I was intrigued by the concept of genetic memory. I am the hands, the eyelashes, the laugh, the song of my ancestors. The Genetic memory paintings we about relating to that and how we are the flower to their seeds. The Cultural Resilience series was in reference to when folks speak of the Aztecs or mayans as extinct people. Indigenous people still exist. And like genetic memory our culture survives in our songs, our cooking, in the ways we raise our children and the ways we dance. We never left. The contemporary codices series started with the question…if we were still doing codices what would they look like? I began to draw the people in mi barrio is a codex style and capture the history that we are making today.
Click on an image to view. To purchase a T-shirt or print, click here.
When did you decide to follow your calling as an artist?
While I was working on my masters I was tested and diagnosed with Dylsexia. This explained my struggles in school at a young age. After the tests were complete they brought me a chart showing my scores. I scored in the brilliant range in the area that was designated for creativity, speech and problem solving. But in the area that was designated for Math and the sort I was on the cusp of below average. They said when they see two points that far apart they know something isn’t working right in the brain and is the first sign of dyslexia and other learning disorders. That was the moment I realized there are going to be things that I will struggle with. But there things that I am talented at and why not focus on my talents and my passions. That is when I decided to throw myself into my art.
Were there doubts and obstacles you encountered on your journey?
One of my biggest obstacles was believing in myself and giving myself a voice. From a very young age I was constantly put down at school. I was told by a high school teacher that I would be shot and killed before I would ever graduate. Today I focus much of my time working with youth and empowering them to use art as a means of self-expression.
When did you feel affirmed in your camino, that you were really onto something by producing this line of art?
I’ve spent my whole life under the radar. I felt like the most average kid in the world. I never had a teacher or a professor take to me. When It came to girls in school I was always the Duckie to the Andee (Pretty in Pink reference). I just sort of did my thing and existed. To tell you the truth I don’t know if I feel like I’m even there yet. I think people like my art but I think I’m still flying under everyone’s radar. I’ve never received an award, grant or even a solo show. I think I just want to be something my kids will be proud of when I pass. I want to live on through my art long after my last breath.
Why do you feel that artistically documenting your experiences was important to do?
Maybe it goes back my fear of being forgotten. I want to tell my story. I want my descendants to know I was once here. I think there is great importance in authenticity. Our story needs to be told by us and not reported to us by others not in our community.
Click on an image to view. To purchase a print, click here.
What messages (if any) are you aiming to share through these works and to what communities?
I want to make my family and community proud. This is all for them.
Any special links/announcements about upcoming events or other projects you’re involved in?
Please support Jake’s art and upcoming NALAC summit by purchasing T-shirts and prints here: http://www.jakeprendez.com/#!shop/c23wy