Interview with WHAM participant, Tony Paraná
Tell me your story. What brought you to your art?
I did a little bit of work when I was young. When you’re a kid, you don’t know what you really want to do or what you’re going to be. Painting was a distraction at the moment, but I was a kid. I wanted to play around. A few years later, I moved to San Paulo. I was nineteen. The place where I worked had an art class across the street. I got interested and I met the owner. He was teaching classes. I was listening and looking and thought it was really cool. I took one class with him. I came to the United States in 2002. After coming to the U.S., something struck me. I decided to paint. I lived next to a guy with a gallery and went and talked to him. He said, “Yeah, man, create some stuff, and if I like your work, we can do a show here.” That was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I guess there wasn’t a lot of art around, because he allowed me to do a solo show. I created ten pieces and people came to support. After that, I just kept moving. I’m a self-taught artist. In that aspect, I feel really blessed to have the natural skill of transferring things to canvas. It’s something that makes me feel at home. I’m from Brazil. I lived there for twenty years. Everything I try to describe in art is something related to me from home – playing in the streets, going to street festivals, listening and looking at things I shouldn’t be looking at. That was always interesting to me. When I had the chance to transfer that to the canvas, it made me feel really, really happy. Since then, I’ve tried to open an art group in Albuquerque. I had meetings and stuff, but ended up having to move to LA. When I moved to LA, I was basically working in TV. I still had chances to show my art in a few places there. After two years in LA, I moved to Houston in 2006, 2007. I started finding a studio for myself. I organized the first Montrose Art Soiree, which was fifteen artists in an old building that we turned into an arts show – kind of an underground art show. I came to the idea of opening an art group. The idea built from New Mexico, where it couldn’t happen, to Houston. We opened Montrose Art Society, which was a really good experience with ten, twelve artists. But you know, when you have more than one artist, it’s really hard to make a decision. Two years ago, Eduardo, my partner, and I organized the Forum 6 gallery space. This year, Eduardo said that it was time for us to do it. We moved out of here, because this was our studio, and we opened Forum 6, which is the collective space. We have twelve different, local, established artists, and they’re very talented. This is our third show and we have a lot of good things coming up.
What work have you done in the past? What are you working on currently?
This timeline is something that the artist goes through. You start creating and you have one feeling, one idea of what you want to do and what you want to be. As time passes by, new things come to you and you pass through personal situations and emotions. Your art changes and develops. When I look at stuff I did before, I say, “What is this? I got to fix this. It doesn’t look right. I have to change it,” but you can’t change it. It’s your history. It has to be there. The things I do today are more political. I love bringing out issues that people may pass by without looking. I try to manifest social issues. This has developed from before. I guess it’s a natural thing, like when you’re born, you learn to walk, but you don’t know how to run. Then you learn how to run. Things come to you as time passes. Today, my work is more fine. I work on my personal technique, my own way of painting, and having a better way to make people understand my work.
What inspires you?
Vibrant cultures vibrant energies, and vibrant people. I play music. No matter where you are, music has that dynamic energy source. Music is something that I like to have in my work. I also do capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art. If you had to sum me up, it would be capoeira, art, and music, which are the three things I do. Capoeira is the one I like the most. It connects me with my soul, body, and mind. Capoeira is such a gigantic source of energy. I always like to describe capoeira in my work. Especially now. There was a time that I used to do a lot of drawings from pictures. That was okay. That kind of work was never my focus because it was very different. Today, I realize that people like my personal creations more than my drawings because there’s more of me – who I am. There’s energy. It’s me because I’m creating. It’s unique. My country is something that really inspired me. I grew up in the ghetto, the poor neighborhood, where people walk in the street barefoot, people struggle, there’s crime. There’s also a lot of good people. Those are the things that really come to mind when I think, “Who do you represent? What do you like to do?” It was tough, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I experienced playing in the street, having a fight over here, someone jumping the fence to steal fruit from a neighbor, a dog over here. Those no price to those kinds of things. I try to pass that living experience.
Where can we find your work?
I recently came from Paris from a show there, which is the second time I’ve been to Paris. Finally, here in Houston, I applied for the Bayou City Art Festival. I’ve applied four times, one year after the other. Three years ago, they finally accepted me. The first year, I got second place. I got paid for that. This year, they asked me to be the featured artist. In Houston I’ve had a show at War’Hous, small places, small galleries. White Linen Night in the Heights. I didn’t really have good luck with galleries. I didn’t try to reach galleries. I believe in your journey. When things come to you, they came for a reason. Galleries didn’t come to me and I’m okay with that. My work has traveled. I’ve sold a couple pieces in Paris, LA, New York. I’ve had my work sold in Finland. Germany. Nothing really big here yet.
What do you think of the arts scene in Houston?
Because of the diversity of the city, I believe we have the potential to be #1 in the U.S., as far as arts go. We have great museums. We have a lot of really good support for the artists. There are a lot of organizations that provide money to individual artists to create their own work. There’s a lot of grants out there. It’s really important to have this money available to the arts. You have to work your way to the top, but also give your presence and support to others. Houston is a spotlight for art. A lot of international artists come here. We have a lot of potential to grow.
How do you like working in the Washington Avenue Arts District?
It’s the heart of art. The Museum District is the place for the big players. For emerging artists, this area is the heart of Houston. Everything related to art that comes to Houston passes through us. If artists are looking for more exposure, they have to get one of these studios. They are big plentiful, and you do pay a lot, there is no doubt about that, but you get opportunities here that you wouldn’t get at your house or garage.
Tell me about your involvement with Fresh Arts. How has the organization influenced you and your work?
My first connection with Fresh Arts was when we opened Montrose Art Society. In 2008 or 2009 we were looking for different resources that we could provide to the artists in Montrose Art Society. I did the registration and thought it was a really good opportunity for us to collaborate with this organization. Look what they can do. There’s stuff that they already do that we want to do – different ideas and options for people. We talked to them and hosted a show called The Candy Shop, which was done at the old location with Spacetaker. It was a great experience. Everyone is super helpful. They really love what they do. They’re so busy. Everyone is really professional. They host very good events – The WHAM, I’ve been part of that show for about six years. It’s one of the best events for me. It’s a lot of exposure and sales. It’s very important for the city because they do so many things, like workshops that focus on making an artist more professional, how to write a grant, and how to approach new places. Fresh Arts is one of the best, if not the best in Houston. Even better than Houston Arts Alliance. Fresh Arts is one of my favorites.
Looking onward, how do you see your work growing?
I’ll say that each artist has the dream of being famous. What I want for my work is to create something that’s meaningful to the world. I want to be able to sustain myself, so make enough money to live a quiet, simple life. I also want to be known for the work that I do. The work that I do does not only represent me, it represents a whole group of people. It represents a kind of struggle that’s real and makes people reflect and think about it. I look at my work as a statement. Like, I’m creating a beautiful thing, but it also makes people think about the message.