Each week, we bring you the backstory of work featured in our collection, written by a member of our curatorial team.
Clotilde Jiménez. Untitled (jumping rope). 50″ x 58″, mixed media collage on paper, 2016. © Clotilde Jiménez.
Today we’re with Malika Ali, the Co-Founder and Creator of On The Ground Floor (OTGF), an alternative art space in South LA. The topic of this episode is Clotilde Jiménez, a visual artist born in Honolulu and based out of Cleveland. How’d you first come upon Clotilde’s work?
Clotilde submitted drawings to a group show I curated titled “The Feminist Sex Shoppe” last year in 2014.
And what initially attracted you to that work?
I think I loved the idea that his portraits were of women but his image was always hidden somewhere in the work. Very early on he was playing with gender constructs in his work. I was also intrigued by the voice in his work. He is so young, but has a strong command of his identity.
How did that command manifest itself in the work?
I had seen some of his early works where it was evident that he could draw pretty much anything. I was introduced to him at a point where he was experimenting, not with perfection, but with trying to reflect something a little more personal. He had begun using the paintings of William H. Johnson, a Harlem Renaissance artist, as a springboard for his own drawings. And what he brought to this tradition was unique, deconstructing gender expectations within the black male and hispanic identities. Our most famous artists, African American masters stayed safely away from any acknowledgement of sexuality or gender identity in their works.
Why is that? How does Jiménez acknowledge his sexuality and gender identity in ways the ‘masters’ could not / did not?
In his most recent collage series, Jiménez takes the subject head on. Even in the titling. In “Fruity Boys” for instance, you see a portrait of three adolescent males stuffing their shirts with melons in the ways that girls are free to do, but if boys get caught experimenting with things considered feminine, it could result in violence against their bodies by both peers and the adults in their lives.
This series aims to uncover the underrepresented in art. These themes seem beyond relevant today. Why do you think Jiménez hasn’t received his due in terms of exposure?
Well, I feel Clotilde is right where he needs to be. It can become problematic for a young artist to “blow up” too soon. I wouldn’t want him to get stuck in a rut of having to produce works solely to satisfy the tastes of the art market. Jiménez’s voice is one that is burgeoning. He has a strong command of identity and place, but not yet being uncovered can be a healthy thing your rising starts in the art world. That’s for rising stars.
That’s interesting—satisfying the art market. What do you think happens if someone catches the light too early? Stasis? A distortion of voice?
Often artists are expected to keep performing their greatest hits. This expectation can inhibit growth. But the money is good. And artists need to eat. So they’ll do what’s expected, but’s stifles their creativity.
So in other words, Jiménez has room to grow, as any artist does really. How do you think he’s changed since he first caught your eye?
He moved from a practice of drawing and painting to working with collage and drawing. His play on gender expectations was much more subtle. I knew he was hiding a male figure behind these female portraits in his drawing series, but with the collage works—he has basketball players and boxers donning red high heels. He is no longer being coy, but forthright about what he calls the “problematic binary of sexuality.” Most importantly, he addresses the very real violence the black male body encounters in American culture via the greater society (police/prisons/peers) and the gay male body additionally through family who too often will try to beat the homosexuality out of their non-conforming children. So many of the portraits in the collage series will have black or swollen eyes. But the boldness and the struggle in these portraits are very real. They dare not to conform at great risk. Jiménez gives us these very “masculine’ figures—a b-ball player in defense stance—but his uniform is made up of the female form. A heavy-weight boxer jumping rope in heels. I like this play on notions of gender normativity.
We’re nearly out of time, but I am curious how Jiménez fits / has fit into your purview? Has he changed you as a curator?
His work has made me more serious as a collector. I usually buy what I love anyway. From this artist, I bought a drawing that is both meaningful to me and that I also recognize as an important cultural investment.