We're in Rosarito, Mexico today, not far from Tijuana, at the studio of Hugo Crosthwaite.
Hugo is a master draftsman who makes large scale drawings the blend figure and abstraction, building narratives through an additive detail by detail process.
He combines mythical and historical sources with imagery drawn from observation, often reflecting on the tension and admixture of cultures of this border city where he spends much of his time.
The funny thing, he's not actually here right now.
When I got in touch with him to ask him to participate in the show, he said he'd love to, but that he'd be in Chicago for a residency during our visit.
There he's working on a new wall drawing called Heroic Procession, exploring Homer's Odysseus who, like many Mexican immigrants, chose to travel to a foreign land for opportunity.
It's not uncommon for Hugo, and for many artists, to travel as part of their practice.
And our assignment today is actually going to have to do with just that.
How when we travel, we take our narratives with us and create new communities wherever we go.
So let's go to Chicago.
I'm Hugo Crosthwaite, and this is your art assignment.
Usually muralists, in terms of me being a Mexican artist, I come with this heavy tradition of Mexican muralism.
You know, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros.
But those murals were, in a way, didactic.
Beautiful pieces of work, incredible art, but they were also about teaching the Mexican public what we accomplished after the Mexican Revolution.
They had this purpose of the idea that these murals are going to last as long as a regime.
So then, 1,000 years.
Mexico will last forever and these murals will last forever.
But in this case, I wanted to play with the notion of muralism as performance, but then also the idea of the impermanence of it.
We all die.
Nothing lasts forever.
So then my murals are not immortal.
So then it's this very simple narrative of the city I come from, Tijuana.
So then I created this mural precisely as that, as this improvised story telling of what people-- of what I think people think of the Tijuana, or what I hear people think of Tijuana.
So then I improvised this narrative as a sort of religious procession.
So then you have the profane and the sacred marching together.
You know, there's cartoon characters.
There's elements of the narco violence, elements of the prostitution that happens in Tijuana, elements of the migrant situation of the border.
The sacred and the profane all coming together in this kind of brutal kind of painting composition.
But then, in the end, once I start working on the mural, I work on it for only three weeks, four weeks at the most.
And then once I finish the mural, I will start destroying it.
And destroying it by painting little white squares into it.
I never identified with the art process of a painter.
But then when I would talk to poets, they would say, well, I just string words along.
And I come up with one word, and then I put another word, and another word, and then the narrative starts unfolding.
And I thought, well, that's exactly the way I work.
You know, it's this idea of just me doing a detail, and then adding another detail, and then creating a narrative.
Coming here to [inaudible] contemporary and seeing this community of artists, I thought, well, it would be great if we could do something with other artists also.
Like we all bring our stories.
I'm coming from Tijuana and I'm carrying with me Tijuana.
And it's here in the mural, and I've brought it with me.
But then there's other artists from different places here who bring their own stories.
So then I thought, how could we put all this together?
I thought at first, well, we could do a mural.
And it's this huge mural.
And I do my section.
And the other guy comes in and does their section, and whatever.
And we all try to connect all these narratives.
But I thought, well, that would be boring.
And it's not really a game.
So then thinking about the concept of game, well I thought about, you know, the thing that popped into my mind was the surrealist game, The Exquisite Corpse.
For your art assignment, I want you to find a drawing surface.
It could be a piece of paper.
It could be a wall.
And then I want you to decide on a group of friends that will come together and join you in this.
One of you guys start the drawing, but then cover it and only leave a clue for the next person.
Then the next person continues the drawing in sequence, and does their own thing.
And then they cover it, but they only leave a clue for the next artist.
So then in the end, you guys will come together in this narrative and have this huge unveiling where this whole collective narrative will come together.
And you guys will see this exquisite corpse.
So, John, the surrealist came up with this exquisite corpse game, which we actually talked about in one of our very first episodes.
It always makes me think about how much improvisation is involved in art and in making things.
Like Neil Gaiman once said that writing a novel is like driving home at night with only the headlights to guide you.
Like you can't see very far in front of you, but you can still get home.
It also makes me think about how in any kind of art making, there's a portion of it that you do alone.
And there's a portion of it that's inherently collaborative, where you're responding to the work of other artists or writers, where you're working in collaboration with the viewers or with other artists.
But at the same time, there's part of art that has to be done kind of inside your head.
And the exquisite corpse for me really captures both those things.
Because you're working with only a sliver of knowledge of what other people are doing.
And isn't that all of art history?
Where artists sort of know some other artists and know what other people are doing, but to a certain extent you're off on your own.
And art history and history make sense of it later.
And sort of places you as part of a time period or movement.
And this assignment actually really made me think about the work of one particular group of German expressionist painters, and how they had a common goal but they were all sort of working separately and doing their own thing.
In 1911 in Munich, Germany, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Gabriele Munter founded a group they called Der Blaue Reiter, The Blue Rider, after a common motif in their work.
For Kandinsky, the horse and rider was a symbol for moving beyond realistic representation and toward a new kind of art, namely abstraction.
They put on exhibitions and published an almanac, which laid out their goal of giving form to the spiritual, embracing a wide range of styles to advance the idea of an inner necessity of art.
While the other famous German expressionist group Die Brucke, or The Bridge, lived together and came up with a very unified figurative style, Der Blaue Reiter was a loosely associated group as embracing of abstract art as music, Egyptian shadow play figures, art by children, and figures from South Borneo.
The group coupled together many different styles and types of art under one mantle.
And like the exquisite corpse game, synthesizes diverse efforts in search for new forms and expressions.
Now we're going to have this huge wall, 12 feet by 18 feet.
And I'm going to start.
I'll start my section.
And then I'm going to cover it and just leave a clue.
And then the next artist is going to come and they'll add to that.
I picked artists that do different things.
There's a graffiti artist.
There's artists that do illustration.
There's formal painters.
There's a draftsman also.
I wanted all these different disciplines to come together on a wall.
We all bring our narrative, but we don't get to see it completely.
We only see traces of where we come from.
And then from there, you grab those traces, those clues, and then you create your own narrative and you add to it.
And you add to the story.
So then I thought the exquisite corpse was precisely this-- different narratives coming together but you're always thinking of the person who left the clue, of the previous artist.
So then, everybody is forced to think about your partner's story, your friend's story, and you're adding to it.
And to me, that's community.
It's not just you bringing your own thing, but you're adding to the story of somebody else.
And then you do your own thing.
And then the next artist is going to come in and they're going to continue on whatever you do.
Well, this being an exquisite corpse, I'd like to start with a head.
But then also, I told the other artists, don't think of a body either.
Like if they want to do their own head, it could just be a collective of heads coming together.
So it's not about thinking about making a human body or making a corpse, but about bringing your own narrative of whatever you want to do.
By doing it in community, you get to see what the other person does.
Because also, we're all creating collectively one image there won't be that harsh judgment of saying, well, you know, your piece sucks or my piece is better.
Because in the end, it's all one collective image that we all created and different narratives that are coming together.
So then I think it's a great game where there can be no judgment.
Usually, I always feel like the biggest motivation to create anything is either you love something so much that you want to paint it, or you hate something so much that you just need to make a record of it.