Raul De Lara Interview

Raul De Lara

Raul De Lara discusses preparing for an upcoming solo exhibition, moving into an abstract realm, & bringing awareness to the value of multicultural perspectives in the field of craft and sculpture.

How did you get into making art?

I come from a family that believes in luck, ghosts and bingo. From a young age, they taught me that materials, objects and spaces hold energy, and how this energy can be utilized to create beautiful things if one is patient enough.

Growing up in my parent’s woodshop in Mexico introduced me to the world of woodworking. A world where each tools has its own language, each piece of wood shows the passing of time on its skin, and where one is able to communicate through their hands.

At the age of 12, my family abruptly immigrated to the United States leaving our lives behind. 20 years have passed since we left Mexico, and I still have not been able to physically or legally leave the USA and visit my beloved home country. Once we arrived to the USA, I started working different jobs that opened my eyes to the idea of becoming an artist one day.

I worked in construction sites and my uncle’s hardware store. That’s where I realized I loved tools. I was as a cake sculptor for a year. They hired me knowing I had never baked a cake before, but saw my wood carving portfolio. I was also a sponsored Freestyle BMX rider for a few years after high school. It was during those years that I discovered how objects, tools and spaces can communicate silently. In 2012 I quit BMX to pursuit my career as an artist.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on my solo show for Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, VA opening May 2024. This is my second solo show with the gallery, and I am very excited about this show because I am trying many new techniques and ideas. It feels good to see the evolution of my practice from the last show to this one.

Lately I’ve been teaching myself how to use green wood to create new sculptures on the lathe. Green wood means that the tree was recently cut, and the wood has not gone through any drying methods.

I am also working on my first museum exhibition opening February 2025.

I have been exploring ways to bring awareness to the value of multicultural perspectives in the field of craft and sculpture while focusing on celebration, excitement and beauty.

Raul De Lara

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

For the last year I’ve been inspired by an urge to develop a more playful, engaging and responsive production and thought process for making my work. I am in search of wood sculptures that can make one smile. I also want to go into a more abstract realm with my forms.

I have been exploring ways to bring awareness to the value of multicultural perspectives in the field of craft and sculpture while focusing on celebration, excitement and beauty. This is in contrast to my previous bodies of work that focused on the difficulties of my upbringing as an undocumented person in this country. It is definitely a complicated feeling and a balancing act to strive for beauty while still feeling the weight of my current DACA status, and witnessing daily horrors around the world. This is a shared sentiment I hear from many other immigrant artists who are actively sharing their story.

The new sculptures I am working on are inspired by the way carving can imbue social, cultural and spiritual qualities into wood – as I see it, storytelling via woodworking. I practice traditional hand carving and power carving through reductive + additive techniques, while proactively learning how to use cutting edge technology within the global woodworking industry. I find craft to be an act of self-empowerment and liberation because these skills are something that can’t be taken away from me even in the case of being deported.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

I work on many different projects at a time to keep my mind engaged and curious. On average I work on 5 projects at a time ranging from exhibition sculptures, private commissions, furniture, and exploratory research.

photo by Agaton Strom

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

My day starts cleaning the studio the night before. Walking into a clean workspace is very important for me, so I clean the studio and woodshop every night before leaving. A typical day in the studio begins at 9am with a hazelnut coffee. I start my days with digital needs like emails, editing photos, writing about my work or any other screen activities and stop at noon. I will also flip through art books and look up video tutorials to get inspired. The rest of the day I will most likely be wearing a respirator, and be covered in dust from head to toe.

Most of what I do is labor intensive and taxing on the body so I tend to break up my production process from most intense to least intense. I also will go one day using one set of muscles for a type of carving activity, and switch to another set of muscles the following day. This keeps me from getting hurt, or burning out. I end my work day cleaning the mess I make, and taking an artist shower (compressed air). I also make an effort to have studio visits at least a few times a month with other artists to talk about what they are working on, life in general and inspo.

photo by Agaton Strom

photo by Agaton Strom

Who are your favorite artists?

Robert Gober, Selva Aparicio, Wendell Castle, Remedios Varo, Scott Burton, Genesis Belanger, Catalina Ouyang, Grinling Gibbons, Urs Fischer, Nick Cave and Thaddeus Mosley.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

I’ve made a habit to visit book stores at least once a week. There’s a game I play where I will close my eyes, spin and point somewhere with my finger. That’s the book I open. I do this at least 20 times a visit. This helps me discover beyond my own curiosity.

Being in group shows around the country/abroad and starting online conversations with artists in the shows has also helped me expand my own bubble. This helps me discover who is active in places I cannot visit, and who are some giants from the past.

Participating in residencies has also brought so many new artists to my radar. Especially craft-oriented residencies like Haystack School of Craft and Penland.

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