It’s in the Mix

In music, a mashup is a song created by blending together two or more previously recorded songs. In photography, you could explain the term using the works of Paul Fuentes. The artist is a master at rearranging the world.
Text Wiebke Brauer
Photo Paul Fuentes

You decorate giraffes with balloons, put lamas in taxi cabs and celebrate doughnuts in the desert. We have to ask: How do you define reality?
(laughs) Well, I think that’s up to everyone to decide for themselves. I really don’t believe that we all live in the same reality. People have different perceptions. People identify with different animals depending on their personality – that’s a huge opportunity for artists.

You didn’t start with animals, but with food. How did you come up with that idea?
It’s hard to say where that came from. I have a certain love for food advertising. Often it isn’t food at all, and that drove me crazy at the time. So I decided to do the same but with a different approach.

Downey. The oldest operating McDonald’s restaurant is a drive-up hamburger stand on Lakewood Boulevard in Downey. For me, happiness is going to have a hamburger in the middle of the night. This is one of the most precious memories I had with my dad.

Would you say that your bizarre combinations are a perfect example of creativity?
To me, creativity is about combining expected ideas in a way that results in something new and interesting. So I agree that in some sense my art distorts reality, which is pretty close to the definition of bizarre.

You once said, “The vibrant shades of pastel I use in my artworks are direct references to Mexico.” Would you describe your art as Mexican pop art?
I don’t think of my art as particularly Mexican. I am definitely inspired by my country’s architecture, food and art because they tend to be fun and colorful. I think of pop art as art that was made for the broad public. So the narrow label of Mexican doesn’t seem appropriate to me.

Your all-time favorite artist is Caravaggio, an early Baroque painter. Why him of all artists?
As a still life photographer, I paint with light. When you look at Caravaggio’s paintings, you see that he had a special gift for using light and shadow in a perfect way. He created a kind of drama with light, which I find very interesting. What is more, not all of his paintings are religious. He went down a different road, which I believe was not easy to do at that time. Back then, artists painted religion or royalty; that was it. I really admire that aspect of his work.

How do you see the role of the artist in today’s increasingly digital world?
To me, there are both upsides and downsides to digitization. There are a lot of artists who are doing wonderful work and taking their feed to a very professional level. In doing so, they are doing the most important thing, which is to naturally evolve with the changing environment. Sadly, I also see a lot of people who want to be artists but who have no message apart from craving social media attention. They are constantly adapting in order to stay trendy. And people tend to forget that you also have to master the techniques. Everyone has a camera on their smartphones today and can easily copy a style and use presets and filters and so on. My career would surely not have taken off so quickly without Instagram. I honestly have to say that Instagram is the biggest door an artist can ask for.

»The comedic element has never so central to art as it is today. It’s a good time to laugh, especially because the world is such a crazy place.«

One last question: You said that you like to make people laugh. Is humor particularly important these days?
I do try to make people laugh but what I am really after is to make them happy. I believe we are living in an age that requires humor. The comedic element has never so central to art as it is today. It’s a good time to laugh, especially because the world is such a crazy place.

To call Paul Fuentes a photographer and graphic designer is far too narrow a description. Fuentes grew up in Mexico City. After completing his studies, he worked as a designer for the Universidad Anáhuac México, traveled to Europe, came back and got started with new ideas on Instagram. His surreal images of food, animals and simple objects made him famous – so famous that he set up his own design agency in London and has landed assignments for Apple and Dior, among others. His aim in life: to make people laugh.

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