Fast becoming the go-to-man for all things related to the art of portraiture, it’s no surprise that local photographer Xavier Tavera is back at the Walker for some events surrounding the exhibition Live Forever. Starting tonight, Xavier will share his expertise with teenagers in Polaroids, Prints, Projections, a 4 week workshop exploring portraiture in various media. You can also catch him, along with Jim Walsh, Melba Price, and Chuck Olson in Documenting Culture, a free panel discussion at the Walker Art Center on March 12. I sat down with Xavier Tavera and picked his brain on a few subjects, ranging from artmaking, to high school prom:
What were you like in high school?
I had an enormous amount of stuff to do other than school. Like, anything else but school. All my creativity was to do just stuff, not academic really. I mean, I’ve been photographing since then, but that wasn’t my major stuff. All my creativity was devoted to making strange stuff in the school, like pranks, disturbances. I never got caught. That was one of the key things: never get caught! Just stupid stuff, back then it was very important. We used to have these blinds that were glass and how can I get rid of them from the third floor? So over a period of 6 months, they all started to disappear. Or I’d get rid of the erasers. All of a sudden I started to collect them and collect them and hide them in the teacher’s desk that they never used. So all of a sudden me and 20 people had all these erasers. But we didn’t steal them! We just relocated them. Stuff like that. And then the secondary stuff was trying to get by with grades and stuff. I did part of high school in Mexico City and the last year in Houston, TX.
What do you want people to get out of your art?
Art is what communicates. If I can communicate something, if they can get something back out of the picture that I made, if I can get that relation from me to the photo to whoever is going to see it—whatever it is—I have succeeded. I mean, if someone comes and is indifferent to the work, to the stuff that I do, that’s a complete failure.
If you were to create a piece that looked like the inside of your head, what would it look like?
Well, for sure it’s going to have an enormous amount of bad photos—I mean, of images. It’s like an archive of faces and situations and places. It’s not something that’s going to look very nice, it’s a container that archives all this visual information. I can never forget a face. Names? Those are completely out. I have to work a lot on remembering names but images, face, I mean, those are archived. And situations, those get archived. Probably a mass of small containers.
How does your day job intersect with your life as an artist?
Most of the time my daily job gets in the way. It doesn’t have anything to do with what I create. The good thing is I get to drive half of the day, so I have nothing else to do but listen to the radio and start thinking about what I’m going to do. So, it kind of blends, in that sense, cause while I’m driving a half hour, one hour, three hours a day, I can’t do anything else. So, I think a lot. Even unconsciously, I’m thinking all the time. How am I going to solve a situation or a project or whatnot. And then, all the rest is design on the computer—but not creative design, architectural design. It’s necessary because it pays the bills.
If you could have dinner with three people living or dead who would they be and why?
At the same time? I mean, because it could be conflicted! If I had dinner with Freud and then with Dali, then you know, it could be people fighting. So, probably Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wouldn’t know what to talk to him about. I mean, the guy is incredible. He’s living in Mexico.
What is your favorite photo of all time?
There’s a beautiful beautiful picture, the author is Manuel Alvarez Bravo, he’s already dead. He’s a Mexican photographer. He died about 5 years ago. And he photographed a girl. The picture is in black and white and she’s holding a fish and I just love it. It’s a lady, she’s not smiling, she’s just holding a fish. And the title is something like, “Girl with a swordfish” or something like that. That’s an amazing piece because I can’t figure out how he got to that. I mean, there’s a number of ways that he could have taken that and he chose that way. But I don’t know all the background, only he knows it. That’s what’s interesting. That it has only some information and the rest you have to figure out. So, for me, it’s very engaging.
If you could design a senior prom what would it look like?
It’s going to be so kitchy. Lots of flowers and frosting, and dresses with you know, flowers and frosting. I’m thinking of, have you ever seen quincenera? It has to have a lot of color.
What advice could you give to a young artist?
Just do what’s in your head. Do it however you feel like it has to be done. There’s no right or wrong way of doing stuff. But, do it!
Polaroids, Prints, Projections: Portraiture Workshop is full. Check out teens.walkerart.org for other upcoming opportunities to work with artists like Xavier.