GUH People: Jose Figueroa

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Venezuelan-born artist currently based in Oakland, Jose Figueroa works in drawing, photography, video and sculpture. Best known for his map-like drawings that document his surroundings in playful detail, Figueroa is a keen observer of life. A self-described "impressionist," his recent travels to Paris, Cherry Grove and around San Francisco have provided much inspiration for his growing archive of queer spaces: clothing-optional beaches, clubs, among others. He studied at the Skowhegan School, Cooper Union (BFA) and received his MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. He was a graduate student in the 2015 GUH studio ART+VILLAGE+CITY in the Pearl River Delta (ARCH 209/RHETOR 205), co-taught by Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric).

How did you first hear about the Global Urban Humanities Initiative and what made you want to join?

I first heard about the Global Urban Humanities in my first year as a master’s student of the Art Practice department. Some members of my cohort took a GUH studio course where they travelled to Los Angeles and they told me about the class exploring the Pearl River Delta next semester. I was deeply interested in the opportunity to do field practice in a foreign country and to engage in an interdisciplinary classroom. It was really insightful to connect with students from different fields with different concerns, research methodologies and intellectual products.

As a graduate student in the Art+Village+City studio, could you share your experiences participating in an interdisciplinary GUH studio?

I really value my memories of this class. I decided to document all our class meetings via watercolor paintings and I am so glad to have so many thorough maps of our classroom. There is a website with the process, experience and results of our field trip to the Pearl River Delta. Magaret Crawford and Winnie Wong were stellar mentors with whom I still keep connections with.  

There are many unique memories of my 14 days in China. I remember going to an inflatable factory in industrial Guangzhou to produce an all white entryless bouncy castle. I remember going to Splendid China, the world's largest miniature park, reproducing attractions in China with my graduate advisor and Art Practice faculty Anne Walsh (who also taught the 2014 GUH studio on Los Angeles). I remember having tea with Professor Duan Qilai, the sculptor who created Lantau Island’s Big Buddha in his studio in Xiaozhou Village, and talking about objects of devotion and sites of pilgrimage. I remember also painting Dafen village’s colorful kindergarten located in the central square. Dafen oil painting village is the world's largest production center for replicas of famous oil paintings located in the city of Shenzhen. I attracted the attention of many children as well as tourists, visitors, and other painters who commented on my ability to represent the kindergarten building. This caught their eye because most painters in Dafen village paint from photographic sources and I like to paint from life. 

Tell us a little bit about your current project/career and how GUH has shaped this.

After I graduated I’ve been paving a career in education and have been working with Richmond Youth. I also continued my studio practice at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin while pursuing other artist residencies in the US and abroad. Thanks to the Terra Foundation, I travelled to France to connect my practice to the Impressionist legacy through an immersive project with Claude Monet’s lily pond (that I am still dissecting). I recorded the iconic Golden Gate Bridge au plein air informed by photographer and geologist Mark Klett and the process of rephotography. I documented pool and beach scenes in the historical gay destination of Fire Island, NY where Oscar Wilde, Frank O’Hara and David Hockney left imprints. I would say that my time in the GUH initiative was crucial in developing elements of my ongoing observational drawing practice that responds to my surroundings as a handmade polaroid, allowing me to record more than meets the eye.


Jose Figueroa's watercolor of Art+Village+City students driving from Shenzhen to Guangzhou

Could you share one memorable moment you had as a GUH student?

I really enjoyed the time producing the exhibition highlighting the research we produced as a class. It was a pleasure to closely collaborate with Ettore Santi, Valentina Rozas-Krause and all our classmates and closely work with Winnie and Margaret. I remember we always got lunches from Babette’s.

Tell us one thing you are reading/watching/listening to that is helping you get through the quarantine.

I binge-watched Issa Rae’s Insecure and I was recently introduced to Amy Sedaris’ Strangers with Candy. I started the quarantine season with a novel called Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Lopera, Colombian writer based in the Bay Area. I’ve been revisiting The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and I have a copy of Angela Y. Davis’ If They Come in the Morning on top of my side table.