Most New Yorkers would argue, I imagine, that there is hardly anything at all worthwhile to view—art-wise, that is—in Times Square, on any given day. It is not the first place most people think of when one thinks of seeing quality art, should one be so fortuitous as to have this thought in the first place. If we are being honest, which we should be as often as possible, Times Square represents, for a lot of us, a sort of never-ending nightmarish hell-scape that, when encompassed in it, seems to be wholly inescapable. But so, for the next couple of weeks at least, from 11:57pm until midnight, Times Square will transform into a surreal and imaginative and altogether pleasant dreamscape, if you can believe it. Brought to you by The Cuban Artist Fund—a non-profit that works to foster resources and build networks in effort to garner appreciation and recognition of Cuban artists—in collaboration with Times Square Arts, the digital billboards of Times Square will be transformed into a transcendental, moving and rhythmic travel through Cuban-American artist and long-time Brooklynite Emilio Perez’s colorful and wildly imaginative Dream Season.
The newest installation for the popular “Midnight Moment” digital art exhibition, Dream Season is Emilio Perez’s first foray into the world of digital arts, endeavoring to transform his surreal, intuitive, energetic paintings into a moving, transformative, masterful journey of depth and color and sound. Inspired by the palpable to-and-fro of the millions of people who traverse the city streets and the perpetual ebb and flow of the bodies of water surrounding our small island, Emilio Perez brilliantly captures the essence of movement and atmosphere of this enigmatic landscape of New York. I had the pleasure of interviewing Perez to gain insight into his particular artistic approach and his feelings on being included in such a unique project.
CV: First, Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey as an artist in New York?
EP: I was born in New York to Cuban parents who immigrated here in the early sixties. We eventually relocated to Miami where I grew up and began my development as an artist. I moved back to New York to go to art school and aside from a few years where I split my time between New York and Miami, I have lived here since the mid 90’s. Besides calling New York my home, I have always felt that it was the best environment for me to live and work considering its place in the contemporary art world.
CV: Where does your inspiration for your art come from?
EP: My inspiration comes from classical paintings, music and the forces of nature, really. As an abstract painter, I filter the experience of my travels and everyday life to try to produce work that is an honest extension of myself and the things that interest me.
CV: How would you describe your style? What is your process like for creating such intricate works?
EP: My work has always had a great deal to do with intuition, spontaneity and creating in the moment. I bring together the expressiveness of the painted gesture with the immediacy of drawing and mark making. It feels like a very honest extension of oneself much like your signature or handwriting is specifically and unequivocally you. For some reason, it has always felt more spontaneous and natural for the painting to inform the drawing because of the looseness and individuality of the brushstroke. I started doing this by working in a reductive technique where I use the x-acto knife as my drawing tool to cut through the paint and reveal the backgrounds, peeling back layers of paint, essentially. By reacting to the brush strokes in an intuitive way without a set idea of what the painting is supposed to look like, it allows me to create in the moment.
CV: Your choice of colors is intriguing, can you talk some about your personal relationship with color?
EP: Color, much like composition and style in any form, I think is very intuitive. As I mentioned, I have always been interested in classical and Renaissance paintings in which you have very rich colors depicting figures, clothing, skies and landscapes so I think that seeps into my own work. I also like the idea of using colors that feel timeless and not obvious or typical of the moment.
CV: How did you get involved with the Times Square Midnight Moment project?
EP: I got involved with Times Square through a recommendation by the Cuban Artist Fund. They support projects by both Cuban and Cuban-American artists and they have a long-standing relationship with Times Square Arts. Also the nature of my work with its graphic line, movement and energy would lend itself to the medium and format of animation on the giant screens of Times Square.
CV: What was it like to transform your paintings into video and how did you take on this task?
EP: The biggest challenge was learning a new medium. I have always been a very hands-on person so with the help of a friend I was able to learn some basics in After Effects and go from there. This approach actually helped me do things in an intuitive manner much like my typical practice in the studio. Since it was my first animation I also knew that my starting point needed to be something that I was familiar with. I took an existing painting and deconstructed it by isolating backgrounds, lines and brushstrokes and began making digital collages with the components that I then animated. My goal is to capture the imagination of Times Square’s visitors and keep them engaged throughout the duration of the video with a slow motion ride through my language of painting.
CV: What do you think is the importance of having your work, or any works for that matter, displayed in this format, in this particular location?
EP: I am very fortunate to get the opportunity to engage with such a broad public! There are few places, probably on Earth, even, where you can have a concentration of so many people from every corner of the planet all in one place existing together. The monumental scale of the screens allows you to not only get their attention but also invites them along for the ride. For myself, it will allow me to experience my work in a way that I have never felt. Ultimately you are the sum of your experiences and I look forward to seeing how this project will affect my work in the future.
CV: Was the concept for Dream Season already in existence, or did it come about specifically for the Times Square Midnight Moment project?
EP: The concept for Dream Season came from being asked to make a proposal for Times Square Art’s Midnight Moment. Until that point, I had never worked in video or made an animation. When I began to think about the project, the two main things I needed to take into consideration in order for it to be successful in my eyes was creating a video animation that moved and looked differently than the rest of the advertising in Times Square while also needing to engage with an incredibly diverse audience. One thing people all over the world have in common, regardless of their backgrounds or where they come from, is that we all dream and have imaginations, and so the title Dream Season, derived from that idea. In my research, I found that Times Square was the beginning point of the Lincoln Highway, the earliest trans-continental highway in the United States which connected New York to San Francisco. I liked the analogy of the road trip of the imagination to transport the viewer out of the chaos of Times Square if only for the short duration of the video.
CV: Would you say there is a message inherent in your work?
EP: In the case of Dream Season, it is really about engaging with the viewer’s imagination and letting them interpret things in their own way without any specific message.
In both my work and life I strive to always be present so I hope this piece will allow people to exist in the moment if only for those few minutes in Times Square.
CV: What does your studio look like?
EP: My studio is in a large loft space in Brooklyn that I have had for 16 years. Originally I lived there so it still feels like home and is very comfortable while at the same time big enough for me to make large-scale paintings and work on multiple projects.
CV: And finally, aside from the Times Square Midnight Moment project, what is coming up for you?
EP: I have just finished a special edition screen print inspired by Dream Season, that will be released by Pace Prints on Nov.1st to coincide with my video installation in Times Square. I am also collaborating with my good friend Andrew Yeomanson aka DJ Le Spam on a sound component for an extended version of Dream Season for a large scale indoor video installation.
Emilio Perez is prolific and featured prevalently in galleries and museums across the country and internationally, as well. He attended both Pratt University and Florida’s New World School of the Arts.
Go to Times Square in the middle of the night and see Dream Season. There is art in the juxtaposition, there is art in that which you deem incapable of allure. If for a brief moment Times Square can be something you thoroughly enjoy, surrounded by strangers of the world, makes it seem entirely worthwhile. Midnight Moment occurs nightly from 11:57 pm to midnight and is presented by the Times Square Advertising Coalition and is curated by Times Square Arts since 2012.
All photographs Courtesy of Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts