Artist Snapshot: Mariano Del Rosario

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions.

Artist Snapshot: Mariano Del Rosario
Mariano Del Rosario in his studio, 2022

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

At age eighteen, when I entered the university and had to make a decision. It was a shot in the dark. I had other dreams, but it’s clear to me now that all aspirations are intertwined, and like all particles in the universe, they intersect.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

No one was particularly for or against it, but something in the air smelled and felt like I should be doing something else for practical reasons. It was a different time and place. A Proustian moment to think of it. It would have been easier to have had the luxury of guidance and solid support of a nuclear family, but my mother died when I was young, so we needed to grow up fast. I learned early how to think outside the box and to take chances. To wonder what I would do today if things were different is wistful thinking.

Who are your favorite artists?

I take great pleasure in looking at Sandro Botticelli, the Hudson River School painters, Kurt Schwitters, Mario Merz, and Louise Bourgeois, among many.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

Hokusai (b. 1760), the Japanese Ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period, famous for The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which symbolized the fear of the coming of foreigners to Japan at the time.

Art book you cannot live without?

I’m agnostic about having only one thing, one belief system, and anything I can’t live without in particular. It’s a First World problem. Art books are generally gibberish, self-absorbed, and forgettable, but great for coffee tables. I’m rereading Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir as well as Daisetz Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism. Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing are also great and easier to read.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

I stopped doing it; it’s a trap. I like to attack the canvas head on, work with it, not on it, and draw meanings from materials in the process. It’s alchemy. Overthinking gets in the way of spontaneity, and one should readily sense calculation from intuition, so therefore risk and uncertainty are baked into art-making or it’s too safe.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?

The Met Museum for its encyclopedic breadth. It is second to none.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?

The Kurt Scwhitters retrospective at MoMA in 1985.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

Architect and farmer.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

A high school classmate in the Philippines who made a hyperrealistic copy of the Dutch graphic artist MC Escher’s print titled Drawing Hands. I thought it was fantastic for a young sixteen-year-old and wished I could do the same. We were competitive, so I went to the library the following day and researched all kinds of images and techniques. Then he came up to me to say anyone could do it. “Just do it” was the voice I heard for decades long before Michael Jordan, the NBA basketball star, made famous the slogan in the Nike ads. That classmate became a surgeon.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

The business of art and how to navigate it while keeping the balance. Talking about money in the art world is still taboo unless you’re in the backroom with an art dealer. There’s a myth that poverty and hardship make pure art. The ascetic types might say they make art because they have to in quest of some spiritual or mystical truths. At last, they might find the Holy Grail on the dark Web in the form of NFTs. NFTs or non-fungible tokens are unique digital files that can be sold, leased, or traded like any real-world asset on the blockchain in cryptocurrency. How to mint and trade art files should be taught in art schools as an alternative way to make profit and gain financial independence. Whether one believes it’s art or not is an ongoing conversation, but it already inhabits the art domains and, arguably, will be the next big thing in inflationary economics. As one art critic says: the one percent talks about art and the ninety-nine percent talks about money. What’s inconceivable today will be commonplace tomorrow.

What work of art have you looked at most and why? mariano del rosario interview

Wassily Kandinsky. His dissonant compositions, syncopated rhythms, and colorful crescendos transport you to a different time and place. It’s experiential. Mystics and neuroscientists relate to his work.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

Thunderstorm and lightning.

Do you listen to music in your studio? mariano del rosario interview

Yes, when prepping the panels to get the adrenaline going, then shutting it off when in full concentration.

What is the last gallery you visited?

None since the pandemic.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?

Rating systems are arbitrary. I take the fifth.

What art materials can you not live without?

I can work with most materials—except for banana.

Do you create art every day?

Never, but I always work. 

What is the longest time you went without creating art?

I can’t recall.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired? mariano del rosario interview

I learned a long time ago to go right back to the studio when feeling low or uninspired, pick up the brush, make something, and make no excuses. I also go for long walks around the city as meditation to clear my headspace, while at the same time checking out new urban developments and architectural constructions, mulling their supposed implications in the neighborhoods.

What are the questions that drive your work?

What is my responsibility as an artist? What contribution can I make to the development of contemporary art? Can I do better and is it relevant? If I don’t get financial return, will I still make art?

What is the most important quality in an artist?

Integrity and newness combined.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art? mariano del rosario interview

Many things.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?

Instant access to information with a click of the finger. It’s democracy at its best. It levels the playing field for the digital souls, the under-appreciated, and the marginalized, giving them visibility and opportunity on the local and global spheres. It’s a game changer with a caveat. When the news of mega art sales on the internet broke out during the pandemic, many took to the social media and suddenly became artists. When the virtual meetings, exhibitions, and tours ballooned, the art galleries, the big auction houses, the art fairs, including the venerable art museums, jumped on the bandwagon. In a rapidly changing world, who survives the uncertainties of a frenetic discourse laid down by the cutthroat consumerism of late capitalism is an open-ended question. But one thing is certain: the possibilities are there.

MARIANO DEL ROSARIO (@marianodelrosario) teaches classes in Collage and Assemblage and Mixed Media: 2-D and 3-D Painting at the Art Students League of New York.

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