Cynthia Reeser (Tampa Review Online): Could you talk a bit about what sparked your initial interest in art?
Yanuary Navarro: Whenever I think about this topic I always come to the same origin: my older brother Hector. I remember him showing me a drawing he had done when I was very young and being amazed by this sort of magic. I drew on and off as a kid, although I dedicated most of my childhood to the performing arts, specifically dance. In my late teenage years, I chose to seriously pursue visual art because it was a medium that allowed me to communicate issues that were directly affecting my loved ones, even though I was too shy to verbally voice my ideas. Images have the power to make a lasting impression in our minds and motivate action.
CR: You produce work in various media. Do you have a favorite medium to work in?
YN: I feel most at peace when I use mediums that do not impose on the environment or people. Building out of recycled and found objects, for example. At the same time, I have a love for my pencils and paints because they can be easily transported from place to place without the need of a big studio.
CR: You have also done collaborative work. The Solstice installation piece is particularly notable. Could you talk about your part in that project?
YN: The Solstice installation at Olio Gallery has been one of my favorite collaborative projects. The set-up was an equal effort between myself, Cheryl Saori Murphy, and Gregory Dirr. Months prior to the installation, I had repurposed several tree branches into about 12 foot tall tree sculptures that brought a part of my fictional narrative drawings into our physical world. Gregory and I approached Cheryl about a possible exhibition in her space and she was kind and courageous enough to agree to transform her gallery space into a fantastical installation. The project combined all three artists’ work into a seamless otherworldly experience that engaged all of the senses. I contributed pieces that added an environmental aspect, such as floating clouds made using Polyester stuffing and Styrofoam for raindrops. In addition, I painted a mural of a winter forest and transformed the floor space by pouring pounds of recycled, shredded paper over it. The viewer’s path was directed by leaving a clear walkway around the space.
CR: In the “about the work” section on your website, you reference fairy tales as one of the influences on your work, which is also an area of interest for me. Are there any tales or collections in particular that you would say have been particularly influential for you?
YN: The most memorable tales have been those my mom told me when I was a kid. I don’t know if they were from books or just made up. My mom’s stories begin by saying things like, “Oh yes, this reminds me of so and so, who made these choices, and this is what happened to them.” For example, she taught me the story about a little hen and her animal friends who would not help her with the long list of chores that needed to be done before flour could be baked into a warm, fluffy bread loaf. As a result, the little hen had to do all of the sowing, harvesting, milling, and baking alone. Then, when the day came to eat all the bread, guess who was ready and willing? All of the animals that refused to help in the beginning. I won’t give away the ending. I will leave that up to you. If you were the hen, what would you do? Would you forgive?
CR: When I look at your art, I immediately think of children’s book illustrations—your work has a professional quality to it and is unique and vibrant. Have you ever illustrated for children’s books or is this something you have considered doing?
YN: I have several ideas brewing that I intend to realize as children’s books. My narratives usually are based on true stories that evolve into fictional exaggerations, because people pay more attention when there is something odd or impossible. I think storytelling is a vital part of our human history. I am grateful to be a part of my family because they have a gift for oral storytelling. They could be talking about buying toothpaste, but the way they paint a mental picture is colorful, detailed, and full of laugh-out-loud twists and turns. I want to keep this family tradition alive by writing and illustrating my own exaggerated facts of life. I’m also open to collaborating with writers and illustrating their great stories.
CR: In the collaboration section on your website, you mention an “uptightness with art.” This really struck me because in your art I see so much freedom—anything but uptightness. Is (or was) that uptightness a reluctance toward art, or something else?
YN: I did struggle with a “creative uptightness,” particularly in my younger years as an artist. I was afraid to experiment because I didn’t want to be judged as a “bad” artist or “unskilled.” I once believed that art had to be technically advanced to be great and I usually was not as technically refined as my peers. Back then, a criticism like that would have crushed me because I was just starting to find my focus in the visual arts. Then, I started collaborating on art with other artists and noticed that we each had our own strengths to contribute. I had a realization that I may not be able to draw a photorealistic hand, but I can tell a story using simple shapes, color, and lines, which is more important to me and is the reason for my newfound creative freedom. Art is a place of freedom, and no criticism or fear should decide your personal reasons for making art.
CR: You mention on your website a desire for your artwork to reflect concerns about the environment. I personally think that your work reflects the beauty of the natural world and engages a fascination with how magical it can be. What do you want your work to communicate to the world at large? Do you think that artists have a responsibility toward social consciousness?
YN: I want my work to communicate the importance of life. All life. Regardless of shape, size, color, origin, species, class, or beliefs. We are lucky to wake up every day and be greeted by the sun or the sound of a gentle breeze. Making art about these subjects is my way of highlighting their value. I am no more important than an ant or a tree. We are equally entitled to live.
I believe that social consciousness is a priority that all human beings should exercise. I understand that our society has made us believe that one person is not enough to make a difference in the world. That we can’t all be Mother Teresa, Jesus, or Buddha, so we might as well just live our lives and do whatever we want. I choose to take the advice of Gandhi and remember that one person does make a difference; that, to have world peace, we must find inner peace within ourselves, then our families, then our nation. The rest will naturally follow. The arts are an essential tool for world peace because they can facilitate moments needed to find peace within ourselves.
Yanuary Navarro will be showing new work during the exhibition Narrative Conscious, opening on May 2, 2014 from 6-10 p.m. at Epoxy Space in Tampa, Florida. This is a two-person show that also features work by fellow artist Jujmo and will run through the month of May.
Visit Yanuary Navarro on the web at: http://yanuarynavarro.com/
Yanuary Irasema Navarro is an artist, designer, and educator born in the small village of Juticalpa, Olancho, Honduras. She has been living in Florida since 1996, after her family immigrated to the United States. In 2010, she graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design with a BFA in illustration. From 2010-2012 she collaborated with Thought Coalition, an art collective originated in Florida that organizes, curates, and promotes local art shows and artists. Presently, she is an art educator at a local Montessori school and owner of Vita-Coyote, an online studio and shop. Her work has been published in Artbook Tampa Bay, Tampa Review 42, The Ringling 100, on various album covers, and in other publication media. Florida has been welcoming by providing a variety of group and juried exhibitions for her mixed media work in spaces such as The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Scope Miami with C. Emerson Fine Arts, and The Bakehouse Art Complex.
Cynthia Reeser is the Founder and Publisher of Aqueous Books, and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prick of the Spindle literary journal. She has published more than 100 reviews in print and online, as well as poetry and fiction in print and online journals. Her short stories are anthologized in the Daughters of Icarus Anthology (Pink Narcissus Press, 2013), and in Follow the Blood: Tales Inspired by The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (Sundog Lit, 2013). Cynthia is currently working on a literary short story collection inspired by fairy tale lore. Also a senior editor for two association management companies, she lives and works in the Birmingham area and attends the University of Tampa in pursuit of her MFA in Creative Writing (fiction). Visit her on the web at www.cynthiareeser.com.