Pablo Medina describes himself as “a designer, artist, teacher, builder, filmmaker, photographer, socializer, lover, traveler, dancer, and cyclist.” Although, with his new-found interest in Buddhism, he realizes those titles are empty, meaningless labels (though I’m certainly intrigued by the dancer label).
I met up with Pablo for lunch last fall, as he was preparing for an artist-in-residence semester at California College of the Arts. I was filled with envy. We both teach; Pablo is at Parsons, and I’m at SVA. My spring semester plans included cleaning my apartment, while he was going for the full-on life-changing experience.
Pablo is just a little obsessed with hand-painted signage, and he creates post-modernist typeface designs that draw on his love of Latin American popular culture. He combines teaching with running his own successful, NYC-based, multidisciplinary graphic design studio, Cubanica.
Over lunch, Pablo explained his plan to develop a series of paintings based on signage from the Mission District in San Francisco. (What a great idea—teach and learn for an entire semester, with few distractions.) I made him promise to show them to me when he returned, and after running into him one day while he was out jogging (not mentioned in his description above, surprisingly), Pablo invited me to see his handiwork.
“I arrived in the Mission District from the airport on a Friday night,” Pablo recalls, “and the neighborhood had just the perfect balance of a lot happening and nothing happening. A couple of bars were buzzing, some kids were fixing their bikes, and some local Mexicanos were sitting on their stoops listening to reggaeton. My kind of place. Hand-painted signage was everywhere.”
Pablo continues, “I’d read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way a few years ago, which inspired me to combine my internal emotional inquiries with my external art-making process. Because of a way-too-busy New York schedule, this idea of making art by combining these two facets had been on the back burner for a while. I used my artist-in-residence experience as an excuse to put client work on hold and finally have a chance to allow this direction to see the light of day.”
While at CCA, Pablo attended a lecture by Jonathan Harris. “He was so encouraging of the expression of human struggle and humility both through his words and through his work,” Pablo says. ”Hearing him was a green light to continue my work.”
“One of my goals with this work was to have people find solace and identification with my stories of struggle and recognize the universality of suffering,” Pablo says. “I had recently been through a challenging time in my life and throughout the difficult moments, I kept saying to myself, ‘If I’m going to struggle, at least let me try to create something from it.’”
Using the photos he took biking through the Mission, Pablo combined the hand-painted aesthetic with a phrase or sentence from his journal. The resulting paintings are both playful and raw, and at times quite personal.
“My four months at CCA and in San Francisco proved so fruitful because they gave me the time and the space to initiate a new direction for my work,” Pablo concludes. “Now that I’m back in New York, I will continue to develop and expand on the work I started in California.”
Note to Pablo: If you don’t, I will.
For another artist who finds inspiration in everyday objects, check out the DesignCast “I Wake Up and Walk, First Reading the Obituaries”: Maira Kalman on Finding Inspiration in Ordinary Things.