I Come From The Water: An Interview with Felipe Lopez
Cuban-American artist Felipe Lopez has been making fine art for six years and displays a significant mastery of a variety of mediums, especially given that he’s only 24 years old. Lopez’s solo exhibition, I Come From The Water, will be shown at KCAM Contemporary Art Museum Fort Bend, a non-profit institution that’s helping bring contemporary art to Katy, where Lopez is also the artist in residence.
FPH: You lost almost all of the artwork in your studio after the recent flood.
Felipe Lopez: Everybody is familiar with the flood that happened a few weeks ago. It was really interesting because I had so much artwork that I would never paint over, I wouldn’t do it, so in a weird aspect it’s like losing everything allowed me to finally begin on something new. So now everything that’s in the museum show is work that I’ve completed, with the exception of some works in my house. The studio got nine inches of water, nothing was hung up and the majority of stuff is at ground level. It’s a cleansing process, but it’s also one of those times when I was telling one of my friends, “I feel like a part of me has been — in the most brutal way — evicted.” There was nothing I could do.
FPH: How long have you been making fine art?
Lopez: I’ve been doing professional art for six years now. So, when [gallerist] Wade Wilson picked me up, I was 18. That was a big deal. One of the pieces in the show was shown at Wade Wilson [Art] at my very first debut with the gallery and it’s titled “Underwater Lab Rats Practicing Religion.” Out of all the pieces [that I lost in the recent flood]; well, I had put that piece in a plastic bin — even though nothing else [in my studio] is in plastic bins — and it saved the piece from the 9 inches of water that essentially destroyed the studio and I have yet to go through the rubble. It saved that piece, along with a couple other pieces, so I thought, “This has to go in the show.”
I dropped out of high school half-way through my sophomore year. School wasn’t my thing, I preferred to learn on my own. My mother put me in this non-profit called MECA [Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts] and which is still kicking ass. My first art mentor, Diana Muniz, could have been the next teacher who wrote me off, but instead she was more interested in how I was conceptualizing artwork. Once she felt like the conceptual backing was there, it was time to really crack down on the aesthetic aspects, the art history aspects, along with just being a well-rounded artist, between color theory and being able to draw basic figures. A few months later, I was completely sold. I realized that this is what baseball didn’t give me at an early age.
Felipe Lopez, “This Could Be You,” 2016.
FPH: At some point, you had to make the choice between pursuing a career in professional baseball or one in art?
Lopez: That was crazy. It’s a sport that I love so much. I was being scouted, but after Wade Wilson picked me up, I was like, “Okay, cool, I have an awesome gallerist and I’m going to try the baseball thing again,” so I went out [to Florida] and was working out eight to 10 hours a day. Since I hadn’t been paid to play and I hadn’t gone to college or used any of my UIL [University Interscholastic League] years that I could use, so I had come back to Houston for a little while and go back to Miami to do a summer program, go to school and play over there. Baseball got down to a very simple question internally. Baseball is like a physical game of checkers and there’s a finite amount of possible moves. Art isn’t that way at all, not even in the slightest. Just when you thought you’ve reached the outermost limits of art, you realize that you could change one percent of it and then, boom, you have a whole new equation and all new possibilities. With baseball, you’re living with eight dudes and when you’re the only one saying, “Let’s go to Tampa and watch the ballet,” you kind of getting looked at really weird by dudes that just want boobs, babes, beaches and baseball. Let me tell you, that gets old quickly when that’s all you’re doing and all you’re about. That wasn’t me. I put in the work, I played hard, but that was physically intensive, I needed something mentally intensive.
FPH: How did you end up with your residency at KCAM?
Lopez: I was introduced to Ana by a woman who’s a collector and dealer. I was in the midst of welding school last year for combination welding and we had tried for over two months to sit down all together and do this. Having this show planned since last September and coming up with a title a month and a half before the flood actually occurred — “I Come From The Water,” this aspect of renewal, release and getting rid of the majority of this shit that you force yourself to horde. It’s been a great bond between Ana, the museum and myself. She’s given so much back and all the sales that come from this show, per our agreement, means that I’m giving back 50 percent of all sales [to KCAM] to put on more shows like this. I don’t think people realize that she’s privately funded the KCAM.
The opening reception for “I Come From The Water” takes place on Saturday, March 14 from 5 to 7 pm at KCAM (805 Avenue B) and the exhibition is on view through July 11.