Visual Vernacular: Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola
Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola, “(A veces hieren el trayecto del agua) Sometimes they hurt the water’s path: Vanessa Torres”
Words in motion matched with movement in architecture are things Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola is known utilizing for in his work. With his recent Individual Artist Grant Award, a grant funded by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Gimenez-Zapiola has created a multi-sensory experience entitled Eastext. A bond between profound poetry and projections, he draws from his array of skills as a photographer, graphic designer, and architect to present three special evenings, starting with an event on Thursday, October 13, at three different venues across the East End: El Rincón Social, galleryHOMELAND, and BOX 13 ArtSpace.
The artist will present the itinerary to the attendants which includes moving projections for a 45 minute duration on streets around the area of each venue. After the projections conclude the event follows with an artist talk, poetry recitations and interior projections at the venue. Poets integrated into Gimenez-Zapiola’s project include Gwendolyn Zepeda, Vanessa Torres, Holly Lyn Walrath, John Pluecker, and Eloísa Pérez-Lozano.
Having worked with many different analog media types in the past, Gimenez-Zapiola is thinking more and more about coming back to the analog world. This unique artist’s way of working is connecting with his surroundings and establishing a dialogue with them, trying to find the beauty existing around us along with trying to extract it from everywhere he goes. Gimenez-Zapiola was kind enough to explain his artistic vision and about his upcoming three-night project.
Free Press Houston: Did you have rigorous instruction in the arts growing up?
Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola: It was very intense. I was always drawing and painting. I got a huge prize around the age of 10 in a Snow White contest, a national contest. I received lots of things, paint, paper, all kinds of utensils and tools; all that you need in a studio! I remember at 13 I used to draw the inside of ships, or passenger planes, sticking several sheets of paper together. Those were like 10 feet wide. At the age of 14 and 15 I started copying things from photos, with ink, graphite, color pencil and pastel. That was my way of learning techniques.
FPH: How did architecture connect to your talent in art during your collegiate studies?
Zapiola: I think architecture is an art. I always say that in good architecture, a building is a sculpture in which you live or develop an activity. I enjoyed in architecture school immensely even though I struggled with math, structure calculations, etc., but to be able to express whatever I wanted in whichever technique I wanted gave me lots of freedom. Knowing already how to draw and other things were all a huge advantage. Émile Zola, the French writer said: “There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.”
At the same time I was always interested in other disciplines like cinema, literature, design, photography, painting, sculpture, music, and of course architecture. All together, they provided me with a rich and powerful platform to research and draw from in my art. I was always drawing, taking pictures, and I had a black and white photo lab in my bedroom. I use to shoot a lot and that has grown over the years.
FPH: Seeing that you have multiple skill sets in your arsenal, how have you expanded your skills in these various forms over time?
Gimenez-Zapiola: Each discipline provided me a different way to experience things, to see things and, when learned, to create them in different ways. Drawing was, is, and will always be for me a way to express, to sketch, to conceptualize. It is always fascinating learning a skill. It is like something that grows from you, like an arm, or a hand, one more ability, another way to connect with life. My experience as a designer had a great deal in improving my expression skills, always contributing to a more accurate conceptualization, towards a better creation of things. It is just a matter of practice. I work to acquire in some extent, physically; the muscle, and artistically along with the mastery.
At the same time I put a lot of work in simplification, always cropping and taking out what I don’t need. Leaving only the necessary, nothing more. I think having been taught essentially in architecture’s modern movement put in me that perennial need of always subtracting, rather than adding, and not only in the final work but in its whole creation and production process; a continuous distillation process.
FPH: How did you first get started with projections?
Gimenez-Zapiola: Through my design practice I approached the work of many European creative groups that worked with projections. That was about the first half of the 90s. Then in 2024 I had a photo and video exhibition combined with projections. In that opportunity I projected text over patterns; random words taken from the dictionary, with no particular order or relevance, just words.
The patterns were photos of projections on the wall of patterns created in my studio along with my assistants to make projections of projections, plus words, along with sound. Working with projections added a whole new world to my art practice. It was the possibility of integrating photography and moving images including video and animations. I started to get interested in projections as a way to work in an abstract way. Then words became shapes; independent and even foreign of their meaning.
FPH: Tell me about the projections in your latest project.
Gimenez-Zapiola: The projections from a moving car came as a consequence and evolution of my projections on to moving trains. Conceptually they are the same, both integrate projections, movement, and context, but the process and the results are different. With the projections on to the train, I project from a still position on to something that is moving, in the projections from the car, I move in relation to context, converting it, for me, into something that moves. The whole reality moves in relation to me. In this process many interesting things develop, all strange to me. I never saw words projected in movement before this project. Words start to behave in unusual ways, fragmenting, overlapping, disappearing, getting transparent, etc.
A whole disintegration process develops out of my control. There is nothing I can do to make words act at my will. This “chance” factor is one of the most powerful components of the project. To end and synthesize this: words affect the context, transforming it, and at the same time, the context affects the words, all in a seamless communion of light and space. Both the words and the context become something else foreign to their original status.
FPH: How are you incorporating other art forms (i.e. poetry) into this project? What is the connection between words, movement, and visuals for you?
Gimenez-Zapiola: I’ve been working with poetry and projections since 2024. It started with the train projections. Poetry has a very powerful quality especially with the metaphor, and at the same time words are shapes. I am interested in both. I think the projections have some metaphoric quality too as they de-compose language into something else. Each sentence, as experienced while being projected, provides a certain meaning and message. It opens a door through which to enter and it establishes a dialogue unique to each viewer. I am interested in those dialogues, “person specific” rather than a single one for all. Each sentence gains autonomy, at some point becoming independent of the poem, acquiring its own life and in a way escaping the poem. The poem becomes a vehicle for multiple dialogues through each sentence, which ultimately become statements.
FPH: Any upcoming projects you would like to mention?
Gimenez-Zapiola: Coming up I have a projects titled Night Trees (photos of trees illuminated at night), Minimals (short video clips of single things that are all around us), and Unbearable Vastness (uninhabited places, deserts mostly). All of these projects will continue show my experimentation with projections; to trains, from moving cars, on to still objects, trees, forests, buildings, etc.
In relation to still projections in spaces, on December 3, 2024, I will be presenting a new multiple projections project called Hidentities at Aurora Picture Show. This is something I’ve been working on for the last months. It is a one-night event, and it’s going to be very interesting.
“Eastext” runs on Thursday, October 13 from 6:40 to 8:40pm at El Rincón Social (3210 Preston). Additional showings are on Thursday, October 20 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at galleryHOMELAND (3401 Harrisburg), along with Thursday, October 27 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at BOX 13 ArtSpace (6700 Harrisburg). All events are free.