By Jose Morales & Luis De Jesus. This article, "Artist Julia Rivera: A Conversation About Her Work and Her Fight Against Human Injustice," was first published in our fourth Issue.
"I don't want people just to stand and look at a pretty panting. I want them to stand against the injustices against humanity." - Julia Rivera
New York City – Salvador Dali stated that “a true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” Julia Rivera is that kind of artist. We first met Julia Rivera during an art presentation at Maison 10 in New York City. Upon our arrival to the event, we were immediately captivated and impacted by her work, even before learning about her or the motivation behind her pieces.
Born in the Bronx and raised in Puerto Rico, Julia Rivera has over 30 years of working in the creative arts. Her career has taken her around the globe. She is a graduate of some of the most prestigious art institutions in the world. Her academic achievements include a master’s degree in 17th-century painting and restoration from the Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy. Throughout the years, and multiple exhibitions, she has amassed a worldwide clientele, with her work gracing the collections of many high profile collectors of art.
When Rivera speaks about her work, the driving force behind her pieces becomes even more clear: the fight against human injustice, especially the suffering experienced by women and children. When presenting her work during the event, Rivera did not speak in the tone of expertise we have come to witness from some high profile artists. She spoke with what we call a “humble passion.” When speaking to the audience, she was passionate but restrained, as not to let her explanation of her work divert them from the message they had already come to understand when first seeing her art. She also spoke to those in the audience at their level, without the use of artistic jargon. This allowed the audience to feel connected to her while delivering a deeper understanding of her work — an inspiring understanding. Rivera’s passion for fighting and raising awareness about human injustice became a contagious feeling throughout the audience.
During these politically tumultuous times we are living in now, the Guild Magazine Team has been cautious to remain neutral when it comes to political messages. As a new publication with a focus on the creative arts and travel, we felt we were restrained on what we could say or not say, or whom we could feature or not depending on their political views and the concerns of how our readers would react to it. However, artist Julia Rivera inspired us to change our minds. We all have a duty to stand up to injustice and to use our platforms to fight against it.
We caught up with Rivera a few days after the Maison 10 event to talk more about her career, and her work. The pieces featured with this interview speak to the uncertainty Puerto Ricans face while being citizens of the United States but not partaking in the same opportunities as those living in the mainland. They also speak to the atrocities faced by those trying to escape violence in their countries. People who dream of freedom and peace in the United States, but now being turned away or forbidden from entering this land of opportunities.
"A single piece of artwork, with a strong idea behind it, can influence people and spark conversation." - Julia Rivera
1 – What is the meaning of art to you?
Art is a form of communication, a mix of ideas and feelings, shaped by the materials. Art is beautiful, interesting, and meaningful. It is a form of dialogue and a powerful one at that. Through a mixture of creativity, and with conviction, art can send a strong message. Art helps to overcome barriers of language and to change minds.
2 – How do you classify your creative work?
My work is driven by a certain level of politics. It is an expression of beauty and politics. My paintings and sculptures express my voice. My work is often in protest of political issues such as the abuse of human rights in the Americas, or the refugee crisis in the United States, and the current state of our presidency. My work, most importantly, is also about strong women and respect.
3 – What is the main thing you wish for your clients to understand from your work?
My clients understand that there will always be a level of politics behind my art, instead of just focusing on the expression of beauty. The simple truth is that art has no form; it exits purely in the mind of the artist and the audience. I want my artwork to make a statement and deliver a message about humanity. It is not just about bringing attention through the use of bright colors and eye-catching patterns. True art makes a statement. I don’t want people just to stand and look at a pretty panting. I want them to stand against the injustices against humanity.
4 – Your latest work is very evocative of current political situations in the United States as well as in Puerto Rico. What drove you to change the focus of your art to raise awareness about humanitarian crises?
What drove me to change is the feeling that we are living in a corrupt and inhumane society. It is evil to place innocent children in cages. When you look at those children’s expressions, it captures the horror we are living in America. Art has been, and always will be, an instrument of social change. A true artist does not test the waters but jumps in and creates ripples that lead to change. I will always criticize and protest against social injustices through my work. I will do this until the end.
5 – What role do you feel the artist has in society?
As an artist, I feel that our struggle is to stay true to our own voice and not someone else’s. Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values, and translating experiences across space and time. The role an artist plays in society is highly dependent on the personality of the artist and the artist’s chosen subject matter. With their work, artists can lead, follow, uplift, or provoke. They provide a vast range of emotions to society.
6 – If there was one thing you could change in this world with the help of your art, what would it be and why?
Over the past 30 years as an artist, I have traveled to many countries around the world. I would love to somehow bring about change when it comes to global issues. This includes the problems I spoke about before, and also climate change. I would love the opportunity to stand in front of an audience of global leaders and express my ideas. Working as an artist may not have brought me these things, but it has brought me into contact with a wealth of outlooks on the world and has introduced me to a vast range of truly differing perceptions.
7 – What is your most essential tool? Is there something you cannot be without in your art studio?
I cannot be without glue and paper. I love the use of glue when I’m working with paper, fabrics, wet pain, deli-paper, metro maps, and brown bags. I can recycle almost any material, including copies of my artwork. Of course, I cannot be without brushes and have them in all shapes and sizes. However, I consider that my most important tool is my ideas. A single piece of artwork with a strong idea behind it can influence people and spark conversation.
8 – Which artist has inspired you, or has been your biggest influence?
Gustave Courbet has utterly inspired my work for many years. His art focused on the physical reality of the subject he observed, even if it was plain. He rejected the classical and theatrical styles of the French Academy and was renowned for his response to the political upheavals which gripped France during his lifetime.
9 – You studied art in Europe for many years and have also worked for major institutions of art as a fine art restorer? Can you think of a piece you restored which to you felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris comes immediately to mind as that opportunity! Twenty years ago, I worked in collaboration with a group of art conservators on this magnificent, Gothic-style cathedral and primarily worked on the Virgin and Child piece from the 14th Century. – GM
For more of Julia’s Rivera’s work, you can visit the following galleries:
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