Pepe Mar is the latest local creative to have his work featured by the Miami art evangelists over at Commissioner. (📸: Carina Mask, courtesy of David Castillo Gallery.)
The following interview is produced in partnership with Commissioner, a membership program that aims to grow a community of new local art collectors in Miami and share the stories of Miami arts and artists. The interview was conducted by Commissioner and WhereBy.Us co-founder Rebekah Monson and it has been edited for length and clarity.
Pepe Mar was born in Mexico and lives and works in Miami, Florida. He received his BFA from California College of the Arts (CCA), San Francisco; attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine; and received his MFA from Florida International University. Pepe’s work has been exhibited around the world and is included in major public and private collections across the United States, Europe, and Latin America, including ICA Miami, Tampa Museum of Art, and Pérez Art Museum Miami.
The New Tropic: Pepe, you're a very accomplished Miami artist, and Miami is referenced a lot in your work. Tell me more about how you draw inspiration from the city.
Pepe Mar: This is a special year for me because it marks my 20th anniversary living in Miami. I am excited because I am doing this new work for Commissioner, an exhibition at Frost Art Museum, and I have an exhibition at the Tampa Museum of Art—it's a retrospective about my time living here and being an artist in Miami.
I always like being a part of the community. It's important to me. It's funny because now, whenever I talk about Miami, I think of when I first moved to South Beach and my experience was very lively, very gay, a lot of nightlife and all that sort of thing. It's something that I like to reference in the work because it's such a special time for me—a coming-of-age.
I’ve lived through different eras—the era where South Beach was the place. And then, when I started showing with David Castillo in Wynwood, I remember the beginning of the art walk and all of that evolution. The city keeps evolving, and I keep evolving here, too.
This nostalgia and the feeling of this place show up interestingly in your work — in the use of found objects, in color, in texture, and in vibrancy — so much of what you make reminds me of our city. How did you grow into your practice?
I always love this idea that's in movies or the public imagination about Miami. I kind of created this fantasy that's the Miami that I have. It's Pepe convention: It's not really a style that exists because it is just my fantasy, but I love that people see it in my work.
I inherited my passion for color and texture from growing up in Mexico. I think that's something that has carried through the work and it shines through naturally. There are a lot of other references, too—folk art, fashion, queer culture, all of my different obsessions...
One of the main ways that Miami and identity show up in my practice is in this character I created called “Paprika”. You can see her form or face in some of the work. In thinking about Paprika as my alter ego, I take all these influences, all of these obsessions, and I often process them through her as a protagonist. I use her in every exhibition, and she takes on a different shape and gets influenced by what I am seeing.
That is a great example of how you weave materials and concepts and personality, but also of the storytelling, the narrative quality, in your art. Your work is almost a personal history, but a history of all of these other influences and discoveries that you're making at that time.
Oh yeah, I think there's definitely always a point of departure that I use in exhibitions. I always create an imaginary narrative in my head.
Every show always has something to do with queer life plus characters that I find fascinating and kind of want to live through. It starts with me trying to make sense of all these things that I'm thinking about, and then I put it all together in the work to tell a story.
I used to be a little bit more purist where I wasn't really displaying my whole way of thinking, but I think in recent installations of work, I try to be more generous and really share with the viewer. It creates more openness for viewers to understand the narratives of the work.
Commissioner is aimed at getting new folks invested in local artists and collecting their work. What advice do you have for aspiring collectors?
The city now has so many new people and we should all want these people to become involved in supporting the community of artists here in Miami. There are many opportunities between Commissioner, Oolite Arts, Locust Projects' Smash & Grab, and open studios.
The cool thing is that if you support a Miami artist, you're part of their journey; and if you're living here in Miami, you're probably going to run into the artist again. It becomes like a relationship and that is important.
When I first arrived in Miami, I worked at Miami Art Museum, which is now PAMM, in the store and in visitor services. A lot of the people who I met while working there are still people that I work with—people who are collecting my work. There's always a beginning to everything, right? When a young artist meets the first person to buy their work, that is very significant and very important, and we need that support to keep making art and growing.