Conrad Guevara

Conrad Guevara is a sculpture, performance, and installation artist based in San Francisco. He received his masters at the San Francisco Art Institute and has gone on to do interactive, abstract solo-work as well as collaborations with Bonanza Art Collective. He was happy to meet me over coffee to discuss accessorizing, parades, and dragging stuff off the street.


So, you just got your masters.

Yah. San Francisco Art Institute. Since then I’ve been working collaboratively with my two friends Lindsay Tully and Lana Williams. We are Bonanza. Bonanza is a confusing, installation, authorship kind of experiment where we all have our own thing that we do: Lindsay makes film. Lana is a painter. I make sculptures, I guess. And we kind of conflate all of that. It all becomes Bonanza. And then I have a performance and installation based practice with my friend C. Franco Maldonado called francoguevara . We liked each other’s art and people called me Carlos all through school and confused us a lot so I thought it would be great if we made art together and confused more people. We just did a show at the office I work at. It was about how if life gives you lemons you make lemonade, so we made poison lemonade out of our lemons. I think our next show is going to be about anarchist cruise ship workers. That’s our next deal.
Always a performance?

It’s very performance heavy, but interactive, so really like a playground. My current show is my first solo-show after school, it’s called No Can Handle. It’s at City Limits Gallery which is an artist-run space. Run by three people I went to school with; Evan ReiserAlyssa BlockStephanie Rohlfs. They’re all pretty cool.

Rad. So in the statement for No Can Handle, what did you mean by having the urge to accessorize?

I think for me, I work primarily in a post-minimal sensibility that is pretty austere.You think your work is austere?

No! Because I accessorize. I use basic materials and give it flare and accessorize. The whole idea came from the last Bonanza show which was called Dress for This. It was about acts of self-staging and ways that you perform for the spaces you are in. The importance to accessorize: it is vital. So I’m still thinking about… jewelry making. In sculpture. And it’s funny and sort of a personal gesture to accessorize.In German the word for jewelry is Schmuck, which is funny because in Yiddish, the word Schmuck is a dick. Like a jerk. But Schmuck in German means decoration, so it could be jewelry but it would also be an accessory for literally anything else.

Like when you see outfit people. Outfit girls. Like someone definitely wearing a poncho. Wearing everything that you’re supposed to wear at certain times… they are brave people. But they’re kind of schmucks too, y’know.

How do you personally accessorize?
I try to stay pretty basic. Casual separates. I don’t really wear jewelry.

Like norm-core?
I’m not trying to look Norm-core. I don’t wear like tennis hats or like Nike…

Like those gel athletic sandals everyone is wearing? 
I don’t like open toed shoes. I don’t do that. Are we really talking about norm-core right now?

Back on topic, when I saw your City Limits work I got a very booby trap vibe.

Yeah. Everyone always wants to touch your artwork. It’s intentionally precarious, if you go there and touch it you must suffer the consequence. Don’t mess with it and not live up to it. I don’t fucking touch your stuff. There’s this good Coathangers song that’s like ‘Don’t Touch My Shit’ on repeat. Shout out to the Coathangers.

What themes are currently influencing your work?

Definitely jewelry materials, but also constructs and handy-work.

Like clockwork? Or electrical stuff?

Stuff that would be potentially handy.

Like whittling?

Yah. Some guy told me all work looks like a hobbyist’s work, which I thought was a nice thing to say. A hobby is what you do to keep yourself sane.

You enjoy doing it, you’re not required to do it.

I think that hobbying is dangerous, though, it creates some terrible things in the world. A lot of trash. Like Michaels. It’s a hobby store and it’s just full of trash. Like fake cinnamon smell is pervasive at Michael’s.

Glitter. It has limited use and infects your clothing forever.

And that’s what the ocean is becoming. All the trash in the ocean is just turning into glitter. It’s terrifying.

So how do you choose what materials to use?

For the last show I wanted to make four paintings, but I kind of had this idea in my head that paintings should do something. They shouldn’t be diagrammatical or be a window. You shouldn’t be showing anyone something in a painting, it’s a dumb thing to do. For this show the four paintings are sort of elongated, they are all 11″ x 16″ and I wanted them to be like a legal piece of paper. Like a WARRANT poster would be. They are all nailed against the wall with powder-coated steel bars, sort of aggressively existing, but they are kind of conditional, and they all have satisfying abstract doodles on them. I wanted the bars to look like I bought them from Lowe’s.

Custom powder coat. Get your bike frame powder coated while you’re there.

Yah! Leon’s Powder Coat in East Oakland. My friend Thomas van Houtten made all the metal plates, he is the best.

Did you learn how to do that for the show?

No, I didn’t want to learn how to do… that. I’m trying to get over that. I start to feel like I am a hobbyist. I get so involved with these things, but then it’s not sustainable. I’m probably not going to [use that skill] again. And also there are people who can do that and they are part of the economy. Everyone gets paid out.

Support your local community.

Another thing about that show is that my dad made stained-glass leaves. I sent him a MS Paint file of what I wanted. He’s a hobbyist stained-glass person but he needs a directive to get him going, so I wanted to give him a task. He’s a military person. He made six stained-glass leaves for the show. And everything that I didn’t make is blue. In that show. If it’s blue, I didn’t make it. So you can spot it. It’s easy.

Do you feel like you have a developed style that people recognize? Or do you hate that?

No, I don’t hate it. If you’re going to be working abstractly your language should be recognizable because there is so much abstract work floating around in the world. I think about calligraphy and handwriting a lot when I’m painting. All of my sculptures I paint on. And I think of them as paintings.

But you prefer 3 dimensions or does it just communicate your ideas better?

Right now I’ve been in exhibition mode.

So you’re thinking about filling a space.

I’m thinking about what is appropriate and calling attention to the size of an exhibition space. Right now I want one piece in every show to touch the floor and the ceiling. And what other kind of ideas are necessary to the show? It’s not too specific, I guess.

The space changes your ideas.

Well I’ll make something in my studio and then once it leaves that zone, it’s different. I’ve been making these sticks out of poplar, they’re from my friend Lana who is a painter. I just steal her materials. I like using other people’s scraps. They’re nice wood and they are adjustable. I can fit them in any space, to a certain degree. I like adjustability in my work. So I’ve been making these sticks and naming them in the sequence they are made. Sometimes my titles are jokey, but with these it’s like “stick 4,” “bar.” I was thinking, “what would you title it on your desktop?” When you’re sorting through your life, what do you save the raw file as?

That’s good. Very utilitarian. Let’s see. Have you planned a project that is so immense and complicated that you don’t know how to pull it off yet?

Bonanza has come up against this. We want to make a public sculpture, but then we have to come up with the funds and make estimates and all that stuff which is super boring and not funny to talk about. But it’s important to do. It’s just not funny. One project which I really want to do and I’ve always wanted to do: have a parade. That would be the exhibition. Like, have a float and get a marching band. It wouldn’t look like art at all, but it would still be art.

And the band would play something you wrote?

No! They’d play what they want to play! I do like when marching bands play Top 40 rap hits, though. Right now there’s that Future song. I think it would be perfect for a marching band.

What’s your studio like?

It’s in Real Time and Space in Oakland. I love my studio. It’s like a converted printshop and there are fifteen people that use the studios there. Everyone is really proactive. It’s nice to be in a studio with people who are busting ass. I have one friend who paints thousands of flowers. She makes like twenty paintings a day and they are so good. And she sells them all. Lulie Wallace. I guess the parade float is the one I’m afraid of. One day, when we get a grant, we can finally have a parade.

You could probably convince the city of San Francisco. You should chose a famous San Francisco figure and make the parade about them. Would that work? Maybe that way you could convince people then that a parade must be held.

But who is not evil? Or maybe they can be evil and we just don’t mention it. Sponsored by Pepsi. Who isn’t evil? Who deserves a parade and isn’t evil?

So do you collect anything?

I used to be a studio hoarder and I still drag things in off the street, which is one of the nice things about living in San Francisco. I just found this mid-century modern chair. A Danish, low, wooden chair. And it looks great. It’s a little worn, but I’m going to make a cushion for it and turn it into a sculpture. People like furniture more than they like art. It’s a more populous medium. People have to sit down. People also bring me things. Unsolicited stuff comes to the studio and it can be kind of annoying. I don’t want to hoard things, I’m very selective about the shit I drag in, but then people bring me stuff and it’s like, ‘who do you think wants this? Is this what you think of me?’ I like to think that I curate what I drag in. I’m very selective.

What is Bonanza working on right now?

We’re working on a show for October. It’s at Interface Gallery which is in the Temescal Alley, Oakland. Suzanne L’Heureux runs it, she’s super cool. Anyway, we have a show called 18 Characters that is loosely based around the site which used to be a stable. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which people dress up show ponies. Tail braiding and gates. And I want to make a stage. And knots, I’m good at knots.

So are themes from No Can Handle going to worm their way into work in the future? Like the hummingbirds?

Yes, I try to number everything so it’s all in the same body of work, like a big organism that recycles itself. I want to take the separate pieces and combine them so it is generative in that sense and not separate.  I don’t think I’ll make anymore hummingbirds, that was very specific to that show.

What were they made out of?

Sculpey. And their beaks were sewing needles. Like, long, very sharp needles.

That’s rad. Well, Thank you so much for your time, Conrad