A Conversation with Abraham Cruz Artist and Curator of Exquisite Corpse
We recently wrote about an exciting exhibition coming to Kingston New York on September 29th that you won’t want to miss. The exhibit, Exquisite Corpse, was inspired by a game from the ’20s when it was adopted as a technique by artists of the Surrealist movement to generate collaborative compositions.
The exhibit follows the journey of seven artists/collaborators with one rooted seed – queer culture: past, present, and future. Each artist will present their journey as members of the queer community and the visual representation of a collaborative journey through the game Exquisite Corpse.
We are Upstate New York with artist Abraham Cruz, the curator and one of the seven artists participating in the Exquisite Corpse exhibit. Let’s get to know more about this exhibit and the artwork of Abraham Cruz.
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INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how does that affect your work?
Abraham Cruz: I’m originally from Nicaragua and raised in Miami. My aesthetics are influenced by Miami’s vibrancy and Nicaragua’s artisan culture. I love color and print, contrary to what some people may think because I tend to keep my palette more limited these days. I carry a hint of the flare with everything I do.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
When I was in art school and to this day I have always been influenced by Gustaf Klimt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Henri Matisse, but for this exhibit I was influenced by Greek and Roman statues from various artists.
Tell us about your work as an artist and how the climate of today’s queer culture inspires your art.
In the past, my art was a way to find my identity and explore who I was becoming. For a while, it was about gender identity more than my sexuality. Initially, I explored societal gender norms through dress and appearance. I was always drawn to everything my mother, grandmother and aunt wore and their beauty regiments. Whether it was getting ready for church and what that meant and how to appear to society for that specific occasion; to my aunt reading fashion magazines and dressing to impress a mate. This began my obsession with corsets and beauty. I would paint self-portraits in corsets and sculpt bust in very hourglass shapes. I was also battling some form of an eating disorder.
This all played into this societal norm and the feeling that I wasn’t manly enough or thin enough or fit enough or pretty enough to be, and I wasn’t female either. My work was more intertwined with women’s issues than my sexuality. The idea of a “Closet” and what that meant drove installations which pondered the questions of “a proper man’s closet” while underlining my own sexuality and being closeted. Who was making all these “societal norms” – men- cis straight men? Constricting oneself to fit in these norms, the use of hangers to mutilate women and hiding one’s sexuality in a closet to fit into society drove the subject of my art. At the time I didn’t realize how many layers there were to being me and being the “whole me” consisted of so many different layers.
For this exhibit, I reflect on my past and look at statues and sculptures that were created by potentially closested artists, or are a depiction of a legend or a story from antiquity, that ties into one of my many layers. Today’s culture, in some ways, is freer of these norms and the many layers that make a queer person unique. Nonbinary was not a term used when I was growing up. The full expression of the multifaceted queer individual is in jeopardy with new laws against the community, and although my work isn’t necessarily political it speaks to the times. As old as these statues are, prejudice still exists, the norms are being challenged but they are always being enforced.
As the curator of Exquisite Corpse, how did using the framework of the game come about?
I was looking for a way to create and collaborate with a group of artists. The actual Exquisite Corpse game was not on my mind when I first explained my idea to one of the artists, Jason O’Malley, he brought up the game. I immediately looked up more information about it and decided I wanted to push the rules a little – we are here to break the NORM. So, I thought what if we do one piece the traditional way in addition to one piece that will exhibit side-by-side without following any rules. I then decided to call a few friends-–some old and some new friends. My best friends from Cooper were happy to participate, followed by my new art friends here in the Hudson valley. The group came together quite easily and organically, and our styles, and subject matter fit well together. And, we are all queer- it was too perfect.
Tell us about your experience collaborating with the participating artists – were you intimidated, excited and/or inspired to add to someone else’s work?
The experience has been very interesting- challenging in a way I couldn’t predict. This project started back in January. Three obvious challenges were – If you were first what would you create that told a story on its own but could be enhanced. Second was receiving a piece with the first contribution from the previous artist and how to add without taking away from what was already created. And lastly how would you close out the story and bring the previous two contributions into the final composition. As the curator my biggest challenge was to not art direct or over curate the work. I don’t think I was successful with that but letting go and seeing what works and what didn’t quite work is a long process.
Describe your creative process for this project and did this change or evolve with each session?
The first thing was deciding what my subject would be and finding statues that meant something to me or related to my queer narrative. But the final subject wouldn’t be decided until I received something from a fellow artist, that dictated that choice. It was different every time. And I would sketch and just go right into it with watercolor or gouache or latex-paint.
What was your goal with Exquisite Corpse and do you feel you’ve accomplished it?
The goal for creating Exquisite Corpse was to work with some of my artists friends. It was one of those things we talked about for years and finally did it. The other part for me was getting more involved with the community upstate and making my way into the art community in the Hudson Valley. In a way my introduction to the community. It has been over a year since I moved full time upstate and it’s a housewarming party if you will.
As a queer artist, what impact do you hope this exhibit has on the audience?
As an artist regardless of a queer identity you never know how the art will be received nor whether what you are saying will be recognized. My hope is that the exhibit brings thought and mindfulness of our community, what it means to be seen and heard as an individual and as a community. Some of the participating artists’ works comment on social media and how it has changed our culture and some artists are painting escapism from that very thing? Each piece has so many layers of expression it’s hard to say just “one thing”.
Do you believe art can affect societal issues?
I strongly believe change comes from art and self-expression. It starts the conversation and influences activism and propels change.
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
Before I started this project my main source of creation was fashion and I put that aside for two years to work on this project. But, it definitely is a layer of the onion that makes me whole. I am currently working on a relaunch of my clothing label but this time I am making it more site specific. I want to provide options for all gender and clothing that is earth conscious and speaks to the Hudson valley.
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Follow Exquisite Corpse @exquisitecorpse2023
Abraham is a Nicaraguan-born artist/designer who, at the age of five, immigrated to the United States. His work is heavily inspired by the collective powers of the three women who raised him. The formal and conceptual subject of gender roles and identity was recognized early in his work while studying at the New World School of Art in Miami. He received his B.F.A. at The Cooper Union in New York City where he continued the conversation of gender fluidity and social construct. Attire and its gender representation through the ages of fashion led him into the fashion industry. After twenty-five years of working for fashion houses such as Betsey Johnson and Lilly Pulitzer, he founded his label, Isaac Cruz. The commercialization of self-expression through dress and the climate of today’s queer culture have led him back to the canvas.
September 29th – October 29th
At the Everett & Treadwell Building, 33 Canfield Kingston NY
On the Ground Level and Second Floor
The Opening Reception is September 29th at 6PM
SEE YOU THERE!