Derrick Quevedo - Visual Artist, Painter
Derrick Quevedo is a visual artist and painter based in Baltimore, Maryland. Holding a BFA from University of Hartford and MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Derrick has participated in exhibitions around the East Coast. Derrick’s work acknowledges the marginalized, recognizes their presence, and holds vibrant colors. It is art as visibility, creating BIPOC portraiture with a focus on Pilipinx and in AAPI communities, and self portraits. The self portraits being the most intimate and purposeful. Derrick’s art is for the sake of us, it is representation. Derrick’s next event is Charm City Night Market on September 21.
Website & Social Media:
Were you always interested in art? And when did you decide to pursue it?
The majority of my childhood was spent looking at pictures inside atlases, almanacs, encyclopedias, and photo albums in our living room and drawing pictures inspired by pictures. When I was 10 I was avidly watching Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men, so my kuya took me to my first comic book store. This was the early 90’s when comic book artists were being treated like Rock stars; it was the era of Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane and the rise of Image Comics. Every month these artists were getting praise and recognition in Wizard magazine. What began with drawing Wolverine became my own characters and stories. I want to draw people for the rest of my life; the success and reputation of these artists helped me see it as a legitimate career. Eventually I lost interest in the Superhero genre and gravitated towards independent comics and zines. There was Love & Rockets, Optic Nerve, and especially Giant Robot magazine. Giant Robot introduced me to so much creative AAPI culture. I was exposed to David Choe, The Mission School, Byron Kim, the list goes on. My worldview expanded beyond comic book illustration, and ultimately I received both of my Fine Art degrees in Painting.
How important is your artist statement? And why do you create the art that you create?
It surprises me that my artist statement works as a manifesto because, for me, it was made as another artwork in my studio practice, not an explanation of it. It isn’t saved as a text document; the words are arranged on the page like a drawing or painting composition. Although it’s experienced visually, the words themselves also represent intersecting and overlapping identities, incorporating English, Tagalog, Baybayin, art historical phrases, and PilipinX historical phrases.
I’ve always drawn people and am trained to be a figure painter but spent the period immediately after grad school working with color abstraction, removing all representational imagery from my painting. It was a lot of “painter’s painting” or “hero painting.” When I moved to Baltimore in 2014 I began experiencing panic attacks. They continued happening more frequently until eventually I was dealing with a severe Panic Disorder. It kept me in nearly complete isolation in my apartment, alone with my partner and our cats, some days unable to perform rudimentary tasks like grocery shopping. My frustrations with art world obscurity exacerbated a lot of symptoms of anxiety and depression and I became highly irritable, negatively affecting my few remaining relationships. I finally began seeing a therapist in 2015. It was the beginning of the Baltimore Uprising and our growing awareness of identity and systemic discrimination coincided with a lot of internal issues I was confronting in therapy. It’s only been within the past 2 years that my mental health has improved enough to resume exploring my own city. I’ve found community among my kababayan and other AAPI motivated towards social justice. I’ve realized how important observational drawing is, not only to my studio work, but to my mental wellness. I’m highly introverted, and drawing keeps me in a balanced state of internal energy and external connection. Every sitting is an intimate moment with others. The advantages of making digital work, aside from easy mobility, allow me to work with color at my “too-impatient-to-wait-for-paint-to-dry” speed, and downsizing on art supplies while creating an easily accessible image that can be physically produced in many different sizes and formats. It’s an ideal set-up for me.
What was it like growing up in Connecticut?
Connecticut is a landscape of geographic serenity and overwhelming whiteness. Luckily, nearly every city has it’s own PilipinX association. My family and I have been active members of the Philippine American Association of Connecticut (PAAC) based in New Haven. I was fortunate to grow up in a PilipinX household, a PilipinX community, and have lifelong PilipinX friends I grew up with. I had the opportunity to learn and perform folk dances, participate in the Philippine Independence Day in NYC every June, and go to cultural events or hang out with my kasama every weekend. The bullying and constant reminders of otherness I experienced in school and my hometown made my time with this community very important for me. I always dreamt of escaping on the Metro North and living in NYC an artist. While that didn’t happen, I did manage to escape on day trips to the city and absorb as much culture as I could.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
If we’re discussing artistic influences, my favorite painter is Barkley Hendricks. Living in Baltimore, Amy Sherald’s work is constantly on my mind as well (she did the Michelle Obama portrait.) My color theory is informed by David Reed and David Batchelor. Adrian Tomine and Jaime Hernandez, whose clean-line styles depicted AAPI and LatinX folks in their comics, are embedded in my memory. I’m always paying attention to everyday popular culture, from K-Pop videos to Punk flyers. I spend a large amount of time searching the internet for stickers, lol, so I’m always on Redbubble or Society6 and that aesthetic has grown on me. It also inspires me to see all the amazing efforts of other creative kababayan, working and developing a PilipinX American visual culture.
How do you choose who to portray?
Most of my subjects are friends and acquaintances in the Baltimore PilipinX and AAPI communities. It ultimately comes down to whoever’s available for a sitting. I’m active with several groups and associations and take advantage of downtime during meetings and practices. Speed and efficiency are important skills I’ve developed through my drawing practice. My decision to portray historical or cultural figures are based on personal, intimate connections and associations: Gabriela Silang is an IlokanX hero (both of my paternal lines are from Ilocos Norte); the carabao is a reminder of my most vivid childhood memory from the Philippines; etc.
What does your work address and what does it celebrate?
Diasporic PilipinX & AAPI representation! Our likenesses, cultures, and narratives don’t exist as American visual culture, historical or contemporary. It is incredibly marginalizing. Mainstream America has refused to acknowledge us; we are the invisible minorities, the perpetual foreigners. Assimilation, the model minority, and the little brown brother are weaponized tropes to keep us obedient, quiet, and unseen. The “Asian” label umbrellas a vast, entirely diverse population into a misinformed generalization, when the only universally shared trait among AAPI is our negative American experience with cultural discrimination. I want to de-center whiteness, eliminate the racial dichotomy, decolonize, and dismantle oppressive systems. The presence and acknowledgement of the marginalized are important towards addressing these issues; portraiture is a viable visible presence and the strongest tool at my disposal.
What are some reactions of other Fil Ams to your work and it's nuanced details?
The majority of the responses I receive are Instagram likes, lol. I truly enjoy receiving feedback of relatability. When people share with me similar experiences with mental illness or identity issues I feel relieved and deeply appreciative. For so long I’ve felt alone and isolated with experiences and feelings that I’ve believed no one else shared. A lot of that stems from the simple fact that representations of these feelings and experiences don’t exist. There are less universally shared experiences that need to be addressed despite our fears of incompatibility and alienating others. I’ve learned that I’m not putting myself out into a vacuum; others are taking notice and relating. To have especially connected with kababayan living with mental illness (which is heavily stigmatized and a largely neglected discussion in our community) or toxic masculinity or body image is deeply empowering to me.
Do you have any favorite pieces or shows you've participated in?
I’m incredibly grateful to have participated in two shows with the Dogeaters Collective in NYC. They are a group of PilipinX artists that began organizing group shows, including one this past Spring at the Philippine Center in NY. Their work as individuals and as a collective energizes me. I’m also appreciative of participating in Charm City Night Market here in Baltimore. Organized by the Chinatown Collective, it had such an unprecedented turnout last year in historic Chinatown and continues growing.
I feel especially purposeful working on self-portraits. You’ll notice that most of my sitters don’t look directly at the viewer (known in art jargon as absorption) while nearly all of my self-portraits do (theatricality.) With self-portraits I don’t have to feel manipulative for projecting; I can address the viewer candidly about personal issues of interest and can be completely vulnerable without feeling like I’m taking advantage of someone else’s likeness.
Are there any upcoming projects or events that you are excited about?
I’m preparing for the next Charm City Night Market on September 21st. Learning from my experiences last year, I’ve developed my creative output to incorporate color into my portraiture (which, in hindsight, is such an essential part of my studio practice that I don’t know why I’ve been making black & white work all these years) as well as dedicating more time and effort towards my writing. I’ve compiled those words into several zines that will be available during Night Market along with prints, stickers, and zines of my portraits.
Images courtesy of Derrick Quevedo