You might not know the name Andrés Guzmán, but you may have seen his work. The Minneapolis artist’s image of George Floyd, one of the first rendered and posted on social media, has been shared around the world.
We talked with the Peru-born Guzmán about living in Minnesota, the role of art in racial equality issues and his hopes for creating “new meanings and memories” around Thanksgiving.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
A: I work in illustration and graphic arts. I was born in Lima, Peru. I moved to the USA when I was 6 with my family and lived around Denver, Colorado, most of my youth.
Q: How did you end up in the Twin Cities?
A: I moved to the Twin Cities in 2006 for school. I went to Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a few years. I graduated in 2009
Q: Why did you decide to hang around in a place where the winters scare off many newcomers?
A: I lived and worked in Minneapolis after graduating. I saw many people I studied with leave for bigger cities, but I liked the communal size of Minneapolis. It’s very green and lush here and easy to bike around. Living around Denver was good, but it’s super dry there. Minnesota winter is challenging, but has been a great teacher!
Q: Do you think of yourself as a visual guy or a word guy? Do the two overlap? Intersect?
A: Image and text can overlap, but color and line is my alphabet of choice. People in the USA grow up writing hundreds of essays in school but not as much painting, dancing, building, singing, cooking.
I’m happy that yoga and meditation are entering public schools these days. Seems much needed. There are vast stories and lessons to be learned in tone, color, vibration, movement, rhythm, flavor.
Q: What media do you prefer to work in?
A: My favorite medium to create imagery is India ink, acrylic paint, digital/tablet.
Q: What do you consider your most powerful piece of art?
A: It is difficult to know the power an image has. People have shown me old drawings of mine they kept from childhood days. That has been powerful to me. My drawing of George Floyd was powerful in a different, more public way.
Q: You made a big impact on social media with your image of Floyd. Why did you decide to share that image?
A: I created the image of George Floyd the morning after his death while I was still in bed. I read about what happened so early on that there was little information and no immediate image of George. I wanted to at least help broadcast the incident since it happened in my neighborhood.
Sadly, this isn’t the first senseless violent crime local police have committed, so I made the image available for people to download and use as needed. I drew it real quick, in 10 to 15 minutes, but had no idea the ripple effect this particular incident would have on the world. I had not even seen the video [of his arrest] yet.
Q: Was creating the image of Floyd the first time you delved into racial equality issues?
A: As an image-maker, racial issues faced me early in life. I would get sent to the principal’s office for drawing or wearing imagery the school staff believed to be gang-related or problematic. At 11 years old, my expression is already policed and viewed as a potential threat.
As an immigrant kid in the ’90s, I drew heavy influence from lowrider culture, prison art and graffiti. I collected lowrider T-shirts and stickers. I would beg my mother to buy me the latest issue of Lowrider Arte Magazine at the grocery store so I could study the diverse art submissions — smoothly blended sparkles and reflections, graphite drawings of intricate Aztec calendars.
I didn’t have to consciously depict racial issues in art because my very existence was a racial issue.
Q: How did you feel about being asked to draw the bird for the annual Oh, You Turkey coloring contest?
A: I was very happy to draw this year’s bird. I am eager to see different people’s remixed versions of it.
Regardless of the problematic historic origins of this national holiday, we can create new meanings and memories around it for the future. This future also doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Maybe a Pablo Amaringo painting?