Mas Guerrero

Mas Guerrero’s digital collages are a bombardment. The artist’s works are tormented by an excess of stimulus like the mind of an insomniac, tossing and turning in the dark, inundated with every thought, image, or object that hurls itself up from the depths. Walmart’s Rollback smiley beams under the gaze of an evil eye wall hanging; In rolls a TV cart like the one that might play a classroom VHS; Wilson from Cast Away returns from the open seas, unchanged. Car air fresheners, Fitbits, Big Mouth Billy Bass, trucker hats, Mr. Bean—Guerrero gathers a lifetime of media, pop culture, advertising, and commodity fetishism and swirls it all into a neurotic, vibrating stew. The work is uneasy. Like the mud of all the colors mixed together, the thick air of a windowless room, the tepid dread of a suburban afternoon scored by the drone of distant traffic. Guerrero has managed to express the pure agony of simply having a memory. Think of anything and it is there. The work suggests a truly chilling idea: nothing is forgotten. No matter how grating or distasteful or mundane. It all lurks in a recess of your mind waiting to be recalled, to emerge from the darkness mutated by time.  – Olivia Whittick

Where are you from?

I grew up in the beige, stucco, KB Home sprawl of Northern California. Specifically where land developers began overzealously building cookie cutter houses and strip malls over the former agricultural areas. Weekends were spent with my parents, aspirationally window shopping the new model homes and RVs in nearby towns. All full of fresh furniture, pristine appliances and feigned personalization, too clean and soulless to be inhabited by anything other than the real estate agent’s middle class American fantasy. Many of these places became ghost towns during the 2008 Recession; there was an omnipresent eeriness living in the middle of it. My simultaneous interest and disgust in abandoned Bush-era suburban architecture started to form during this time, something I still implement into my current work. Years later, I headed to Los Angeles in 2016 after getting my BFA in Audio Engineering and have been here ever since.

Did you make art as a child?

Oh yeah, I had a ton of energy that needed to go somewhere. I was into drawing with ballpoint pens, pencils, charcoal, Kid Pix software and a little bit of multimedia collage out of magazines and found objects. I passed the time making visually busy illustrations and aimless comic strips about whatever non-punchline made me laugh that day. Inside jokes were my main motivator to create art, it’s what got me through the doldrums of not being able to pay attention in class. I also had a specific fixation on media production and commercials. I created logos, jingles and lore to companies I made up; even going as far as making full catalogues of movie titles from fictional video distributors or CD covers for nonexistent bands.

Approaching middle school, I experimented with other outlets, like digital video, rudimentary animation, sound collages/ambient music using tapes, (unsuccessful) circuit bending and writing short stories. I was always kind of a flailing amateur at most of these endeavors. Friends would get lessons and get pretty good at playing Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on guitar while I mangled my guitar strings with a screwdriver and let the feedback screech away off a crummy practice amp. I eventually got a MicroKorg in high school and illustrated cassette J-cards with abstract shapes, crude pop culture imagery and word salad poetry for my synthesizer recordings. Sad to say most of those tapes are lost and what I still have access to is nearly unlistenable. 

How does your music practice and work at Coaxial Arts Space inform your art practice?

I take a ton of inspiration from the music and artwork we host at the space. It’s always eclectic and unexpected, especially during the residencies where the small, brick storefront becomes an immersive environment of lights, sound, movement and crafts. My favorite aspect of Coaxial is being able to host and support unbridled creative expression; which ushers in an environment of respect and undivided attention for the vulnerability the artists share. I’ve seen intense pain being turned into artwork there, but I have also seen pure joy being manifested into ecstatic creations. With this open minded environment, it has me staying true to my imagination, no matter how niche, loose or exposed it feels.

How much time do you spend on the computer?

Too much time, unfortunately. My day job is remote computer work, editing dialogue for interactive seminars. When I’m done for the day, I unwind by toying with Photoshop and listening to minimalist music to hold my focus. It all feels pretty residual from lockdown, where I taught myself everything I currently know about Photoshop. It was my outlet and escape to relieve stress and sadness during that time. I’d much rather be out of my house these days but there is a slight comfort of being able to jam some illustrations and found-images on the digital canvas. My output isn’t limited to the computer though. I make all my music off a computer (besides recording) which my synthesizers keep me grounded to my physical surroundings and away from a retina-frying screen. If the music creation doesn’t have a kinetic, tangible aspect to it, I get bored and unmotivated.

What’s the scariest thing about owning a computer?

It’s redundant to say you’re bugged and marketed to as a computer user. It’s not even an unwittingly voluntary factor by this point; everyone knows they’re being datamined just by having an email. When I search for images to use for my collaging, Home Depot products will forever haunt my targeted ads on every website just because I needed a clean picture of some drywall to reference from. 

What really unnerves me is how intrusively necessary to our daily lives it has become. How available and exposed it makes everyone, and not always knowing what boundaries to set with said availability, or how much you share with the shadowy peanut gallery. How most people without computer access are at a disadvantage in navigating real life. Or the anxiety it creates when gratification isn’t as immediate or validation feels lacking. It creates some terrible, addictive habits based entirely on superficial transactions. The amount of information and power it all has is great in many ways, it’s what initially drew me into being an internet dweller. 

But I feel, collectively, people are still in an adolescent phase of the Internet, and are having mental repercussions with all the angst, confusion and diminishing accurate sources of paywalled information all bombarding you at the same time. I have faith in younger generations being able to reckon with the power of being online, having it available to them since their earliest memories. But for me and my later in life access to the internet, it feels it’s slippery slope into a panic attack for as long as I have used it.

What does the apocalypse look like to you?

Not to be that person, but I already see the planet revolting due to immensely irresponsible capitalist exploits and destroying the only home we have for the sake of profit. How any facet of a necessity or emotional response could be commodified, and created by exploited labor out of materials that will exist long after we’re gone, poisoning all organic life around it. We’re very good at creating garbage for a momentary profit or gratification, pretending it doesn’t exist when we dispose of it in landfills and oceans. We might already be experiencing a slow motion apocalypse if these exploits continue. I’d like to have faith in the situation turning around, but the damage is already done. 

Endlessly browsing the millions of product photos out there has me reckoning with how many mundane objects exist in the world, and the environmental repercussions that go into making them, which I try to emphasize in my collaging choices. I also try creating a sense of the unreal with the reliance of entertaining, uncanny virtual realities furthering the collective distraction from the crumbling environment. Why leave the comforts of instant gratification and familiar products when it’s so desolate elsewhere?

Is your work meant to induce fear?

I’ve been told my work unsettles people, which I could see why, but fear isn’t my first motive in making these. I guess with the environments being shadowy and tense, the human subjects being rubbery, hodgepodge amalgamations of a body with confrontational eye contact, it could feel like an actualized nightmare. The lack of context seems to also let the viewer’s imagination run wild. Sometimes, people in the replies make up stories or bring up memories around whatever the image reminds them of, which makes for an interesting read.

However, I make these images as a stress reliever with a little bit of humor thrown in. So sometimes, they’re personal jokes, sometimes they’re rooted in the way I feel that day, most of the time they’re experiments in lighting, space, proportions and generation loss. I’ve also been told my work is kitsch, which I feel is more accurate than calling it scary.

What is a fear-based decision?

Decisions that veer away from any potential, knowable risks. Being so anxiety ridden in your daily life, you act upon maintaining a sense of safety to the point of sheltering in inactivity or being stuck in a negative thought pattern. A habit some people center their entire lives around and something I struggle with at times. Too many what ifs, not enough clear answers. Sure, security gives peace of mind, but fear of the unknown/unexpected and being too invested in your comfort zone usually results in isolation and stagnation. 

What are you most afraid of?

I fear cops and billionaires, their hostile takeover of politics and their recklessness.