A dialogue between Felix Quintana & Ashley Z

Felix Quintana

LA Blueprints Series

Ashley: I’m Ashley Z, and I’m an incoming senior at Lowell High School in San Francisco. I love drawing, painting, creative writing, film cinematography, photography, and theatre. I really enjoy using my creative side, whether I'm making art, working on school projects, or collaborating and forming compromises within a group. I’ve been interested in the arts for as long I can remember, which is why I’m excited to be an intern here at Southern Exposure this summer. Below is an interview I conducted with Felix Quintana, one of Southern Exposure’s teaching artists.

Ashley: Tell me about yourself.

Felix: My name is Felix Quintana. I am an artist and educator. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, in a little city called Maywood. I went to school in Northern California at Humboldt State University, and I’m actually going to school right now at San Jose State University to get my Master’s. I’ve been working for this past year as an artist in residence in San Jose, so I pretty much get paid to make art with organizations. That’s what I do, making art and teaching. I’m really lucky to be able to do what I love.


Ashley: What originally inspired you to want to be an artist when you were younger?


Felix: I think I’ve always been in love with drawing. I grew up really influenced by hip hop, by street culture, and I think that really carried through in a lot of my work. From me going on adventures in high school, to being into graffiti, and muralism, that’s what really got me into photography, which has primarily been what I’ve been focusing on for the past ten years. I think for me photography was something that I always sort of did, in a way. Like as a kid, carrying disposable cameras, when you go on field trips or places. And my mom was sort of the family photographer, too. She would create these photo albums, and she did a lot of scrapbooking, and I think looking at that made me more interested in taking pictures... And I always was really interested in streetwear and street culture, so when I was about seventeen I started taking the metro, which is like the BART of LA. I used to take it all the way to the westside of Los Angeles, so that’s probably about an hour and a half ride. I remember seeing a store that used to sell records a couple times when I would go, and they had a little section for photography. I felt like it would be really cool to get a camera, to document the things that I was seeing. So I saved up money, and my friends actually helped pitch in so I could get this camera. So that’s how I got my first camera, and I think it all evolved from there. Me wanting to document my daily life, the streets, the graffiti that I would see, and it developed into passion... I think I always wanted to be an artist. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I really saw that I could make art a career for myself. Once I saw older individuals, specifically mentors, that were the same background as me, Latinx individuals, I saw that it was possible for me to make a living as an artist. That really inspired me. But early on, it was just growing up in LA and listening to the music, seeing a lot of the murals... It was always a part of who I was.

Ashley: I really relate to the part where you described loving Los Angeles culture, and going on adventures around the city because of that. I was born in San Francisco, and I’ve lived here since, and I love taking the Muni all around the city to see the different artwork, murals, and the people who live here. My city is an important part of who I am and I definitely understand LA being the main inspiration for you wanting to become an artist.


Felix Quintana

Light paintings series

Ashley: What’s your favorite style of art or photography to work with? Can you describe the process you go through to create this type of art?

Felix: Mainly I love street photography. I love to see a scene unveil itself. For me, it’s been my mission as an artist to try to combine photography with drawing. I also kind of developed a unique style that goes off of light paintings, where I create a composite image of hundreds of photographs, of car lights, street lights, and different movements, that create these light drawings, or light paintings... A lot of my interests are related to street photography, places like Los Angeles, and people, and the way that we interact with urban landscapes.


Ashley: What is the deeper meaning behind the art that you create? Specifically your most recent LA Blueprints Series.

Felix: I think for me, the deeper meaning is to talk about a collective memory. I always wanted to document my neighborhood and where I was from. I had a studio in east LA for a while in a primarily Latino neighborhood that’s also very important and historic, because a lot of the Chicano movement happened in east LA. Because of this I really started to learn a lot of history. We all have our own individual memories, but I think it’s important to see that there’s a lot of overlap with black and brown experiences... And this was also a neighborhood that was experiencing gentrification. It’s happening very intensely in those areas. That made it feel like it was even more important to sort of show the city that I love through my eyes, to document the part that we don’t really see as much. Because when you think about LA you think of Venice Beach, or Hollywood, places like that, the more glamorous aspects. But to me, I see everyday people, this collective struggle that’s happening. I think it’s really important to understand that, so I wanted to make this kind of cultural blueprint of the city. You think about this idea of architecture, and architects, how they make blueprints for buildings. But to me, I really thought about the concept that these are the blueprints for our city. These are the people that make LA what it is. I’m just trying to honor the people that I think are important, the people that often go unseen.

Ashley: I think that's really important. You’re right in the fact that people tend to think of “LA culture” as pretty much exclusively Hollywood. It’s so important to document the other side of LA, because there’s so much more to any city’s culture than just it’s most widely-known districts. I also recognized the idea of gentrification as being a big part of the message behind your LA blueprints series. The people and places you’re documenting and making into art for this series are the same people and places that are getting pushed out of LA. Making this side of LA into art to me seems like you’re saying “this part of the city is beautiful too.” And I think it is. I think there’s a balance in LA between collective struggle, hard work, and due recognition, and I think your series really demonstrates that.


Felix Quintana

LA Blueprints Series

Ashley: How has your art style changed throughout the years?

Felix: I’ve been doing photography since 2008. And even before that, when I was in middle school, I liked drawing, writing, doing poetry and stuff like that. Before, it was really hard to commit to a series or a body of work... It’s really easy to get inspired, but also to get distracted from the main idea. And that’s okay, but now I’m trying to scale back and really ask myself, what kind of work do I want to put out there? How can the work I create make an impact? I compare my work a lot to music. I feel like for a long time my work was very much about jazz, very improvisational jazz, like with my light paintings and those kinds of experiments. And now it’s a mixture between jazz and hip hop, where it’s creating something new from something that already exists. And also, I’m trying to have a little bit more of my voice in my art... I feel like I’m just at the tip of the iceberg with the whole body of work.

Ashley: I’m definitely at the phase in my life where it’s difficult for me to commit to any one type of art. I find creativity and personal expression through art fascinating, and there are so many different ways to do it that it’s difficult for me to dedicate myself to getting good at one type of art. I find myself gravitating towards things I haven’t tried before rather than things I know I have the potential to become good at, because I feel like I want to try everything. I think that’s okay, because I have a lot of time to develop my interests, but in the future I hope to narrow it down and figure out what type of art fits me the best.


Felix Quintana

Light paintings series

Ashley: Do you have any advice for young artists? If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?


Felix: Yeah, I have a lot of advice... I think the biggest thing is trust your process, and see your process through. We’re never going to be perfect, and it’s never going to be what you think it is in your head, because once you put it down on paper, it’ll evolve. And that’s the beautiful thing about art, that it can change. That’s my instinctual one, but if I were to add anything else, I think the most important thing lately is to know your history. The history of art, the history of photography, but also your personal history. Where you come from, your heritage. I think the more that you can understand that, and look at the past, the better that you can look toward the future. I think one of the biggest benefits to my art that I’ve had so far is that I’m interested in art history, and the history of social movements across the United States and the world... Realize everything has been done, but everything hasn’t been done by you from your experience. Use all your skills. And if I were to add another thing, too, I think it’s important to establish a strong community. Because those are your peers, those are the people that you’re going to be able to talk to about your ideas. It’s the main reason why I’ve gotten a lot of the opportunities that I have... Whether it’s artists, or friends, just people that you trust, it’s really important to have that community. I think a lot of the time we think of artists as being in their own bubble, in their studio, just making their work. But I think that [community] is a really powerful tool to share. Don’t forget that you’re not alone in the process. Make sure you have those people that you can fall back on.

Ashley: I really agree with the advice you’ve given. Art is definitely fluid and it’s normal if it doesn’t turn out the way the artist might have planned or imagined it to be. Sometimes it’s better. It’s just not always predictable. Knowing history is so incredibly important as well. It’s such a big influence for so much impactful and meaningful art, art that sends a message. Educating ourselves on history as well as the present can inspire really great art, as well as making us better people. And I especially love your last piece of advice. Community is key.


Felix: What advice would you give to older generations? Because I feel like a lot of the movements going on right now are being led by youth, and I think you guys have a lot to say.

Ashley: I think I would just say listen. Because I feel like a lot of people from older generations sometimes write off youth. They’ll say, ‘they haven’t grown up during the same time period as us, they don’t have as many years of experience and knowledge as we do, what could they know that we don’t?’ But I think that everyone has their own unique storyline, and growing up in a different generation can give you experiences that older generations will never have, so I feel like even youth who haven’t lived as long can offer a lot of insight. In art, in politics, in everything. I think that’s the most important thing.


Felix Quintana

LA Blueprints Series