Xena’s Fly Trap: Doug Padilla
by Xena Goldman
Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2013
I met Dougie Padilla about a year ago The Walker art opening for Frank Gaard, a friend of his. I invited myself over to his art studio and he quickly became a good friend and mentor. As a long-time resident and artist of northeast Minneapolis, Padilla has been one of the founding fathers of numerous organizations in the Northeast art scene; including Art-A-Whirl, Grupo Soap del Corazón and Paris Northeast. At 64 years old, he is as much of a wacky visionary as ever. Our interview occurred in his 1800 square foot studio in The California Building. His space– jam-packed with his art, hand-made shrines, Dia-de-los-Muertos-inspired décor and housing the “Internationally Renowned Art Gallery Bathroom” – is a testimony to how Dougie not only wears his art on his sleeves, but covers every possible surface with it.
X: Tell me a little bit about the style of the art that you do.
DP: Well, my art is self-taught and it references me being a Norweigan Lutheran Minnesotan with Mexican and Cowboy roots. It’s funky; it references all my time in hippie world; it references the beats, because they were my heroes; it references literary culture because I was a writer; I feel like it’s musical … it has a lot to do with all my years in India in Ashrams working with medicine men, working with Buddhist teachers, so it’s spiritual with mystical backgrounds, too. It’s very colorful, usually. It has narrative, but I like to call it symbolic narrative. I’ve been trying to come up with a name lately that works…. but I haven’t.
X: What are your current projects right now?
DP: The other day I looked around and I had 37 different projects that were laid out in the studio. Right over there (points) I have about eight that I like to think of as scumming away like pond scum. They’re sitting over there and every once in a while I stoop over there and see if any movement can happen. I’ve got a big painting here (points). Sometimes I do six or seven layers to a painting. With this one I’m doing all this elaborate abstraction, but I have no idea where that’s going. Then I’m doing a show with Xavier Tavera in probably November called, “Lucky Dougie y El Turco.” Lucky Dougie and the Stubborn One. He’s doing black and white photographic portraits that he’s also doing photo-litho prints of. Then he gives them to me and I re-do them. Oh, I’m trying to get around to starting another nail sculpture.
X: Can you talk about your nail sculptures a bit?
DP: Yeah, I get nice lookin’ logs and I get lots and lots of different nails and I sit and pound nails into logs and it is an overt sort of balance between my art life and my meditation life. It’s not about thinking and it’s not about making aesthetic decisions. It’s just about pounding nails. What I discovered was if I really get in a state I call “No Mind,” where I’m not thinking but am just in this expansive place, time slows down and all sorts of aesthetics things happen. I’m not sure I’m making those decisions.
X: So who is making those decisions?
DP: I don’t know. (Pause) I think if you get out of the way art has its own life and it’s about …
X: … Being the vessel?
DP: Yeah, letting it come through your hands, having enough technical ability and having lived enough life to let it come through your hands.
X: I know you’ve been working with pistachio nuts lately…
DP: Big fan. Big fan of pistachio nuts. But not the whole nut, just the shells. I eat the innards. I’ve always been a fan of hot glue, so I like to hot melt glue pistachio nut shells onto things, it’s true.
X: Do you think a lot about where things are going, or do you just make them?
DP: Thinking and intellect has a place in my work, but I don’t allow it in the room unless I want to ask it something.
X: So you and I had talked about how in the art world there’s this constant battle between the business side and the “free” side, I guess you could say. What are your thoughts on this dichotomy and how does happiness tie into that?
DP: First of all, I really come out of spiritual practice. I’m trained in those realms, not in visual arts. I’ve been trained a lot in the practice of living in this moment and I think it’s overlooked a lot in the art world. Not completely, but often. At some level I don’t care if you get a grant, if I get a big show; I care about my experience of life and who I am, who I am to the world and who I am in the world. Sometime your art practice can bring you more into the moment and into your deep self. Sometimes people make art that takes them away from themselves and gets them lost; lost in the world, lost wherever. Happiness is a decision. It’s a decision we make over and over again to come into this moment and be grateful for it. Fulfillment is different from happiness. Fulfillment has to do with why you’re here, why are you running around in a body, what it is that you need to get done. Fulfillment occurs across time: you need to feel a sense of growth that you’re moving towards what you need to do. HAPPINESS OCCURS OUTSIDE OF TIME, IN THIS MOMENT. So in my work, in my life, when I’m talking to others, I like to emphasize both happiness and fulfillment. Live deeply and totally in this moment and in this time, at the same time considering what you’re up to and where you’re going.
X: And you get to share your art and your experiences of art making a bit through Paris Northeast?
DP: Well… Paris Northeast is a community social event that I created to start to explore the re-enchantment of everyday life here in the epicenter of the known world, northeast Minneapolis.
DP: And what I do is I invite arts and culture workers who live in, work in, or know and love northeast to come together and hang; to see what happens when imaginations rub up against each other. No committees, no agendas. I’m more interested in who meets who and finding out six months later that they’re doing a project together. Why don’t I call it Paris Twin Cities or Paris Minneapolis? Those are entities that are too big. Northeast is a little world into itself and it’s a more workable size.
X: And why the Paris part?
DP: I had a show over in Paris in 2004 and I was reading a book called, “The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life,” by Thomas Moore. Reading it there made total sense of how our souls are starved for more magic in our lives. Walking around in some strange corner of Paris I found a doorknob that was hundreds of years old and I just stared at it, transfixed because it was so wonderful and beautiful. And then I looked through the gate and there was this little interior garden and my heart just opened up. That’s the opposite of, say, being at a Super America in Northeast. There’s no love or art or beauty in that environment. We need to care for every bit of our lives with love. I just want to see people creating little gardens of Eden wherever they go.
X: Is that part of what influenced you making some of your wearable art?
DP: Yeah… so I’ve always been kind of a fashion guy. I like to think back to high school: me and my boys loved our clothes. Then I ended up going to private school where I had to wear a tie and coat every day, and I loved that too!
X: Why’d you love it?
DP: I love wearing a sport coat. I love dressing up. A MAYAN MEDICINE MAN ONCE SAID TO ME, “IT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO DRESS BEAUTIFULLY SO THAT THE GODS CAN SPOT YOU AND BLESS YOU.” When I go out at night I always try to dress beautifully so the gods can spot me. Now my particular style is either Paris or Warsaw 1948. Sometimes I think I was stuck in the era I was born. Even when I was walking around Haight-Ashbury in the hippie days with hair down to my waist, livin’ in communes, I still wore a sweater—all be it a ragged one—wrapped over my shoulders and tied in front. ((Laughs)) I love that!
X: So you think fashion can be anything then?
DP:I love fashion. I don’t necessarily love people being enslaved to fashion, I don’t believe people should be enslaved anywhere, but I do love the creativity that people use in dressing themselves. I like street fashion. I like the way fashion bleeds down to the streets. I love that people make their own rules. I love it when they’re wiggy. When they’re wiggy, even the squares look ‘out there!’
X: Are there any styles nowadays that are hip and happ’nin’ that you just think are ridiculous?
DP: I think it’s hilarious how people are the middle of fashions and don’t think they’re in the middle of fashions. Men with big long beards? It’s just another fashion! I’ve talked to some guys and they’re all, No, no this is ROOTS.” I’m just like, “It’s okay, dude. It’s fine. I had a big long beard, too. It’ll be gone in three years. The next bunch will shave so they don’t have to look like you.” ((Laughs))
X: Do you always believe more is more?
DP: No, I don’t. I just — as I’ve aged I’ve learned to value eccentricity. I believe there is a one-on-one relationship between individuality and the maturation of the soul. And that’s often expressed in clothing. If you’re willing to be who you are then you just live that way through your pores, with what you wear and what you do.
X: What’s a trend you don’t think stuck around long enough?
DP: When womens’ heels got absolutely bonkers, I loved it! You don’t see them around here very much. But I love when costuming becomes so wildly imaginative. I don’t care if you can wear those things for only an hour. I like wildness!
X: Last question: You talked about being a vessel for art. Do you think all good things come from giving yourself up to your craft? To something greater?
DP: ((Pause)) That’s a nice question. No… I think all good things are. It’s just nice to tune ourselves into them by giving ourselves up. The worlds a gorgeous place if we can be quiet enough.
((We both stop talking and listen to the silence and the birds chirping through the open windows.))