Spotlight: Phoenix Artist Gennaro Garcia

Robrt L. PelaJanuary 12, 2024
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Photography by Diana Elizabeth Steffen
Photography by Diana Elizabeth Steffen

Culinary Creative

Phoenix artist Gennaro Garcia doesn’t know about sitting still. “I like to keep moving,” says Garcia, who’s scored national attention for his large-scale, high-color portraits of people and pop-culture icons. His line of ceramic tableware is meant, he says, to be eaten from, though most collectors prefer to hang theirs on the wall. He’s recently opened a new Grand Avenue studio and gallery; is working on an ongoing documentary film about his life and career; and relaxes by hanging with celebrity chefs like Marcela Valladolid when he’s not showing his work in his native Mexico. He jokes that in his spare time, he designs restaurant interiors including the new Downtown location of local favorite Taco Chelo. “I think about sitting still and not creating,” Garcia admits. “But it doesn’t seem right.”

You’ve got a newish space on Grand Avenue.
There’s a studio in the back and my gallery in the front. I have private events there, like dinner parties. You know I love food. Most of my work is about art and food. I built a 15-foot table in the middle of my studio. People come for dinner, and they look at the art on the walls and the plates I made. I invite a chef, a political activist, a writer from The New York Times. You stay at the table and talk for hours. We live really fast in the U.S., and this is a way to slow things down.

Your art comments on your own duality: You’re Mexican and American.
I think when you live in another country, you feel more love for the homeland you left. So, there’s subtext in my work that speaks to my love of both cultures, because I’m always missing one of them. That longing shows up in my art.

Your color palette is Mexican, and your techniques are from the Italian masters.
Yes, and I’ve been making ceramics the last four or five years, and my ceramics are more Spanish. The palette is inspired by the Talavera pottery palette.

Did this marriage of influences happen organically?
It happens because I’m always taking pictures. I see something beautiful, I pull out my phone and take a picture of it. Sometimes it’s a combination of colors in a building or makeup someone’s wearing. I take these colors and put them into a painting. So, the influences are organic and premeditated.

Someone is making a documentary film about your life.
I feel like it will never be done. Ten years ago, I went to a film festival in Phoenix to see my friend’s movie, and he said, “We should film your life.” We talked all night over tequila, and he started filming me. Whenever I go to Mexico to do a gallery exhibit, he films me and interviews the people at the show. We have 10 years’ worth of film. We keep talking about editing it and getting it out there, but then something else will happen…

You and your daughter, Frida, painted a mural in Mexico City recently.
No, that was seven years ago. She was 6. I met a man at a dinner, and it turned out he was the vice president of Disney Latin America, and he invited us to paint the mural for a movie they were doing. But my daughter doesn’t like to paint any more. Now she wants to be a writer.

That must sting a little.
Well, she’s 13, so she’s becoming a rebel. One day, she said the last two things a Mexican artist parent wants to hear:
“I don’t want to paint anymore. And I’m a vegetarian.” So, no more of her beautiful art. And no more tacos.

Speaking of tacos, you’re designing restaurants.
I call it my side job. I grew up in kitchens in Mexico, because my parents owned restaurants. My father wanted me to get interested in the restaurant business… So, that’s why when my daughter said, “No more paintings, no more tacos,” I was able to hear her and go, “Oh, right. I get it.”