The Alternative Pop Universe of José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros

By Jelena Martinovic on November 21, 2018

By remixing and manipulating images and icons from popular culture, the Mexican artist José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros has created a universe that is often described as dark and gritty but strikingly real. Exploring the general theme of the loss of innocence, he places familiar and beloved characters from fairy tales and popular culture into new contexts, creating visual curiosities that show the darker side of our contemporary society.

In his personalized mash-ups, Rodolfo merges situations, rewrites the scripts and provides alternative scenarios that tell new stories. In this universe, Cinderella appears in a meat dress, Prince Charming makes out with Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty, the Queen from Snow White snorts cocaine, Jessica Rabbit gets lip fillers, and Bella struggles with anorexia. By creating a striking contrast between our ideals and our realities, Rodolfo aims at breaking all taboos, at the same time measuring his viewers’ tolerance levels.

PRØHBTD spoke with Rodolfo about his provocative juxtapositions, the dissection of our current social environment, alternative happy endings, the role of popular culture in our daily lives and much more.

Your work focuses on the manipulation of popular images and pop icons into pieces that are often deemed controversial. What drew you to these subjects in the first place?

I grew up surrounded by cartoon characters on TV. Their aesthetics and animation style ended up influencing my work as an artist. I was especially attracted to Disney because of their character design and use of colors, and their watercolors on backgrounds in movies like 1937’s Snow White or 1942’s Bambi were particularly interesting to me. With my paintings, I’ve always wanted to talk about topics that call for reflection and that open a dialogue. I like speaking openly about topics that shouldn’t still be considered taboo in the 21st century.

Beloved characters from fairy tales and popular culture are transplanted from a world of ideals into a much more real place and time, often finding themselves in unorthodox and even shocking situations. Tell us more about these alternative scenarios and the new stories they convey.

I found in these characters an effective medium to convey my perception of our modern age, of our social context, while at the same time touching subjects that some consider inappropriate. Fairytale stories are often resolved by means of magic and everyone lives happily ever after in the end. I thought it would be interesting to contrast this “sweet” fantasy universe and our modern society, which can be harsh and vulnerable at times.

It seems that we have grown desensitized by the rapidly increasing troubles of today and struggles real people face in the real world. How do you think placing formerly idealized characters into socially vulnerable situations could bring more perspective on these real-life issues?

These characters serve as vehicles for messages of high values. They are always expected to carry good morals and to set a good example. It could be a difficult contrast to see them vulnerable, breaking the canons of the conventional moral rules. That way, we see them as much more human, more diverse and flawed. I think that’s when people can feel a connection and relate to them. I don’t think this is going to solve anyone’s problems, and I don’t intend to. There is a lot of black humor in my work, and there is a plethora of topics. If by doing this I get a smile out of someone, or I get to connect emotionally with a social minority, or just arouse people’s curiosity, that would be stimulating and positive for me as an artist.

Queer love is a recurring theme in your artworks. How do you think your work addresses our society’s tolerance and conversations around equality?

This is a topic I’ve been talking about since the beginning as there was no representation of queer love in fairy tales and I thought it was important to talk about that. What better way to do so than through art?

This idea came up because I saw that, at the end of every tale, there was a kiss between a princess and a prince. I found it a little exclusive that this “happily ever after” was always heterosexual and I thought all that tenderness, that warmth and that illusion conveyed through that final kiss should also exist for minorities. There have been huge developments in this topic. People are now more open but there’s still a lot to do. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of ignorance, homophobia and misinformation about it, but without a doubt, art is a great vehicle to advance toward equity and respect.

Could you tell us something about your working process? How do the ideas of these juxtapositions come to you?

Ideas flow into my mind in many different ways. Sometimes I come up with something when I’m about to fall asleep and I get it down on my sketchbook. Ideas have no time schedules. Sometimes I get them while walking in a mall, listening to music, watching a movie and so forth. Occasionally, I imagine alternate versions of popular stories or classic movies. I always find some points where stories of genders that are nothing alike have something in common. That’s where these juxtapositions appear. I usually draw with pencils. I put a lot of work into the project’s composition until it’s as balanced as possible. Then, my drawing goes to a canvas where I use oil paintings and acrylic paint.

Your work is a unique tribute to popular culture. How do you think popular culture shapes and impacts our everyday life experience?

I believe that human beings, since the beginning, have had a tendency towards “cults.” Our ancestors drew everything they saw on cave walls. For example, [they drew] the animals they hunted to feed themselves or the horses they rode. Now, we see ads on television, magazines or social media where we are offered some animal’s meat in a burger or luxury cars that everyone wants to drive.

Leaving aside this monstrous capitalistic industry and the smart advertising and marketing strategies, I think pop culture definitely influences us. Beyond being victims of consumerism, pop culture works as a strainer of sorts that refines the best of human creativity and ingenuity. These include big works that live on beyond their time, those stories that give life to famous characters, era-defining music, objects such as soda bottles with an exceptional packaging and typographic design, works of art so sublime that we want to feel them closer in the form of a shirt or a coffee mug. I think pop culture celebrates human ingenuity and talent.

Your work was recently on view in an exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein. Could you tell us something about this show and the work you created for it?

Chogrin, the show’s curator, invited me to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a novel by the great science fiction author Mary Shelley. I’m very thankful to be a part of this project and to have the opportunity to pay homage alongside many other great artists to a ground-breaking literary work in this genre.

The idea came from a series I’ve been working on for some years now where I fuse monsters or horror characters with Disney characters. [The 1951 film] Alice in Wonderland has a kitten named Dinah, like Maria and her cat in 1931's Frankenstein movie by Universal Studios. At the beginning of Alice, she’s on top of a tree and gets down with her kitten, and then she walks and lies down on a flowerbed. She also approaches a small pond. This scene reminded me of the lake where Frankenstein’s monster and Maria exchange daisies before Maria ultimately drowns to her death. I pictured the monster and Alice in that lake, and alluding to the color green that has always characterized Frankenstein, I decided that it would be a cannabis field of vivid green, as vivid as the food that doctor Frankenstein fed his monster. It’s alive!

Which artists inspired your work along the way and whose work do you appreciate now?

In the beginning, I liked William Bouguereau and Salvador Dalí. Now I’m really into Mark Ryden’s work.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on my next solo exhibition, which will take place next year in Los Angeles.

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