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A Conversation with Cesar Solis



MADCOLLAGE: Welcome back everyone. Today I feel very lucky to chat with an artist with a level of dexterity and a level of patience that I admire. He's someone who works exclusively with paper and he deconstructs and refurbishes images. If this is making you curious, let's go ahead and introduce my guest for this episode. Hello Cesar.


CESAR: Hello! I'm glad to be here.


MADCOLLAGE: Thank you for being here with us. The first question that I have for you is of course the obvious. I would like you to introduce yourself, tell us your name, where you live, where you're from, what you do for a living, and if there's anything else that you want to tell us that you feel is relevant to your work, this is your chance.


CESAR: Okay, well my name is Cesar Solis. I'm from Chile. Specifically, I live in Conception. That's my city. I am an English teacher but I don't work as a teacher. I only have the certification and now I work with my father in his workshop where we paint cars. That's like my work where I get my money, and then I work on collage. And I have been making collage since 2013 when I was in university. It was like in 2018 when I decided what I like to do, and since then I have always been creating new works.


MADCOLLAGE: I was just going to ask you, you mentioned that you are from Chile, you currently live in Chile, but specifically in Conception. And I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the city itself, because I think that would be interesting to our listeners, so they have a bit of background perhaps.


CESAR: Ok. Conception is in the southern part of Chile. We're not really South all the way. We are where the South starts. People, for example, in Santiago, which is our capital, talk about us like we are the South, because we are six hours from them. But traveling South from Conception, there are a lot of cities, a lot more country. We have a very nice climate. Conception is like the second biggest city of the country. There are a lot of things to do, and we have a lot of universities here. So, there's a lot of movement in the arts and sciences. It's a nice city. It's a nice city to live in.


MADCOLLAGE: It sounds like a very nice place.


CESAR: Yes, it's a very nice place. We don't have like a beach in this city, but we can take a bus, like in fifteen minutes you are at the beach, for example. We have a river that is the biggest river here in our country. It's a beautiful place. We have a lot of hills, but we have a problem with the people who are in charge of taking care of forests. The industry of wood. You have all these hills, but they are only for the money.


MADCOLLAGE: I see, I see. So, they're man-made forests and they're used for lumber, right? You are talking about exploiting the forest for profit.


CESAR: Yes, that's right. For example, you have the people from the North saying there’s a lot of forests, but what they don't know is that they are destroyed for business. It's a very, very awful thing for our country. All these industries take advantage from all those natural resources and destroy the Earth.


MADCOLLAGE: Yes. You're talking to a tree lover. The house where I am right now has a few nice pine trees around it. I shouldn’t say pine. They are a type of fir, actually. And when we first came here and we needed to make some repairs, the workers wanted to cut one of the large trees that is right in front of the house to get some machines in. And I said, absolutely not. They're not touching that tree. And they were surprised. They didn’t understand. It's interesting what you’re saying, because here in Vermont there's also that view that we have a lot of trees. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you cut trees because we have a lot of trees. And really the forests that we have around here are very recent because the original vegetation was all cut down for sheep, for grazing, early in the last century. And so this is fairly new. I mean, it's not an original, native forest. It's not how Vermont used to look before. It's all regrowth, right? So, I think they have a very strange view, because these are finite resources. You know, it's not renewable. So what you’re saying is very sad, but interesting.


CESAR: Yes, yes, it is sad.


MADCOLLAGE: And the thing about not having a beach, you know, I'm from Madrid, and we don't have an ocean beach, but we have several kickass artificial beaches, and many natural pools around the city. So, I’m familiar with that. Because every time somebody finds out I'm from Madrid, somebody points out that there's no beach. Like every city or town in Spain must have a beach. It’s funny.


So, it’s interesting to know about the area, particularly about the universities, which I didn't know about. So, you come from that environment with a university, and you say that you have a certificate in English, right? Did you study any art while you were going to school?


CESAR: No, not at all. I started with the collage. Because I am bad at like painting, or drawing, you know. But with collage I find it easy to make something. To create something. That's why I started doing collages.


MADCOLLAGE: I don't think there's anything easy about what you do. And I bet anything, I mean, after looking at your work, I bet anything that you're better at drawing and painting than what you say. Because someone who's not good at those things couldn't do what you do. So, your creative practice revolves mainly around collage. And I was wondering, do you work at home? Do you have a studio? How's your working space?


CESAR: Well, I work here in my house. I have a space for work where I sleep, right in my bedroom. This is like a desk where I work. I have my mat. The cutting mat. I have all my materials and some tools I have made myself for my practice. And my magazines, and paper cutouts that I have cut overtime. It's very simple.


MADCOLLAGE: Simple is good. I've spoken to artists who paint in a corner of their kitchen. There's no proper way to set up. There are many ways, and all are fine if they work for you. And you don't have to have a dedicated space to create really nice pieces. That's one thing that I try to get across as well. Because a lot of people think that you need something very elaborate and really spacious and really awesome, but you don’t.


CESAR: Well, yes, that's true. If you ask me if I could have a bigger desk, I would say yes. That would be nice. Yes, that would be nice. Because sometimes I need space. The last collage I did was bigger than the previous one and it was a little, a little bit difficult because of the size. So, yes, a bigger desk would be useful in this case. But it's not like an impediment to work.


MADCOLLAGE: The space is never the ideal one. Those magazines were artists pose in their studios and the rooms look like a movie set make me laugh. It’s like fashion magazines with their unattainable size 0 models. I’m happy to hear that it doesn't really limit you other than in the size of pieces that you create sometimes.


You mentioned that you started making collage in 2013. And what kind of collage were you making up until 2018 when you said you found your style?


CESAR: Well, in those five years, I mostly just cut images. It was very difficult to compound something. To put things together. Sometimes, I wanted to make a collage, and for example, I grabbed my things, my tools, my magazines, etc. I’d start cutting the images. I have these images but very few times I could actually come up with an idea that I liked to make a collage per se. For example, in those five years, I only did between 10 and 15 collages. And since 2018 to this date, I have made over 90 collages.


It really was very difficult for me to make art because I started doing like the most common kind of collage. Very plain. Like this image and this image and I put them together. And then I found out this more geometric style. I found it was so easy for me to do it and I started doing it that way all the time.


MADCOLLAGE: It's interesting you spent almost five years collecting images and trying to put together collages that you were not happy with, even though you clearly had ideas and you had the drive. That whole time you continued to collect images and you were working on it but it wasn't until you

started creating the kind of collages that you make now, that you really felt happy with the results.


CESAR: That's right. Just then. I found my kind of collage.


MADCOLLAGE: Why don't we talk a little bit about the type of collages that you're making now. They are very different from what you initially made. Now you don’t just cut several images and put them side by side on a surface. How do you make a collage today? How do you place your paper on the mat? Do you tape the top to keep it down? To keep it together?


CESAR: Yes, I tape the image to my cutting mat. I cut it, and then I remove one piece at a time. I remove the strips from the image.


MADCOLLAGE: One at a time as you need them. Correct?


CESAR: One at a time, yes. Each one I use. Sometimes, for some collages, I have to take a lot of measurements. Make some calculations, so that the cuts are exact. They have to be these exact measurements for this to work out. And then I work slowly.


MADCOLLAGE: Yes, I can see how it's very intensive in that sense. You must be very accurate. You must be very careful. All the things that I am not. I kind of wing it sometimes, truth be told. I don't measure very much. And I always end up with everything... everything is lopsided or twisted or...things don’t quite fit. But it’s not an improvisation. I just like lines to be slightly off kilter. I like the balance to be a little bit off.


CESAR: Yes, I can imagine that. That’s different from mine.


MADCOLLAGE: Indeed, it is! I am very at peace with that side of collage. When it comes to measuring, I'm not the best. It's a very different style from yours and the resulting images are quite different as well.


CESAR: Yes, there are different styles of making collage. It's okay. Everyone has a style.


MADCOLLAGE: I find that to be a beautiful thing, an interesting thing about collage. I think about this discipline, because you can talk to a lot of different collage makers and there are so many differences in style, and the way they approach the pieces, you know, the way they envision the work. So, it's really... it's never the same conversation. Every time it's different.


CESAR: Yes, that's true. And I like that. I have a lot of friends that make a lot of collage and all their ideas that are so different from each other. Yeah, I like that.


MADCOLLAGE: And, you know, following up with that, I was wondering, what's the collage scene like in your area? Do you have a lot of collectives or groups or maybe associations, people who get together to make collage?


CESAR: Well, I am part of a collective, a collage collective that is called Mal Recorte.


MADCOLLAGE: Which is a lovely name, by the way, it's a great name. And I think it would loosely translate as “bad cut”. Although Mal Recorte is so much better than bad cut, I have to say. Sounds really clever, and it implies other meanings. It suggests that a mistake was made. That’s funny.


CESAR: Yes, yes, exactly. So, we do have this collective. I was invited to create this collective in February of 2020. Like one month before the pandemic. The pandemic hit our country around that time. So, we started this collective, and we have made some work together. We have a podcast in Spanish for the group also. We have made some fanzines. Yes, some things like that.


MADCOLLAGE: I love zines. Making one is on my bucket list. I would like to make one, but I really don't know. I have a friend in Canada who makes lovely zines. And I want her to tell me more about it because I want to make one, but I don't know how. Maybe I'll talk to you later about it if you don’t mind.


CESAR: Yes, we could talk about it. I have made two fanzines by myself. It was like in December, I made one then. I thought I would like to have something to sell for Christmas. That's a wonderful one, and it's a very simple type of fanzine. I could show it to you after this. And then, we also had some exhibitions. We had exhibitions here in our city mostly, in Concepcion. The collective has people from all over the country, from different cities of the country. From the North to the South of Chile. And we have some sessions. How do you say that?


MADCOLLAGE: Is it a meeting? A meeting. A workshop?


CESAR: Yes, we get together for a collage meeting. Last year we started doing it. We have made two with our collective. We were the hosts. I have friends that come to the meetings.


MADCOLLAGE: That sounds lovely. Do you have large groups of people over?


CESAR: Sometimes it is only five or six. But it’s ok.


MADCOLLAGE: That’s good. It’s still a lot of fun to get together with people interested in making collage. Is everyone from Concepcion? I imagine that there are meetings in other cities as well.


CESAR: That is right. It’s in Santiago where most meetings happen. More people are in the capital, of course. So more people attend. Their meetings are much bigger.


MADCOLLAGE: But you know, you were saying earlier, making collage is about inner work. Obviously for you, at least, it seems to be. You enjoy working on your own, you concentrate, you focus. And tell me, how do you spend the time when you are not making collage? Does it connect in any way with your art making time? I mean, you mentioned that you have a job, and how do you organize your time so that you can make collage at some point?


CESAR: Well, the workshop where I work is here in my house itself. Like in front of my house. So it's not very far from my house. And I get off work like at 6 p.m. and I go to my house. Right after that I start working on collage. I try to work at least on one collage per day to have more in my collection. Time is not that much of a problem for me.


MADCOLLAGE: You don't have to commute, you don't have to come from far away, which is great.


CESAR: Yes, I don't have to commute. That's the time that I can spend working. I could not work much if I was driving back home, for example.


MADCOLLAGE: That's time consuming and boring too. You can't be making collage when you're commuting, especially if you're driving. I don't recommend it. It could get a little dangerous for you and for the pedestrians!


CESAR: No, no, no. You could not do it, of course.


MADCOLLAGE: Safety first, right? That’s funny! So, you find your images mostly in magazines, like glossy magazines that have ads for cosmetics and perfumes and that type of thing. Do you use any other sources ever? Maybe paper that comes from other places or that is made of different materials?


CESAR: No, but I have... I have used, for example, I have used like some National Geographic.


MADCOLLAGE: They are quite popular. Many artists like them for collage. Any other kind of publication?


CESAR: Oh, sometimes calendars or journals, I don’t know how you say it.


MADCOLLAGE: Maybe periodicals? Or do you mean like a high school book with photos of the students and such?


CESAR: Yes, a journal book like that! I have... I have two of them from the United States, like from the 60s. They have photos of the students in the school.


MADCOLLAGE: Oh. The photos must be so interesting with the big beehive hairdos and the fashion of that time.


CESAR: I don't know which high school it is. It has the name on the journal book, but it’s so random. They are very random. They are very nice though. Ans it's a very nice material too. Good paper.


MADCOLLAGE: It must be really nice and very unique.


CESAR: Yes, and the images are black and white. You can really imagine the people in the 60s. I can almost see them and imagine their lives. And it's a very nice material. I also have a magazine of religious figures, like the Virgin, mostly......Mexican Virgin Mary. Religious images of saints and Jesus.


MADCOLLAGE: I saw that image that we were talking about earlier. The one that your mother was holding up in the photograph. It was all in strips and you could see her behind it through the cuts. It was a figure of a Christ. It was a painting of a Christ, right?


CESAR: Yes. I was given that image by a friend. A friend of mine gave them to me for collage. He had like six or seven copies of that image. And it's large. It's a large image. I usually work with smaller ones.


MADCOLLAGE: It looks like a large image.


CESAR: It's very nice. It's a very nice image to work with.


MADCOLLAGE: Yes, it's very nice. I love the colors. They're very muted. Old fashioned. And if you have multiples, you can make a couple of different collages with similar technique. You cut them several times and then you combine them with all kinds of different things.


CESAR: Yes, that's right.


MADCOLLAGE: That's really interesting. And I'm guessing that when we talk about tools that you use, we are talking about xacto knives, correct? I always mentioned scissors, because they are my favorite tool, but I'm thinking that you probably use knives more than anything else, right?


CESAR: Yes, I use an xacto knife. That's right. It's what I use. The kind I currently use is called an alpha knife.


MADCOLLAGE: An alpha knife? Is that a popular brand?


CESAR: Yes, an alpha knife. The cutting mats are also alpha sometimes.


MADCOLLAGE: Is it a rotary knife? Or is it just a straight knife?


CESAR: It looks like a scalpel.


MADCOLLAGE: Yes. I know what you are talking about. They are popular for very detailed work. Or for artists who make collage with hard lines and geometric shapes.


CESAR: It is like a pen. It's very common among the collage artists I know.


MADCOLLAGE: You change out the tips when they no longer cut well. You must go through a lot of them. Because, you make hundreds of long cuts on the paper and that wears out the tool.


CESAR: Yes. Yes, sometimes I have to change the tip several times for one collage. For the last one I used like four blades. I calculate that in total there were 800 strips of paper. In part because the size of the image was 43 centimeters long. Lots of work and time.


MADCOLLAGE: I'm still amazed at how you keep track of things. That takes enormous patience. You have to be very methodical.


CESAR: Yes, I think so. With time I have improved. My technique is better, and I am better at cutting the images.


MADCOLLAGE: One thing that I want to highlight, which I think is very important, is the amount of patience that you must exercise. I have seen similar things made with computers and that takes all the skill and effort away. And I don't think it is a fair comparison. To compare a computer-generated, a computer-mediated image to yours, it is rather unfair. I mean, I find your collage a lot more valuable and a lot more interesting and exceptional.


CESAR: Yes, I think so too.


MADCOLLAGE: That's just my opinion for what it's worth, you know. I admire the amount of work and the time that you put into each one of the pieces.


CESAR: Thank you so much for that.


MADCOLLAGE: It's true. So, we've talked a little bit about the themes that you use, and you've used a few religious images in your work. Are you a religious person? Is there a particular interest?


CESAR: Well, no. I don't believe in anything. I have no religion or any specific religious belief. For me it was the importance of the image itself. The importance of what it represents to many people.


MADCOLLAGE: Because you don't have to be religious to use religious iconography.


CESAR: Right. You don't have to. That's why I use it because I like the images because they have a lot of impact.


MADCOLLAGE: How do you think people read it? Because I don't know if you intend it to come across in a specific way. I imagine that different people receive it in very different ways.


CESAR: Like what it means to each person?


MADCOLLAGE: A religious motive in a collage. If you make a collage that has a religious motive versus one that doesn't, perhaps one that is just from an ad, do people react differently to the one that has a religious image in it?


CESAR: Well, I haven't had any bad reactions or anything like that. Yes, it's a very valid question. I wonder myself also about that sometimes. But for now nobody was upset because of that. Not for the moment.


MADCOLLAGE: So it's always been a positive reception.


CESAR: Yes. Always a very positive reception. It's not like I created a bad image or changed it in a bad way at all.


MADCOLLAGE: I'm not a religious person either, but I know that sometimes, especially when you put certain work online, people view the images through the lens of their own baggage. They bring their own ideas, and then they look at something that maybe is neutral but their response can go in any direction. Some people react positively, some people react very negatively. People get angry. There are all kinds of reactions to the same artwork, you know? And of course, religion is one of those things that is very polarizing.


CESAR: No. I haven't had any encounter with people that thought I disrespected their beliefs. That's good to know. Yes. I have been lucky, I think. It could go in any direction as you said.


MADCOLLAGE: That's good to know, because once the images are out there for anybody to view you relinquish all control. It’s like a bird leaving the nest. They're on their own, right?


CESAR: Yes, yes, that's right. They are lost on the internet. They are everywhere and anyone can see them.


MADCOLLAGE: They are lost on the internet. I feel like that myself at times.


CESAR: Yes. I can understand.


MADCOLLAGE: So, is there any kind of takeaway we should be aware of? An artistic teachable moment that you can pass on for someone who is starting out? Perhaps just one idea that you want to get across with your work. Is there anything like that?


CESAR: What I really like is that people can see my work and can feel this sensation of wonder. It is like a bad trip. A little amazing and confusing. I’d like to provoke something like that.


MADCOLLAGE: That's interesting. When I was looking at it, I was not tripping but I was really giving it a second, third and fourth look. I wanted to figure it out. I was trying to get really focused and I was wondering what's happening in the image. You know, what's happening? What is this? What is that? What is negative space? And it's actually lovely to create that reaction in the viewer. You really bring in them in. You know?


CESAR: That's what I like. I want to make them question what is happening. What am I seeing? How is this made?


MADCOLLAGE: Well, you are succeeding. So, more respect to you for achieving that.


CESAR: Yes. Thanks.


MADCOLLAGE: Because, once again, there's an incredible amount of work in each piece. I think that what comes across quite clearly is your love for collage. I think you love the practice of making collage.


CESAR: Yes, I love it. Sometimes, for example, I would be riding my bike with my friends and I'm thinking about the collage I have in my house. Thinking about how I want to finish it. I'm thinking that I want to get to my home and do some work on the collage.


MADCOLLAGE: So, you get ideas and you're doing other things. It’s a common occurrence for artists. Are you able to translate those ideas into actual collages? How does that happen?


CESAR: I have most of my ideas when I'm working on my collages. That's when things start to happen. I start thinking that something could be a good thing to try. At that moment I can fantasize about how a piece would be if I used this or that technique.


MADCOLLAGE: So, it is very important to spend time at your desk. Creative time is when ideas emerge. It’s practicing, and more practicing. I think that's the key, right?


CESAR: Yes, yes, that's right. Doing the same things and then changing a little bit.


MADCOLLAGE: Besides, we are talking about 2020 and we were at the beginning of the pandemic. We were all spending most of our time indoors. Creative people were fortunate to have an outlet. So, what would you say to somebody who's looking to establish a creative practice and has not tried collage?


CESAR: I would say that they should really try it. At least give it a go. Make the first collage and see what happens then.


MADCOLLAGE: And what is the easiest way to start? In your opinion, what is a good entryway, you know, a useful first step?


CESAR: I think you just need to experiment with it. Get a magazine. I'm sure everyone in their homes has at least one magazine. Or it could be another kind of book or newspaper. Anything that has a few images. Start looking and thinking about it. Think about what you can say with that image. It can be like a poem or a message.


MADCOLLAGE: So, take the time to look and then reshape the raw materials. Make changes to the existing images and tell a little story.


CESAR: Yes, experimenting would be the thing to do.


MADCOLLAGE: Not being afraid of the materials, and not being afraid of what anybody is going to say.


CESAR: Yes. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. You can glue it together on the same paper. Use a card that you already have. Use a photo. But don't be afraid.


MADCOLLAGE: Those are great suggestions. Very good suggestions for a newcomer. And I think that doing away with the fear, that's the most important thing.


CESAR: Yes, don’t worry about that. Forget about all the other stuff and create something.


MADCOLLAGE: That's true. That's exactly right. That's what everybody should try at least once.


CESAR: Yes, if only to see what happens. To see how you feel.


MADCOLLAGE: It doesn't have to be perfect. You can then move on and make something else.


CESAR: Yes. Or you can fix it. Add something else to your first collage. See if it is finished. Don’t give up too soon.


MADCOLLAGE: Do you ever make journals or books or notebooks?


CESAR: No. I haven't tried to make journals.


MADCOLLAGE: The fanzines that you mentioned earlier, do they have collages in them at all?


CESAR: No. They have reproductions of collages. One of them has images that are funny. The translation of the title is “What are you looking at?”


MADCOLLAGE: What are you looking at? Is that the title?


CESAR: Yes, it is. I used all the eyes that appear in my collages. A lot of eyes. It looks interesting and surprising.


MADCOLLAGE: That’s very imaginative. I like how the title is a little bit of a riddle. It’s humorous.


CESAR: Thank you.


MADCOLLAGE: So, you zoom into the image and then you pick up a detail. In this case just the eyes. That's very clever. Those are very clever ideas. I like that.


CESAR: Thank you. That's the idea and I think it was good and came out very nice.


MADCOLLAGE: It sounds like it was fun to make as well.


CESAR: It was very easy. I took this sheet of paper and folded it in eight equal parts. It is like a mini book.


MADCOLLAGE: I see. I think I'm complicating zines in my mind way too much. I've been thinking about making a zine for a long time now. And I keep putting it off, and making other things because I think it's so difficult. Turns out I'm doing exactly the opposite of what we are suggesting. Instead of jumping in and experimenting, I am building it up so much that then I don't do anything, you know?


CESAR: Yes, yes. It happens with all new things.


MADCOLLAGE: So, my advice is not to do what I'm doing with the zines. Don't build a project so much in your mind that then you get paralyzed. That is the worst thing to do. The irony is not lost on me!


So, to kind of round up the conversation, can you tell me if you have any projects that are upcoming? Do you have any collaborations coming up? What's next?


CESAR: Well, I don't have any collaborations right away. Apart from making more collages, I have no plans. I would like to do another fanzine. I would like to organize more collage meetings. Perhaps something like once a month. And right now I'm also framing my work. I would like to have a lot of them framed.


MADCOLLAGE: Maybe for a show or an exhibition of the work?


CESAR: Yes, I would like to do that too.


MADCOLLAGE: That's a very good project. Best of luck.


CESAR: And with my collective, I want to keep working on the podcast. To keep up with the work of our collective. I think those are my projects.


MADCOLLAGE: Those are fantastic projects, all of them. Well, I think that we've reached the end of this long-distance conversation.


CESAR: I think so. Thanks.


MADCOLLAGE: First of all, I want to thank you for your time.


CESAR: Sure.


MADCOLLAGE: It's just been wonderful talking to you. I guess I will see you all again next week with more on Six Impossible Things. My name is Madcollage and I’m grateful that you spent time with us today. Bye-bye.


For more about Cesar's work visit https://www.instagram.com/precipicio.collage/


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