I had the pleasure of speaking with Santiago Uceda, urban folk artist, whose work is displayed at Tender Loving Empire, an art store/gallery in Portland, Oregon.
Raised in Peru and on the California coast, Uceda now identifies most with Oregon. He says, “There’s something in the air up here that drives you to create.” The community, according to Uceda, is not as competitive like in some other big cities, and the sense camaraderie is uplifting and encouraging.
I marvel over his vivid imagery of snakes, sunflowers and thorny vines. From our interview I learned that these images tie together with his homeland of Peru. Most of his art is influenced by pre-Columbian Incan art. The vibrant inks he uses are taken from Peruvian colors.
The artist says his Catholic upbringing struck fear in him, and today his work reflects the images of Catholic iconography. I’m reminded of a wonderful passage from the Introduction to Bruno Schulz’s novel, The Street of Crocodiles:
I do not know just how in childhood we arrive at certain images, images of crucial significance to us. They are like filaments in a solution around which the sense of the world crystallizes for us . . . It seems to me that the rest of our life passes in the interpretation of those insights, in the attempt to master them with all the wisdom we acquire, to draw them through all the range of intellect we have in our possession.
At age 13, the artist moved from Lima, Peru to Orange County, California. He graduated from Cal State University Fullerton in 1996 where he obtained his bachelor degree in Fine Arts. He freelanced for five years with local and national publications such as The Progressive and Hispanic Magazine. He then did graphic design for the South Coast Repertory and Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Uceda moved to Oregon in 2006. He is now a graphic designer for Oregon State University, and in his spare time, he illustrates and paints.
Oregon still feels like an exotic place to Uceda. He lived most of his life in drier, desert-like climes. Oregon’s thick green forests and wet weather emboldens his imagination and creativity.
Uceda works withs artists through Black Rock Collective, and submits t-shirt designs to Threadless and Design by Humans. Some of his work has been printed by Design by Humans. In the summer of 2007 he submitted a shoe design that was printed by RYZ a Portland based company. Billabong, a worldwide clothing manufacturer, has also purchased one of his t-shirt designs, set to come out in November.
At Tender Loving Empire in Portland, you can see his paintings on the wall, as well as illustrations on CD covers and t-shirts. Tender Loving Empire is a unique store in itself. All of the store items, jewelry and art pieces, are hand-made by people in the Portland arts community.
The owners, Jared and Brianne Mees, originally started their store/gallery in California, but could not find a strong sense of community there. Now they say they are thriving in Portland.
I was really taken with the friendly and welcoming atmosphere that surrounded the store. Near the end of my visit with Uceda, a deli owner next door brought out sorbet for us. The whole experience was a sheer delight.
Teia Hassey trained horses all her life up to Dressage and Jumping levels. Now she is diving back into her passion of writing. Teia is working on her first memoir and writing for the arts in Chicago, IL.