Queens activist shakes things up with his art

Juan Hinojosa in his studio.


Our son, the artist?

That was Juan Hinojosa’s parents’ reaction when they first found out that he was a budding artist.

Looking back, the self-described Latinx, who was born and raised in Woodside, recalled that it took his parents some time to “understand what the hell I was doing.”

“As hardworking Peruvian immigrants who arrived in New York to start a new life, the concept of their only son becoming an ‘artist’ is not what they expected or wanted. I think on a lot of levels it made no sense to them,” Hinojosa said.“But here we are today, and they have, over time, become supportive. Now they attend my opens and have a lot of questions. Time and patience are great that way.”

Hinojosa says he has seen the city grow and change quite a bit over the years.

“Growing up, I felt I had a lot in common with Peter Parker. He was a kid from Queens, too. Funny enough, they filmed ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ just down the street from my place in Sunnyside.”

From his studio in Long Island City, he creates eye-catching collages on paper and cool sculptures, like his whimsical cat piece. His work is based on the concept of using found objects as the only source of material and inspiration, and he says he really enjoys it when his work speaks for itself.

“I like to think the city is filled with delicious ready-made objects just ready for the taking,” he added. “Everything you see and can identify in my work is something I found, love, and saved from ending up in the trash. As a hoarder, my studio is full of that.”

His advice: “Never underestimate the objects around your New York apartment or at your 9 to 5. There’s always something you can turn into something else.”

When Hinojosa was involved with Materials for the Arts in LIC, as an artist-in-residence (fall 2015 to winter 2016), he recalled using all the materials he was able to collect there to put together a new body of work, which he said “best displayed all the possible alternatives someone could use discarded, ready-made objects.” 

He spent his time in the warehouse “just head over heels in love with everything I saw and the people I met. And the staff not only made me feel welcomed, but they inspired a new body of work I never would have made,” he noted.

“The hard work that Harriet Taub has done over the years is nothing more than sheer brilliance, and the curatorial guidance of John Cloud Kaiser and Omar Olivera, was extremely important and influential, he added.

His recent exhibit at Local Project Art Space in LIC — where creatives can express themselves freely in a “safe space” — was sponsored by Queens Council on the Arts, who awarded the artist a New Work Grant in 2019.

“A whole new body of work was made just for Local Project and I couldn’t have done it without my amazing people at QCA,” he said. “For the grant, I proposed a show titled ‘Juan Hinojosa: A Bad Hombre.’ It was a look at the art world through the lens of someone who has been deemed dangerous by this current administration.”

Materials used for that exhibit include: multi-color wall decals, several broken mannequin hands, stickers and jewelry, broken frames, window blinds, spray paint, as well as yarn, chess pieces and a vintage photo. 

Hinojosa’s talent hasn’t gone unnoticed. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honored him, along with three other awardees, for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the borough of Queens. The special ceremony with community brunch was held in LIC last June. 

The busy artist, who said he takes some inspiration from Henri Matisse, Robert Rauschenburg, and Sigma Polka, is currently working with Ground Floor Gallery in Park Slope on a series of new prints, which they’re producing. And his solo exhibition is now on view at Union College in Schenectady, NY until fall. “It’s just a hop, skip, and jump from Queens,” he quips, noting, “The lovely curator allowed me to create a site-specific installation along with about 12 new collages. A true gift to a kid from Queens!”

This summer, he’ll take part in a large group show at Local Project, which he said he’s really looking forward to.

“Needless to say, an artist’s life is never dull… and constantly exhausting,” he said.

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