Art Works Blog

Art Talk with Jorge Colombo

Washington, DC

"Los Angeles" by Jorge Colombo. Digital fingerpainting, courtesy of artist.

You may not know Jorge Colombo by name, but if you've visited the New Yorker website lately or seen a recent cover, you will definitely recognize his work. The multi-talented artist---he works as a painter, a filmmaker, a photographer, an illustrator---has added a new tool to his arsenal, the Brushes app on his iPhone. Lucky for us, he put his iPhone to work designing the cover art for our new NEA Arts issue on creativity due out early next week. Here's a brief interview with the prolific artist.

NEA: How did you grow up to be an artist?

JORGE COLOMBO: Not sure, you know? No visual arts precedents in my family, but both my brother Vasco and I ended up having very similar artistic developments and careers, down to both spreading ourselves between illustration, design, photography, etc. The best approach is not to worry too much about how or why it happens. Doing something is what counts.

NEA: What's your version of the artist life?

COLOMBO: My artistic life has been lived chiefly on the commercial side: I work as an editorial illustrator, doing assignments for magazines, books, posters, etc. Reproduction and publishing come more naturally to me than the transaction of originals and the exhibition circuit---I haven't done much of that. As for teaching, I dropped very early out of the Lisbon Fine Arts School and am fully self-taught, so I wouldn't be fit to teach someone else. Inspiration for me comes from books, more than museums or galleries, and sites, yes, although I still haven't found a decent way to manage thousands of bookmarks. It's a plague: at least with a bookshelf you can look at the spines. What I actually do, too, is keeping multiple inspirationals in my iPhone at all times, be they Todd Hido photos, Orson Welles clips, or a few drawings by Hockney (the 70s phase, mostly.) My phone's not only for drawing or making calls; it's also a constant scrapbook.

NEA: What is your definition of creativity?

COLOMBO: There may be countless ways to define it. I would say: question authority. Ask why do things have to be a certain way and not another, or why they're done in a specific fashion. Many times you'll find out the accepted way does indeed make sense, but you're also bound to discover a unique or better way to deal with things.

NEA: What do you see as the role of the artist in the community?

COLOMBO: To help expand the way people perceive the world around them. Or to put in words/images/sounds/flavors/shapes what they learn from people around them.

NEA: In the forthcoming issue of NEA Arts, Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington says, "I try to know as many of the things that are missing from our world of music as I possibly can...I try to put the thrust of my time into realizing those things that aren't yet part of our work but should be."  When it comes to the visual arts--or even the arts as a whole--what things do you see as missing? What should be part of the work you or other visual artists or artists as a community are making that isn't yet there?

COLOMBO: I don't believe in an "artists' community" as much as in an "arts community," where artists are as crucial as spectators, supporters, buyers, and thinkers are. It's all the same team, regardless of the specific part played by each. We're all better off if we remove issues of elitism from the table: artistic gift and talent play a part in the equation, but the world of arts depends from everyone who contributes to it.

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