I’m trying to make this fantastical zone of safety for queer folks.
Juan Arango Palacios So that’s the mythology I’m trying to create: a flower in the concrete, thriving.
By Mary Truong November 22nd, 2020

The artwork that Juan Arango Palacios creates often strikes a sensation between dream and fever-dream: when the colors are more muted and the composition more centered, it falls on the side of the former, but then images burst into garish colors and lines curve into a spiraling mass. They’re eye-catching, and Arango Palacios means them to be that way, saying, “these drawings and paintings— they’re meant to sparkle; they’re meant to be eye-catching; they’re meant to turn heads. It’s like when you walk into a club and there’s a drag queen on stage. I want it to be a showstopper.” By using color and composition, Arango Palacios is able to seduce the viewer into a pictorial mythology about their experiences, community, and culture.
Arango Palacios describes their compositions to be “Caravaggio-like” and “Catholic”— recalling dynamic, religious European paintings. Arango Palacios was introduced to art through being raised Catholic and seeing cathedrals before ever entering museums, and using these compositions recalls their childhood. Furthermore, they sometimes depict angels and cherubs in their work to recall a different childhood memory. “My grandma used to tell me that I couldn’t go to sleep without praying my guardian angel prayer, and I would pray it every night. And so angels sprouted from this idea of creating a safe space…” Although Arango Palacios has since had a falling out with the Catholic faith, they find that these religious symbols are so ingrained into their upbringing that it becomes impossible to dismiss the images. Furthermore, using these symbols is an act of reclamation against a church that rejects Arango Palacios’ queerness: “I feel comfortable appropriating those images. I feel comfortable committing sacrilege to those images because I feel all these were done to me when I was part of the church. I am fully grabbing what I need and using it for my own self-reflection.”
The myth is about just loving yourself. The myth is living your truth, living your life.
If Arango Palacios is creating a mythology in their work, they’re “trying to make this myth of, ‘It’s okay to be sad.’ It’s okay to be queer. It’s okay to not fit in. It’s okay to live your truth.” One symbol that they use is a flower in incongruous environments, like behind a brick wall or growing in concrete. Though the flower appears wilted and seems animated with sorrow, it is surviving, and Arango Palacios hopes that this image can be a point of connection to other queer folk, saying, “the sadness of that work lifts you up a little bit. We can be sad together.” Other places referenced in their paintings are places of radical comfort— the dramatic spaces of a nightclub are a place to be bold and proud of your queerness; the sheltered jungle is a haven where Arango Palacios first connected to another queer person.
I want to depict queer folks being happy; I want to depict them succeeding. I want to depict queer folks being comfortable, being prosperous, struggling.
“Ambulant” is a word that Arango Palacios likes to use to describe their work (alluding to their history of migrating— from Colombia to various southern states in the US). The way that they use pieces of their experiences contributes to this sensation: angels, jungles, nightclubs, cowboys, football— these disparate images meld together in a fantastical fugue. “Oftentimes, as an immigrant, once you leave your homeland, your homeland changes forever; it never becomes the same. And you’re stuck in this loop of memory; memory is all you can carry with you.” Arango Palacios hesitates to call their paintings 2-dimensional because their process of painting is a “sculptural” one: thick layers of paint, gluing items to the canvas, scraping paint away. According to Arango Palacios, there is a stark difference between an “applied” image and a “constructed” one (their recent fibers artwork heads even more into a constructive process of image making). Something similar is happening when Arango Palacios imagines safe spaces in their work: scouring memories for pockets of intimacy, scraping symbols of certain meanings and then repurposing them, and attaching these disparate things in piecemeal— all this in service to create “this fantastical zone of safety for queer folk.”
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