You’re an artist currently based out of Austin, Texas, but can you tell us about where you grew up?
Born in Mexico, moved to Mccallen when I was 2yrs old.
How has it influenced your art?
Right now I’m going through a metaphysical renaissance. Despite growing up a stone throw away from the border there was a powerful U.S American influence that had a pretty severe effects on my spirit and psyche. I struggled with my Latino identity, I was reprimanded in school for speaking Spanish. I struggled with colorism because it was almost considered shameful to be too brown and from the other side of the border unless you came from money. I struggled with gender conformity and had such a myopic understanding of complex layers and qualities of energy a person may embody. For a long time I conformed and did not know how to or want to connect with my culture. I had a really vague comprehension of myself and what my values were about at that time. It took extracting myself from the Rio Grande Valley for a long period of time to really learn to appreciate the culture, landscape, food, music and love people who grew up there and are there today. For better or worse. After my recent visit to the RGV and Mexico it has really opened up all these crazy layers of identity. Currently, what my creative work looks like is taking on the responsibilities as a Latinx by examining various Latino and U.S American societal norms I have absentmindedly adopted and the consequences I have accrued through past actions. What aspects of myself I have learned intentionally and what aspects have been imposed upon me. It is a healing practice through creative work, while borrowing an optical language that that comes from my Latino roots. Archetypes, Saints, ritualistic magic, textiles, sound, color, food, holidays and other celebrations, gender roles, etc. slowly taking myself apart and editing out the traumas I have carried inside that no longer serve me.
I went to culinary school, and I was in the industry for 12 years. I worked in the restaurant industry. Slowly worked my way up the latter. From dishwasher to restaurant consultant, but then found myself wanting to express myself through a different medium. There has also always been this kind of push and pull between having an art practice and working with food to make ends meet. I ultimately became jaded with the industry and lost my romantic relationship with it. One day I simply said no more institutionalizing myself! No more line assembling! No more yes chef no chef ego tripping!
I wanted to preserve the special relationship I have with food and not cheat myself out of it by mass producing it or falling into capitalization. Food will always have strange powers over me.
Now I only cook for friends and family. With love for love.
You are a full-time artist, what is something you’ve learned to make it work and ends meet?
I sacrificed my old “career” and now i mostly balance being an artist with picking up various freelance work.
What are these random gigs?
When I first left my old career, my jobs were all over the place. And it took me awhile to get into my groove. At first it was everything from working with kids, to helping out at a motorcycle shop, selling weed. Etc. Now that I’ve been freelance for awhile, I’m more versatile and have have picked up a treasure chest of skills, this has allowed me to be more selective with the kinds of jobs i want to take on. The only drawback is that work is not always as consistent as I would wish and my finances are super chaotic at times.The goal is to work in short spurts, make enough to take care of living essentials plus save a little in a month so that I can put the rest of my time towards focusing on my creative practice. I hate saying “my art.” lol Anyway, the sacrifice is worth it and now feeling like I’m getting my bearings.
We have a few apparel items of yours in the store, is fashion an area your actively trying to get more into?
I really want to do a residency in Mexico because all the elements that inspire me are there and are more accessible. Right now all my designs are rather straightforward and simple because I don’t have all the machinery. But I’ve just been toying around with designing to see if that something I wanna keep doing. A queer Latinx inspired apparel brand that is actually for everyone. The messages are a form of creative resistance approach to the things I think are my responsibility to create a conscious shift to heal. Breaking out of our limitations so that we can be more fluid and live to our fullest human potential.
In the future, I hope that nobody has to be marginalized or feel separate from one another or has to come out because there will be deeper understanding of our utter humanness.
That is the message I want to share if I continue to fuck with apparel.
Diego’s Apparel sold in the Raw Paw Shop
Do you believe in aliens?
Yes. Fuck yes. Big time.
I’ve seen a lot of UFOS, I have lots of UFO stories.
And every single time it’s been with other people so i know that I’m not crazy.
I also have an uncle that lives in Mexico and he swears that he talks to aliens.
Photo Credit: Diego’s in-process mural at Meow Wolf
Your work looks like the work of someone who has done LSD, lol, is it?
Yes. But not since I was a teenager. I’d recommend to everyone. At least once, that’s enough to let you know there’s something more than temporal reality. You get a glimpse of something bigger than you and forces you to see that for the majority there are truly no limits other than the ones we create for ourselves.
What have you found that you’re trying to communicate with your art?
My previous work is about slowing down the mind and finding groundedness through the process. That’s why there’s lots of repetition. Before I went back to Mexico there was no real message other than the meditations within the work. The work served sort of as a way to read The impressions of where and how the mind and body are at the given time of their creation. Kind of like a seismograph. I was just creating for the sake of creating. A tool used more to check in with myself. But also there was more emphasis on aesthetic.
Now after returning from my travels back from Mexico.
I’m doing more kind of investigative work and diving into my background and peeling layers and moving them around a little bit. There’s a quote i really like by Claude Cahun “ I’m multiplying myself in order to assert myself under the mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.” So in every frame I’m empathically myself, exploring my gender / ethnicity.
Not defining it.
What was your favorite TV show growing up?
One was on PBS, called In Search Of. The show was broadcast in the 70s and I was watching it like two decades later. Takes on crazy stories, big foot and alien abductions, hauntings, stuff like that. I was obsessed with Amp late nights on MTV, it featured a bunch of early electronic music artists. And a lot of Nickeledeon. Friday night shows.
Something you would recommend?
Still processing is a good podcast. Philosophize This.
I also listen to a lot of music archives, in particular Happy medium on East Village Radio.
And Minimal Wave with Veronica Vasicka.
But I’m super vulnerable to media’s / cultural influence so I just stay away, so I can be a clean slate.
A helpful piece of advice that you were given?
This is a deep one.
It was told to me by one of my mentors. The relativity of things and laws of cause and effect. Everything you do and everything that happens to you are the same thing. They are not separate. This statement has just as much potency if the you flip it the other way around.
You have a studio at the old bolm studios in town, what does your art practice look like?
Everyday. Painting or making sounds. If I’m not painting it’s probably because I don’t have the funds.
*you can listen to diego’s sounds at ernsttinaja.bandcamp.com
What is the first piece of art that you remember really affecting you?
I think this one Virgin Mary painting at my grandparent’s house. It overlooked their bed. The thing that intrigued me most were here eyes. I think I was 5 at the time. My grandma told me her eyes would follow wherever you are in the room and it really did appear as though she would watch your every move. Sounds creepy but I was more into the optical illusion of it and spiritual meaning behind it.
Do you have any daily rituals?
A meditation practice, I started Zazen every morning. 15-30 minutes every day if possible. Zen style meditation and I acquired that after doing a residency at a monastery. I’ve just kept it going since I’ve picked it up. I had a good yoga practice before, but nothing as disciplined as it is now.