Artist combines different mediums, pop culture to speak through his art, educate students

Izel Vargas uses his art to explain the unexplainable.

Vargas, the 2016 Stuart Artist-in-Residence, is a mixed-media artist based in south Florida, originally from Alamo, Texas. The School of Design held a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 20 in Grove Hall where all of Vargas’ completed artwork was displayed for visitors. The pieces ranged from multiple canvas works, to small, one-canvas paintings.

His upbringing on the U.S./Mexico border plays a vital role in his artwork, along with his love of pop culture. 

Scott Wallace, Stuart Artist-in-Residence Committee chair member and School of Design professor, said the committee selected Vargas because of his ability to communicate through art.

“We felt that it’s really important for students to be exposed to artists who communicate their ideas through visual artwork directly,” Wallace said. “We [as faculty members] try to get students to communicate their ideas visually. That’s something that is not that easy to do, to make that step from process to being an artist that communicates that aspect of a culture in visual artwork. Having an artist on campus for a month to do that is everything.”

Vargas incorporates his influences into collages using different mediums like drawing, painting and stenciling. 

“This year our focus was to select an artist whose work was grounded in drawing. Because … no matter if you’re in an applied arts program, or if you’re in a studio art program as a student in the School of Design, drawing is important,” Wallace said.

Often, Vargas will include a Spanish word in his pieces. The use of words is important in injecting his culture into his work. The word “chafa,” slang for cheap or crappy, was featured many times in Vargas’s work.

“My intent in the use of specific words are meant to guide the viewer to gain some kind of access to the work and its [possible or multiple] meanings,” Vargas said. “How ‘chafa’ resonates with an audience is entirely up to them.”

Vargas arrived in August and spent a month residency at South Dakota State University. He was hired by the Stuart Artist-in-Residence Committee for the School of Design. 

Working in the Ritz Gallery in Grove Hall, he filled the studio with his multi-media paintings which communicate his identity, culture and passions. According to Vargas, he limited his art supplies to challenge himself.

“I wanted to see if I could pull it off,” Vargas said. “I was happy with the outcome, but I was not satisfied, which is a good thing. I find it important to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone from time to time.”

Through Vargas’ month here, students have had the freedom to walk into his studio to check out what developments he has made on his work. Monaya Hustoft, sophomore graphic design major, enjoyed talking to Vargas about his art.

“When I talked to him, he said he does a lot of painting the whole canvas and putting stuff down and then rip it up or use a sander,” Hustoft said. “[I learned] you can use other methods of collage or painting to create art.”

Hustoft’s favorite piece had “a Jesus background with him holding the heart.”

“It has a nice texture to it and a good contrast with the pink and the black,” Hustoft said. “It’s monochromatic with a splotch of pink. It makes it pop.”

After his residency at SDSU, Vargas will spend time at home in Florida.

“I’ve never had such a warm welcome,” Vargas said. “SDSU was most definitely a wonderful and friendly community. I am forever grateful for the hospitality that the Brookings community has shown me.”