Pop Culture

Interview: Joe Taveras

Joe Taveras is a Boston-based abstract artist who switched to art after a career in robotics. In only the first year of his representation with Galerie Michael on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, he sold over fifty large artworks to collectors around the globe, making him the highest-selling artist in the gallery’s 30-year history. To talk about his work, Taveras joined us for a brief interview.

Your journey into the art world is quite unconventional, transitioning from a career in robotics to becoming a self-taught artist. How did your background in robotics influence your artistic practice, especially in exploring the fusion of science and philosophy?

I’ll never forget flying into Tokyo alone for the first time. It was midnight, and after changing into a suit in the airplane bathroom, I was ready to deliver and demonstrate the two robots to the group that was about to become our distributors in Japan. Immediately after exiting the plane, I was met by a group of armed forces who interrogated me about the nature of the two robots that I had just brought in from New York City. After alleviating any worry and showing them that Temi’s a friendly robot, I continued on to my meeting. The robots and I stood across the boardroom from the large group of distributors, each of whom have spent many decades in the field. The CEO of the company slowly walked up to the robot, tapped on its head and suddenly the robot began to move towards him. What happened next is something that I am eternally grateful to have witnessed thousands and thousands of times before: he looked at the robot and a huge smile stretched across his face. In the couple hundred thousand miles I flew while spreading robots around the world, I got a front row seat to a fascinating psychological experience. Every time, without fail, the person using the robot would smile, step back, and, as the robot would follow them, they would change their own behaviors, movements, and patterns to effectively synchronize with the robot. It was in watching how they would predict its movements based on their own that I began to see not only all of the math in between the human and the robot, but also how fluid the parameters can be for our own personal object of consciousness.

In my travels, I’ve collected countless stories like this, all of which have undertones of cultural intensity, spiritual curiosity, and technological advancement. I often think about how odd it is that the art world places so much value on a formal institutional arts education when what really determines an artist’s impact is the amount of connected nodes of cultural information they are able to gather. That and the fact that all techniques can be learned outside of a classroom.

Untitled, 2023

As someone who emerged into the art scene during the Covid-19 pandemic, how do you think the global challenges of that time have influenced your artistic perspective, and do you foresee a continued impact on your future work?

My entire team at the robotics company had been terminated, and I was about to become a fully independent robotics dealer. My day-to-day would look no different than what I was doing at Temi: traveling around with robots, developing software for different businesses, etc. In hindsight, almost everything I learned about sales, distribution and dealing luxury items came from those experiences. All of that knowledge and information instantly carried over into my painting practice. Something about that time triggered a deep-rooted obsession for expression. When I first sat down in front of my first canvas on March 14, 2020, I saw it all. My entire life, and beyond. I saw the moment I was in, not what was directly around me in my garage in LA, but the cultural moment. I zoomed out and could see the historical moment of this generation, the millennium, and my place in it. I zoomed back in and saw myself looking back at me, but this time it wasn’t in my mind’s eye but directly in front of me, sized at 20 x 16in. Every day since then, I have stood in front of a canvas and experienced total ego death for hours on end. In this free-flow state, the zeitgeist moves my hand, filling canvases with rich energetic vibrance. In bypassing the ego, nature becomes central to the process of bringing a painting to life.

Your artworks have found their way into over 300 private collections globally. Could you share a specific instance where a collector’s interpretation or reaction to your work particularly resonated with you, and how it influenced your subsequent creations?

I have this one collector who I am grateful to have become friends with over the years. He is a well-known collector in the U.S. with thousands of works in his collection. I was holding an open-studio event in my warehouse studio in Boston and he showed up a couple hours early. He told me that he had mistaken the opening time, but I knew that this was simply one of his collecting strategies. I welcomed him in and we talked about how my practice has been and what I was currently working on. He spent nearly an hour going through piles of works, looking in all the nooks and corners of my studio only to pull out a seemingly unsuspecting small work on canvas. Unbeknownst to him, he happened to find
what may have been the most rare work in the room: my first screen printed artwork. It combined layers of screen-printing and oil paint to build an energetic portrait. The work really spoke to him and he needed to have it. This experience will always hold a special place in my life. Despite this, I have not screen-printed since. The experience did not influence me to suddenly start screen-printing on everything I could find, but instead it was a very poignant reminder of how important it is to bring authenticity into your practice. You should never feel like you cannot create something because it looks different than what you usually make or what people typically respond to. You never know, it could be a breakthrough. If I was afraid to try something new, I never would have picked up a paint brush in the first place.

Everyday, 2024

If you could give any advice to aspiring artists looking to switch from a different field, what would it be?

Being an artist can be extremely challenging and it is not for the faint of heart. Growing up in America, I often heard people discussing the importance of career development and finding a good job. It was only until I became an adult that I first heard about the difference between career and vocation. When you feel an infallible sense of purpose in your core, not only will you outwork and out-finesse everything in front of you, but you will also spend every moment contributing to your higher self. I was called to paint by something infinitely more powerful than myself. One day I had never painted before, and the next day I was without a body and needed to create one. It is the biggest mystery of my life and it is the daily exploration of that unknown that makes every moment so f*****g beautiful!

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