We had the good fortune of connecting with Alec Dempster and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alec, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
It is hard to define what happiness is exactly. The scope of its role in our lives cannot be simply equated with an established flavour like cardamom or kiwi and it is certainly more than the opposite of sadness. To broach the subject it helps to consider that there are innumerable circumstances which can induce it. Narrowing the field to art making allows me to grab the bull by the horns so to speak. As I approach my fiftieth birthday there is no doubt that if making art hasn’t made me ‘happy’ over the years I wouldn’t be doing it with the same passion as I am now. As a child happiness was discovering the ability to express myself through drawing and painting. Pleasure was gained as I developed technical prowess. For example, the satisfaction of being able to copy an image. This is similar to the satisfaction reflected in the smile on a baby´s face when he or she discovers how to make a particular sound or manages to sit up straight for a few seconds. The ongoing journey of discovery as an artist can be charted with specific epiphanies such as individual works and projects that are undoubtedly happy moments. Often the degree of satisfaction is in relation to the energy invested in a particular work or years of effort which is finally reflected in a concrete way. Recently, I have worked on a string of CD covers for musicians I admire. Happiness has been satisfying those clients while at the same time creating something that seems fresh to me. That is part of the positive way in which other people perceive and can be influenced by what I do. For example, giving art and music workshops to children has been uplifting. As a musician, working collectively with others has also been a source of joy. 

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Every life is unique and part of that individuality intersects with the distinct lives of others. While the overall arc of the oeuvre can be discussed in relation to other things the artist does and has experienced it can also be fairly aloof from biography. The latter doesn’t apply to me. After a few decades devoted to art making I am happy to see how inseparable my life experience and quantifiable artistic production have become. Looking at my trajectory with a magnifying glass is very subjective but I am proud of how several disciplines have come together. Over time printmaking, music performance, ethnomusicology, community art and poetry have managed to inhabit common ground. It has taken years for this to happen and it is often unexpected. For example, between 1999 and 2006 I interviewed over thirty musicians in rural Veracruz and made prints of them. The idea was to publish a book of oral history but only 15 years later is this project coming to fruition and with some changes. The amount of material obliged me to focus on the singers I had met and to write in depth about the importance of their testimonies and poetic repertoire. I must emphasize that without the help of my friend Raúl Eduardo González, who helped to revise all the interviews and write a prologue, the book would probably still be an unfinished project. The challenge of finding a publisher was a major obstacle but I may take credit for being persistent. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to devote my time to artistic endeavours about which I can be passionate. May have taken time to come to fruition but I have learned how to take initiative on that front as well as be patient. The solution has sometimes been to finance my own project and do crowdfunding rather than take a chance on grants. Because of my focus on Mexican popular culture my audience has perhaps been more local than international but this has had its own advantages. During the past few years I have spent more time devoted to illustration than working on my own projects but I have found a way to make them very personal. Somehow, I have managed to attract jobs which I can be as passionate about as anything that I would have done of my own volition. Above all, these projects have broadened my subject matter and stimulated my imagination. Some recent commissions include; prints for ‘Fandango a the Wall’, a documentary on HBO about son jarocho music from Veracruz, ‘Violenta Sinfonía Latinoamericana’ a book of poetry about violence in Latin America during the past 500 or so years by Hugo Plascencia and the cover for the upcoming CD by a Cuban pianist I admire.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is a great question because after four years living in Mexico City I am beginning to feel like I could be half decent tour guide. Monday museums are closed but the UNAM (One of Latin Americas largest universities) Botanical Garden should be open where you can adopt rare and local plants and since that is in the South we could got to Xochimilco from there where I have friends who play traditional mexican music. They are also pulque connoisseurs so we would all go to ‘las cubetas’ to try some of that fermented maguey nectar. There is no sign outside so it does feel like you are in a speakeasy. If its november we could have ‘pulque de cempasúchil’. Tuesday would be devoted to murals. Breakfast at el Cardenal near the Zocalo, then the Diego Riveras murals in Palacio Nacional and Orozco`s murals in San Ildefonso. There is also an apocalyptic Orozco mural in the church where Hernán Cortez is buried which few people visit. On Wednesday lets visit a couple of legendary markets. La merced in the morning with a stop behind the market to visit the legendary Linares, an extended family of paper maché artisans who live along the same block and are credited with inventing ‘alebrijes’. For lunch we would head to the San José market, where you can find all kinds of exotic foods but we usually go for the cheese vendors who prepare some great baguettes that include a glass of wine. Wednesday, we can do the National Museum of Anthropol0gy which is colossal and if there is still some energy we’ll take a walk to Chapultepec park so see Diego Rivera’s Cárcamo, a recently restored aquatic mural on the them of the god Tlaloc. Thursday, we shall visit some art museums. El Chopo is worth it just for the art deco architecture and nearby there is a legendary gourmet ice cream spot called el especial de Paris with flavours like blue cheese and olive oil with blueberry. From there perhaps el Palacio de Bellas artes were there is usually something work seeing along with the Rufino Tamayo murals. Thursday, we might take it easy and visit friends who have printmaking workshops during the day and see some theatre at the theatre complex Centro Cultural del Bosque behind Auditorio Nacional. Friday, we´ll do a tour of some legendary cantinas such as El Duques de Venecia, one of the oldest in Mexico in Azcapotzalco and nearby there is a wonderful greenhouse full of orchids in the Parque Bicentenario. Saturday, we’ll have lunch and dance at Cuban place that is basically the trumpet players living room that he converts on weekends. His twin brother often sits in on trumpet as well. A couple of mojitos will do the trick. They will have us in the mood for a fandango at our place in the evening. Sunday, will be spent getting over our hangover at the legendary lagunilla antique market and we will do some dancing at Salón Los Angeles where there is a matinee with five bands. Its the historic meeting spot for Pachucos and Rumberas.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I must begin with with my immediate family. My father is a musician who instilled in me an appreciation for a diverse range of music as well as making listening and playing a core part of my life. My mother, a visual artist herself, has always pushed me to pursue art . My sister is a brilliant visual artist whose projects, so different from mine, are always inspiring. An important mentor continues to be Carlos Pellicer López, a Mexican painter and author of books for children. Being able to share my concerns with someone so talented and generous since I moved back to Mexico after university has been of enormous significance. I was lucky to have studied guitar and improvisation with Brian Katz in Toronto as an adolescent. Even though I abandoned the guitar in favour of more Mexican strings, the musical foundation he provided me made any subsequent explorations more fruitful. Another mentor was José Chan, a visual artist from Tabasco, I wish more people knew about. I remember so clearly the first time he invited me over and showed my his prints. Through his imagery a fascinating life story began to unfold beneath my eyes and our friendship was spontaneous. Like Carlos Pellicer, his generosity had no limits. The list goes on but these are some key people in my life.

Website: www.alecdempster.org
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alecdempsterart/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alecdempsterart
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/alecdempster/

Image Credits
Photo of me: Teresa Irene Barrera Figueroa

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