We had the good fortune of connecting with Miguel Ávila and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Miguel, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I remember when the concept of Opportunity Cost was discussed in class, I think it was high school. I could not stop thinking about it. To this day, it often crosses my mind when taking decisions. It may be a simple question like, what am I giving up now to have this? or, is this the best use of my time right now? I’d like for my day to be 34 hours long but that’s not possible, so, the key is not to stress too much, set up the pieces the best way you can on the various ‘game boards you are playing on’; those can be family, work, health, money, etc, and do your best every time you are facing that particular board. You have to make a conscious effort not to forget about any of those games, balance it out as much as possible yes. Personally I don’t expect to achieve overwhelming victories in all of them, I just try to play a decent game.
Alright, so let’s jump right in! Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what inspires you. Where does it all come from?
It’s a way to make sense of the world around me or rather to accept how senseless it is. In a way it’s very autobiographical. Growing up in northern Mexico I was very influenced by American culture, with its gleaming look, bright colors, and constant bombardment of advertisements, tv shows, and cartoons. It was hypnotizing. Then I moved here and I was shocked at how much some people didn’t know, or didn’t care, about their neighbor to the south. So close and so far away I guess. That’s when I began, maybe instinctively, to play and incorporate elements from my Mexican culture. I think it was in part a reaction to all that. ‘Charrito’ was born around that time, that’s the stick figure with the sombrero that appears in some of my work. At its core, the art is also hopeful and full of optimism, that’s why I like to use vivid colors, I like the energy.
The baby with the cape was something I started drawing when my first son was born. I called it ‘Peacemaker’ because he brought peace and a different perspective to my life, he calmed me down. There’s also my background as an architect in the fragments of buildings that I use as a permanent connection with the places I experienced as a kid.
My work can also express despair and disappointment, that’s why you may see a figure free falling from a giant taco or an elephant throwing up.
I should probably stop there and not reveal all the secrets. No, but seriously, it’s very simple, when I have time to paint I typically go to the sketchbook and look for ideas I already have in there. There is no complex arrangement of concepts, or me trying to make a big statement, at least not intentionally.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them to see a lot of art of course, Houston has great museums, of all kinds. We have to start with the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) and the buildings around it, that could be a day, there is so much to see. Now even more with the addition of the Kinder building. I would include the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH) in this group, just across the street.
Next we would go to the Menil Collection, this one is a must, especially the Surrealism galleries, the works there are absolutely incredible. I’ve been in those rooms so many times and it never gets old, it has become one of my favorite places, not only in Houston, but in the world. I still can’t believe you can go in there for free, what a gift. This campus alone could be another day actually. Besides the main building you can walk across the street to the Cy Twombly Gallery and the new Drawing Institute. If they are up for a bit more walking the Byzantine Fresco Chapel and the Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall are not too far. I think they are not part of the Menil campus, but the Rothko Chapel and the Houston Center for Photography are also in that area next to the park.
I usually get requests for NASA, we can make a stop at the Space Center and then go to Galveston and spend the rest of the day at the beach. That’s something that first-time visitors don’t associate with Houston; it may not be the most beautiful but there’s a beach really close by.
People new to Houston have also told me they didn’t expect the city to be so ‘green’, I think they were picturing a more desert type look, or just freeways. So I would bring that home with a visit to the Arboretum and Nature Center. Right next to it, Memorial Park is a good spot for a walk or run. And if we stay close to that area, a visit to the Beer Can House or the Art Car Museum can add a little bit of flavor to the whole tour.
Downtown is also another option, a walk by Discovery Green, maybe a quick trip to the tunnels just to throw something completely different in there, I think they would find it interesting.
I didn’t forget about the food, Houston has everything (literally) and a lot of it. I have grown quite fond of Vietnamese and Indian food lately. That’s one of the things I like the most about this city, people from all over sharing cool stuff.
I’d make time to go to Chinatown on the west side of town, that area by the beltway 8. Don’t worry if you can’t read Mandarin or Korean, if everything else fails you can point at the picture on the menu and make it work.
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?
Every person, artist, or designer who has ever inspired me. I consider them my tribe, creative heroes that reached over time and space to capture my imagination.
I come from big families, both my mom and dad’s. But no artists as far as I know. There was nothing at home that would hint at a creative world either. That may be one of the reasons why I went to architecture school; it was the closest thing to engineering school, where I could still draw cool things and build models. It was a self discovery approach, going to a museum for the first time, on my own, and learning about classical art. Once I had a taste of it I began looking for more art, more design, and more people to connect the dots. Then I began discovering modern masters, everything from Dalí, Magritte, Ernst… to Bacon, Calder, Freud… then Guston, Haring, Basquiat, and Scharf… later Neel, Condo, Rauch, Nara… you get the idea, mind blown, to this day.
Same with architecture, and with furniture designers, and with all kinds of creatives. I thank them all. Together they have made my life better.
My wife of course, very important. She has given me the opportunity to spend time working on all these creative projects. She is the one that fights the daily battle with me. She protects me and encourages me, always.