Q&A: Cesar Cueva
It's a balmy Saturday afternoon at Co_ta at Sevenmarks, our new Kiama outpost, and Cesar is busy sketching up ideas for the space. Energised and inspired by new surroundings, it's an exciting next chapter in the Courtesy of the Artist - and Cesar's - story.
This month we sat down with Cesar to find out what influences him, what he's been up to these days, his early encounters with architecture and how he blends ideas from jewellery, photography...and more surprising art forms.
CoTA: How did you get started in photography and how has your relationship with it evolved?
Cesar: I was initially drawn to the camera itself. I love their tactility and sturdiness, and I still have some old film cameras on my shelf. I began to take photography more seriously when I purchased a proper digital camera in order to document my work and the works of the artists we represented. So for the past 15 years I’ve been shooting still life and product photography in my studio, but I’ve always made time to venture out to capture the details of the world around me.
Lockdown was an opportunity to experiment. I spent a lot of time in the studio staring down a lens, making micro adjustments to the staging. Then at one point I turned the camera towards the glazed shopfront of my studio and began to capture cars, trucks and the occasional person walking by, or pressing their nose on the glass to see what was happening inside. That was a turning point in how I thought about photography.
CoTA: We’ve noticed your 'Where the Light Comes In' series has an abstract and cave-like quality, whereas your previous photography is more illustrative. Was lockdown the catalyst for this change?
Cesar: Absolutely, and also moving down the coast. It’s been four years since Nina and I traded inner Sydney for the south coast. My front yard is now the ocean, and I often go for walks on the sand to gather my thoughts. I find myself increasingly aware of the vast changes the weather can make to this incredible body of water. There’s the crashing waves, the stillness of the horizon…it's an endless source of inspiration.
CoTA: Was that the same when you started in jewellery? Or did it come from a more artistic place?
Cesar: I think it was a bit of both - at first it was all about form and learning to construct. My first job out of school was as an office junior for a large architectural firm, and I ended up in their interior design department as a CAD trainee. It gave me an appreciation for construction and the built environment, and it was actually this first job that introduced me to art and design.
After that I got into industrial design at university and that gave me a a solid introduction to everything from design principles to thinking about design within a broader societal and historical context. But it was the more practical aspect like illustration, prototyping and model making that really piqued my interest. Coming across the Bauhaus movement was a watershed moment for me, and I switched to a visual arts program, in gold and silversmithing.
By the time Nina and I started Metalab - the precursor to Courtesy of the Artist - my vision was pretty clear and overall we were creatively super ambitious. She ran the business while I focused on the creative side of things, and we set out to create jewellery and object-based work exclusively for exhibition. It was a type of enquiry and investigation, purely studies in form creation and adapting non-traditional materials and techniques. I was obsessed with efficient, minimal and crispy clean fabrication when it came to jewellery, whilst the other pieces tended to be larger statement items.
CoTA: Tell me about the Bauhaus aspect.
It’s all about making and functionality, but holding society, art and technology in tandem with each other. And its crafts-based philosophy was integral to how I work up til today: conceptualise, contextualise, problem-solve and iterate. It’s informed how I do everything and move through life, which is great but can be very frustrating at times as it tends to be very circular. I might reach the conclusion to a problem in 5 minutes, but still need to go through the entire process and exhaust all alternatives.
CoTA: What’s your relationship to music?
Music plays a big role in my day to day. As far back as I can remember it was important for me to be around music. The very first thing I do in the morning is choose a mix, a trait I picked up from my mum. Soul and salsa were the soundtracks to our family picnics, and we’d cap off big nights with old Peruvian folk songs.
So I grew up with the rhythmic pattern of the Clave in mambo and afro-cuban jazz and got into hip-hop, blues and jazz later on. At one point I was right into the b-boy culture, down to the boombox, bandanas and roll-out vinyl dance floor. It’s been fascinating to have grown up watching hip-hop develop into the cultural behemoth it is today.
During Covid I realised there were big gaps in my understanding of hip-hop culture. So I decided to fill them and am still working through it.. It was during this period in the studio experimenting with photography, that I delved back into 90’s and 2000’s hip hop. My good friend and colleague, artist Fealofani Elisara was one of the first to see what I was capturing in camera and make a musical connection to them. This led to the first of many conversations about jazz and hip hop, the culture in all its forms, and ultimately led to an idea for a series of exhibitions. The first will be later this year.
CoTA: Have you spent much time in the States?
Cesar: Oh yeah, I have a big extended family in Queens, New York and I’ve spent a lot of time there. They’re massive foodies and love to party, so there was always plenty of food, music and dance.
CoTA: Other than family and food, what is it about New York that you like?
Cesar: I love the scale of the city, the way the buildings envelop you. The cadence in the way New Yorkers walk and talk - I respect their hustle. New York is an attitude.
When I’m there I hit up the museums and galleries, shopping, just exploring - it’s so different to life in Sydney. Or Kiama, for that matter. And food is also definitely a big part of it, so I have to double up on that. And I also get a chance to speak Spanglish with an Australian accent, which really freaks out other latinos.
CoTA: What else is in store for 2023?
Cesar: Sevenmarks is a big part of it. Covid forced us to close Courtesy of the Artist Loft, our gallery space on the top floor of the Strand, which meant we didn’t have an events and exhibitions space for the first time in years. At the same time, moving down the coast meant reconnecting with dear friends like artists Cobi Cockburn and Chick Butcher who’ve spent the past decade building an awe-inspiring environment in Kiama. As lockdown lifted the timing seemed right to produce events again, so after lots of planning we launched Sevenmarks at the end of 2022. It’s already become a bit of a destination, and we hope that we can keep growing it as a bit of a special place.