Antonio DeJesus Shines a Light on his Community Via Polaroids in “Cuyahoga, Ultra” at 78th Street Studios


Fri 3/15 @ 5-9PM

Cuyahoga, Ultra is an exploration of a city working to reinvent itself. Through a lens of reflection and nostalgia, multi-disciplinary artist Antonio DeJesus utilizes double-exposure Polaroid photography and candid snapshots to capture the depth of creative community building in Cleveland. Cool Cleveland’s Jenna Thomas sat down with Antonio to hear more about his project.

CC: Can you first just tell me a bit about yourself?

AD: Okay let’s see…I’m 21. I’m going to be a musical theater major back at Kent State, I’m transferring back there. My main point of focus art-wise has always really been acting, so I’ve done a lot with Beck Center, Blank Canvas — which is in the same building that the gallery is at next Friday — and Near West Theater. I’m kind of living the artist grind. I’m a barista, so I’m as cliche as they get pursuing the art life.

CC: I’ve seen you act and sing, I’ve seen your photography and doodles. I’m wondering if you have different outlets for different things, and how exactly that works for you.

AD: Acting is something I want to do professionally in any way possible, but I always liked that with photography people can see what I see, through a different lens. It keeps me grounded too; I hate being bored, so if it’s as simple as drawing something or writing down my feelings in a journal, or if it’s this big gallery that I had no idea was going to happen — it’s all specific outlets for different feelings. And I think projects come at the right times in my life.

CC: Can you tell me about the gallery and how you came into this opportunity?

 AD: Most of it is all really thematic framed polaroids. I had this really weird and large Instax that I bought from Urban Outfitters a few years ago, but it broke and I couldn’t fix it. Then one day I was taking the bus home from classes downtown, and I saw an ad for the camera I have now and I impulse bought it. I just started taking photos with that and scanning them and posting them online.

My friend McKenzie Merriman works for Gordon Square Arts Space. I have to thank her for this opportunity; she is the gallerist who gave me the opportunity. She wanted me to come up with an idea for a project that represented the people of Cleveland — I kind of had to conceptualize something. Eventually I came up with Ultra and pitched it to her.

It’s really journalistic in its integrity because I kind of take pictures as I go, and I don’t really structure how they are taken. It’s just spur of the moment. A lot of the photos are things I have taken at parties and bigger events and just hanging with people, catching them when they’re not paying attention. The candid of all of it centers around the idea of community-building and being around the people you love.

I have also been trying to show my friends and family how much I care about them through these. Polaroids are really nostalgic, and I think our generation is taking back vintage things like vinyl records and analog photography. People think that’s pretentious but I think it’s great.

CC: The gallery description talks about this idea of reinvention, so besides the renewal of the vintage, what does that mean to you?

AD: I am around a lot of people who trying to figure out who they are, lots of them in art school, trying to configure their lifestyle and changing at the same time. For me, the reinvention is really individualized per person. The people in these photos are largely the people I have been hanging out with for the past four months, and so you can actually see who they were when I first started and where they are now.

I’ve been able to track my friendships and how they’ve changed. And how they’ve changed me. It’s helped me reinvent myself and my attitude, because a lot has happened in my life since doing the project. I lost my uncle, I’ve struggled financially, so it helped me on an individual basis too.

CC: What advice would you give to other young artists that are trying to build a life around their art and what they love to do?

The only reason I was asked to do this was because I was interested in something really specific that someone else was also interested in, so I just threw myself into it.

I kind of compare it to high school kids in a foreign language class. Like, there are kids afraid to speak and then there are others who go all in and put in the accent and really try. And I guess that would be my advice: go ham. Seriously work hard. It’s not wrong to be really really passionate about something.

For me, the people I care about and my art go hand-in-hand so it’s been really easy to keep going and not stop.

CC: What about those times of financial struggle or maybe dry spells of finding work? What keeps you motivated?

In art you go through a lot of denial and a lot of “no”. There are moments when you’re getting work consistently and it feels really great, and then all of sudden you’re not working. It’s not because you’re untalented. Sometimes you might not be what they need for a certain project. I am firm believer that if you do not get one opportunity, it is because you were meant for another one. That’s been true my entire life.

Antonio’s exhibition will be on display during 78th Street Studio’s Third Fridays from 5pm-9pm. Viewings are also available by appointment.


[Written by Jenna Thomas]

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