Daniel Aristizabal is hard to pin down. The Columbian image-maker is either an artist or designer, divides his time between Barcelona and his native Medellín, and makes mysterious 3D assemblages for some of the world’s biggest brands while still maintaining a satirical, subversive edge. His work is accordingly layered. On the surface, his images are eye-catching and sumptuous. But beneath the surface, the artist leaves hidden messages and references. These extra dimensions give his work a unique sense of humor and mystery that makes something as elementary as a countdown an almost hypnotizing experience. As compelling as his work, Aristizabal was good enough to talk to Fold about finding his trademark style, getting “in the zone,” doodling for 3D, instituting radical changes for the sake of inspiration, his bad eye sight, and turning his website into a slot machine.
You’re a trained graphic designer who does 3D images and videos for big brands. And yet, despite these commercial outlets and the sumptuous images, your work has an abstract, satirical feel to it. Are you an artist or a designer?
It’s hard to say. I studied graphic design, but, to be honest, it bored me most of the time. I only really started enjoying myself when I left it behind. One day, I quit my job, broke up with my girlfriend, and moved to Barcelona to study motion graphics. It was there that I found out that I really love making these images that seemed like they had no purpose. I had a sensitivity for these images. It was magical. That’s why it’s hard for me to pinpoint what it is that I do. Because yeah, I’m a graphic designer by trade, but I don’t think I do graphic design anymore. My work is very moody. I don’t know: perhaps I’m an artist, after all.
I’ve seen the term “pop surrealism” applied to you. Do you embrace it?
Perhaps it was more appropriate at the beginning of my career when the colors were more poppy, more flashy, but lately I’ve been trying to use more moody colors, and trying to play with light. But perhaps the term just refers to surrealism that pops.
Do you plan your assemblages very carefully, or do you improvise a lot?
I usually start by doodling in my notepad. I do random stuff — nothing fancy. Then I usually let the ideas sit for a few days. I grab another piece of paper and doodle something new. After a while I come back and look at everything I’ve done and I combine all the ideas. I like to start on paper because when I start directly on the computer, I feel like I’m abusing the tools. It helps my mind to see the limitations.
How can we imagine your day-to-day process?
I usually have the theme floating through my mind for days. I start to doodle in the morning and look for references. I really like searching for words online, too. My work has a certain depth, I think, even if some people don’t see it. I try to hide secret messages in it, kind-of like an inside joke. I spend most of my time doing research. That’s me waiting to get in the zone. The zone is a metaphor from sports, when a basketball player just can’t stop scoring. When I get into that state, it means that I’m not going to stop for days. I don’t sleep much on a normal day, but when I get into the zone, I don’t sleep at all. I can finish huge projects in three or four days, because it excites me so much. When I find that key to a project, I don’t want to do anything else. After a spell like that, I feel like an addict.
You’ve been moving between Medellín and Barcelona for some time now. Do the two places give you something different? Are you in a different mood there?
I live a double life. The thing with Barcelona is that I have only happy memories there, which you can’t really have in the place you’re from. So, for me, it feels like a renewal every time I go. I’m not quite a tourist there anymore, but it’s still mysterious.
Is that where the surrealist turn in your work began?
Yes, it is. Before moving there for the first time, I never felt proud of my work. I didn’t feel it was relevant. I was always a very talkative guy, making jokes all day, but I wasn’t able to translate that part of me into my work life. The time in Barcelona was very introspective, and lonely at the beginning. And then everything started to flow. I left every distraction behind. I didn’t start with this intention. It was simple: this drawing made me happy. I suddenly felt this new passion I hadn’t felt before. The time that passed between me starting to make these visuals and getting recognized for them was very, very short. Six months or so. Barcelona brought radical changes to my life. That’s why I’ve kept pursuing regular, radical changes in my life ever since. Because I know that it works.
Is that why you recently moved to the countryside outside Medellín?
Yes, I was trying to pursue that same solitude that I felt at the beginning. I felt that I need some sort of natural environment because I was stuck with a computer all day. I needed to balance nature and technology. When I got here, everything started to flow again.
How did you incorporate 3D, this crucial ingredient, into your practice?
When I went to study motion graphics in Barcelona, I didn’t want to study 3D. I thought it was so tacky. But after returning from Barcelona to Medellín, I suddenly changed my mind. I started to understand what 3D meant, that this technology allows you to simulate reality. This was a marriage between math, physics and art, and it allowed you to create something out of thin air. I was like, wow, that’s big. So, I taught myself how to do it.
And you started your company Lazy Eyes. What is the significance of the name?
What I wanted to express with Lazy Eyes was a parallel view of design. Because when you have lazy eye you kind of see everything in a skewed way. I happen to have a lazy eye. In fact, I have really shitty eyesight. It haunted me throughout my life. I didn’t know that I needed glasses until I was 13 years old. It was then that I realized that all my problems were due to my eyes. The doctor said, ‘one of your eyes is not as strong as the other, and your parents have never noticed.’ And I was like, wow, that’s why I don’t understand so much stuff. It was a bad discovery.
At the same time, you wouldn’t be who you are if you had gotten glasses from a younger age. You wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t seen everything blurry for the first 13 years.
Exactly. Life is very absurd. Misfortune is brought upon us by chance, and the only way to do deal with it is laughter. Everything I make reflects the absurd nature that I see. Surrealism is everyday.
In keeping with that, your website (Lazyeyes.cool) has this bizarre, but ultimately fitting, gaming concept behind it. What’s the idea behind it?
The people who were working on the site, friends of mine, said that what distinguishes my work is that you can’t stop looking at it. You just want to click and click. So they made the whole thing look like a slot machine. The concept is addiction. It’s still evolving. There will be rewards!
Edited for clarity and length. Images courtesy of the artist.