Artist Spotlight: Juan "The Fox" Toscano
By Victoria Sullivan
Born in Honduras, Juan Toscano moved to the United States at the age of 7. Once his family settled in Maryland, a whole new world was presented to him.
A new place and essentially new life influenced his interest in bridging his imagination with the relationship between himself and the world around him. The relocation early in life lead him to observe the world through the lens of a stranger in a foreign place.
“I was pretty shy as a kid, I guess was kind of intimidated by unfamiliarity, so I read a lot of books, and doodled in all my notebooks,” Toscano admitted. This significantly influenced his development as an artist, specifically, a painter. He came to treat his subjects with a mood of things being out of place, or not being quite right.
This major life change nurtured his exploratory side, wondering curiosity, and fascination with things existing in fiction, leading him to hoard thoughts and narratives even to this day.
Toscano immersed himself in the art world by working at different art supply retailers, becoming familiar with various materials, techniques, and mediums. While he worked, he simultaneously accumulated pertinent knowledge essential to his growth as an artist.
He later studied at Montgomery College and received an Associate’s degree in Illustration. This served as the catalyst for his developing interest in the relationship between narrative and interpretation.
Throughout his body of work, he underlines elements of the surreal and imaginative, accentuating them with tones of human emotion such as joy, nostalgia, and melancholy. He also pursued his budding interest in creating allegories using the fantastic to examine human relationships and experiences.
Furthering this interest, he chose to explore the ideas of perception versus emotion and sensory feeling. The interaction of both realistic and expressive color juxtaposed with detailed, solemn shadows and highlights are the minutiae that wonder and still intrigue Toscano. His relationships, imagination, and experiences serve as the fuel for his narratives.
His most recent body of work is entitled Stubblefield. This collection is a series of paintings of the townhouses of the neighborhood in which he grew up in Maryland.
“In a way, I view the work as a portrait of myself. The compositions are inhabited by childhood friends,” said Toscano. “They are portrayed in a way that distances them from having too much footing in realism, but rather serve as biographical depictions, or phantoms, from memories,” he explained.
The inclusion of the two elements is meant to pay tribute to, as well as position, each painting between the past and present. This all culminates in an effort to transform the work into a study of time in relation to the Toscano’s life.
When arranged in a gallery setting, the collection of the different panels mimics the forms of the houses they represent and portray. The works are stylized, reconstructing memories in the present, while a cut-and-paste style collage of shapes and images tears the compositions, distorting and displacing the works from reality.
The rich nature and heavy body of oil paint as a medium allows for evocative colors and exciting brush marks to fill and complement the solid structures. These elements create an interesting relationship between shape, color, and movement, as well as defining two separate worlds, converging on canvas.
The colors are meant to express and evoke the feelings of joy, sadness, and nostalgia associated with the portrayal of old friends almost forgotten, and the estranged neighborhood in which Toscano once lived. “It is the product of me now, reintroduced in the essence of my youth. This work is an expression of memory,” he said.
Juan currently attends Hood College in Frederick, MD as an Art and Archaeology major. He is in his senior year, preparing for his final exhibition this coming May.
In preparation for this showcase, he is completing the final painting course offered at Hood, Painting III. Gary Cuddington, a New Jersey native and Baltimore resident, teaches this course as well an accomplished fine artist and oil painter. “Juan Toscano-Madrid has taken several of my classes and in each he is among the hardest working. Juan’s continually ambitious ideas are backed by a drive to tell a story,” said Cuddington. “Much of his work tells fanciful tales twisted around anthropomorphized creatures in uplifting narratives that parody mythological stories such as Icarus and his wings made of wax.”
Toscano spends the lion share of his time in the Tatem Arts Center on Hood’s campus, more specifically, the painting studio on the second floor. “Let’s say I put three hours in at the school painting studio, I’ll try to match that amount of time working at home that same day,” he said, “It works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t, but I prefer the classroom setting.”
Stubblefield is the title Toscano’s final senior show. “I figured I’d do something from my youth, my old neighborhood, kind of as a tribute…” he said. “My old neighborhood when I first came here, moving from Honduras—in a way, they kind of took me in. I kind of always appreciated that.”
There will be 9 pieces featured in Stubblefield. However, this was not the original plan. “It was actually supposed to be more; each panel was supposed to kind of be a townhouse, so in a sense it was going to be very geometrical, set up kind of like a neighborhood,” Toscano explained. “But because of the space, I had to condense it.”
“Right now, I have two pieces in the works and I have sketches for more.” Each panel features a townhouse that existed on the street where Toscano grew up, including his own.
Most panels feature more than one house, at least in part. However, the panel featuring Toscano’s childhood home stands alone on the canvas. In the sketch for this piece, there is a shark in a tank-like structure below the front door step.
When asked about his decision to include this animal, Toscano explained, “[sharks] most people think of them as predators, or predatory creatures, and I wanted to depart from that and redefine them as kind of honest creatures.”
He then continued to underline the message he was trying to convey in this portrayal, “I guess, biologically, they are one of the few creatures that have barely evolved, they’ve always kind of stayed true to themselves and who they are… it represents who you are beneath it all, at your most basic. Who you are, deep down inside, and I think growing up, a lot of that plays into who you become, and you can either deviate from that or nurture it, but either way it’s a part of who you are.”
If you ask any classmate of Juan’s, they will surely tell you that it is his passion and dedication to his work that sets him apart from other artists. His beguilingly childlike innocence and imagination comes to life in colorful harmony on each canvas he touches. Each and every minute detail is a part of the grand narrative that is his inspiration.
Juan continues to work on this illustrative series as the fall semester comes to a close. This story will be updated periodically as his work progresses, accompanied by photographs.