Artist Orocoro Illuminates a Journey of the Self
by Chael Needle
Like his palindromic name, which can be read forwards and backwards, Orocoro’s art upsets the notion that looking should have a definite starting point. Thus, his compositional frames are often not a square nor rectangle, not even a circle, Very often they are long passageways that lead the eye through a maze or are rounded like keyholes to allow eyes to stare back.
Miami Beach-based artist Orocoro (né Antonio Coro),related the origin story of his self-definition:
“I took my last name and spelled it backwards due to the resistance that some in my family have against my art. I was told not to use the family name, so for the longest time I just went by Oroc (as an artist). Then when I had the beginning of my awakening I changed it to Orocoro. In social media I thought it would be easier to split it and I started to use Oroc Coro. I was born in Cuba and came to the USA at five years old. When I was eleven years old I was told by my very Catholic aunt that I was enrolled into classical European art training and had to go (forced is more like it), but I did not want to do it. I would go to regular school, Monday through Friday, and after school I would stay with my grandparents until my mom would come from her full-time job and pick me up at 6:00 p.m., and then I would help her clean offices at her part-time job till 10:00 p.m. (Monday through Friday). These art classes were on Saturday (my day to watch cartoons and eat junk) from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm and my aunt was also taking the class and would sit next to me criticizing every line. So I decided that I would get kicked out of art class. I first started by farting in class and cussing, which would drive my aunt bonkers. Then the teacher told me, ‘You are so special that we need to sit you by yourself so you can create’; I was like, f*ck, they are not going to kick me out. At that moment I decided that I would make such outrageous images that would piss off my extremely Catholic aunt and all the conservatives in that room! BINGO! She would see my sexual images and would start screaming and crying and making a scene and I loved it, and then I started to like my academic art training. At a very early age I discovered the power of the image and my voice. Oroc was born when I was eleven years old.”
The power of his image and his voice have only flourished (he earned an MFA from Rutgers and has had shown in solo and group exhibits) and the thread of Eros runs through Oroc’s art work today, but it is no longer meant to shock Catholic aunts. The erotic in his work asks us to see, and to see differently. For exmaple, one of his self-portraits, I ain’t nothing but a hooker, a tough tank-topped and leather-chapped self, with the accoutrements of sex (cigar, condom on erect penis), grabs the viewer with unexpected imagery: his head is haloed with eyes and, with hand on butt cheek, he gives the viewer a peek at his anus but his anus is also an eye. Erogenous zones become enlightenment zones.
His work never shies away from the body, mind, spirit. Earlier works explored the intersection of Christianity and HIV/AIDS, and, with their stark colors and bold imagery, they seem to ask us to wrestle with the symbols we have been given, symbols that have shut us out. Now his work is more of a dance with the symbols we can create. And Orocoro creates a world you want to enter. Light intertwines with shadow, and lotuses bloom in drawings that seem to grow in every direction. The work is imbued with a sense of peace but also a sense of fierceness. It traces a journey of strength, keeping demons at bay and, as one title in the series “The Seeing Heart” puts it, “turning your swords into my flowers.” Together, Orocoro’s pieces become a botanical garden of transformative power.
His artist statement introduces viewers to the philosophy that drives his work: “In 2004, I started meditating and took a workshop with Dr. Glenn Morris about initiating the Kundalini process. Kundalini is described as a sleeping, dormant potential force in the human organism. It is one of the components of an esoteric description of the ‘subtle body,’ which consists of nadis (energy channels), chakras (psychic centres), prana (subtle energy), and bindu (drops of essence).” Oroc also drew sustenance from Caroline Myss’s Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential. During this period I was experiencing a series of emotional, physical and spiritual setbacks. My dark night of the soul lasted a couple of years, but during one full moon in December 2007, I went to the beach at midnight while listening to Maria Callas’ Turandot. Being alone on the beach, witnessing the moonlit waves doing a beautifully synchronized dance with the music, I realized that the way out of my dark night was to go inward, that the entry to this source is through the heart and not the mind. You have to sense your internal path. As I undergo this process I come to the realization that I am divine. ‘The Seeing Heart’ is a series of drawings and paintings that activate the primal energy and convey the journey that is taking place inside.”
A&U recently had the chance to correspond with Orocoro about his art.
Chael Needle: In a caption on your website you write: “Here I am with my new drawing (self-portrait in progress) The Divine map #1 (awakening), charcoal on stained paper. I believe that drawing oneself is a political act. The world may see you as the ‘other,’ but it is crucial to see your own beauty (and more than just your externals). When you find your inner truth the world will never call you ugly again AND YOU WILL BELIEVE IT.” What set you off on this journey of empowerment and where has it taken you so far?
Orocoro: In 1987, I became a Buddy in the New York Buddy program. In this program I would take care of people with AIDS and at this time AIDS was devastating and hatred was rampant. I went to war with the outside forces (the church, the Reagan administration, the patriarchy and Republican structure) that I felt were against me as a gay man of color and my kind (to say I was rabid is an understatement). My artwork took a very biting response and I ended having to be hospitalized (a mental breakdown). What I realized the most radical thing I could do was to point fingers at myself and show the beauty that is in me. Today, I’m at peace with myself and trying to forgive those that were ignorant. I choose to see those that try to put me down as ignorant rather than evil. I am also part of the divine structure and I will not allow anyone to convince me otherwise.
That sounds very empowering. You mention “divine structure” and when I look at your work one of the characteristics I notice is that they are structural, moving beyond the traditional compositional frame, branching and connecting. How do understand this choice to go beyond the frame? When and why did you first start doing this?
The way I work is I stain the paper and let the images come out of the stains. Once I see the image come out (almost like a Rorschach test), then I am guided to let it move from its containment. I do feel in a way that I will not allow my work to be fixed into the usual shapes. In many ways my art has a traditional structure because I started classical drawing and painting training at the age of eleven (started drawing at three). I do love the old masters, but I originally wanted to be a comic book artist (as a child), and looking back the way they lay out the pages in comic books had an influence on my subconscious.I first started doing these kinds of compositions after reading [the book mentioned in my artist statement] Sacred Contracts in 2005.
What kind of space do you want to create for viewers? Is your art related to their awakening, too?
I took a class on NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and I was taught that the subconscious mind believes everything that it sees (good or bad) is a reflection of the self. Consciously I know there is a separation between myself and the viewer, but on a subconscious level there is no separation. The first chakra’s law is “all is one”, and I believe all art connects the viewer to the collective and to the inner self. Years ago, I experienced this very powerfully when I went to see a show on Frida Kahlo, and as I looked at her self-portraits I really was not seeing her, but myself. I hope that my work connects the viewer’s subconscious to the healing energy that I am connecting to. I also wish to leave a map for those that want to go on the road I’m traveling.
I think I understand what you are saying because even when you appear as part
of the art work in the photographs (you take?), I am never struck that the work is about you. You almost seem like a guardian, a figure who protects the space as well as describes the space. What is the process of deciding whether or not you will appear?
Most of the photographs that I post on social media are taken by me with a timer, but the ones on my website are taken by Mariano C. Peuser. When I work with Mariano I first do sketches to show him what my idea is and how I want the composition to work. However, even when I work with him it is still my vision. I started performing with my work in 1990. When I finish a piece it no longer needs me, and I include myself with the work to always have a physical proof of the connection with my drawings. I also feel that my art communicates with me and it “tells” me what it needs from me and the performances. Sometimes I’m like “You want me to do what?” but I usually comply at the end. I am a very introverted person and the photo performances really take me out of my comfort zone, but hopefully it will help me stretch as an artist and person. With my artwork I am really not in control.
I know you mean healing in the broadest sense, but do you see your art responding to the HIV pandemic in this way? Are there other ways you feel your art is a response to the pandemic?
My early work was a complete response to the AIDS crisis and in 1995 I had a “run-in” with the Westboro “God hates fags” Baptist Church on Miami Beach. I sent you an article and some of the images of that time. This work was more about rage than healing. The healing started when I started to really see and accept myself, and forgive. Hopefully it can be a guide to the viewer in the AIDS pandemic and other viruses that come along. What I discovered through this journey was that by healing oneself you can begin healing the whole. It must start with the inner world if I want to affect the outer world.
Any new series or projects coming up?
I’m working on this series “Up My Kundalini”, which is a group of self-portraits showing my evolution with the Kundalini meditations. I’ve been meditating religiously since 2004 cultivating the inner energy via the chakras and I am trying to let the viewer go with me on that ride.
Visit Orocoro’s site at www.orocoro.com.
Chael Needle interviewed artist Alex Alferov for the March Gallery. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.