Local artist creates handmade works to be shared

Photo courtesy of Tom Meyer

Mario Petrirena is a Cuban American artist living in Atlanta, Ga., whose work has been featured all across the country and also in Beijing and Puerto Rico.

Petrirena was recently a Tech artist in residence, and his unique collage-styled postcards are still available in the lobby of Clough.

The inspiration behind most of Petrirena’s work comes from his unique upbringing. The artist grew up in a Cuban household after immigrating to the U.S. unaccompanied by his parents at eight years old. For eight months, he and his siblings lived in an orphanage until his parents were able to find refuge in the country. Petrirena attributes his work to his split cultural upbringing, not Cuban, not American, but something in between.

“My work is informed by my dual heritage. It is personal, autobiographical, often a mystery to me,” Petrirena said. “Through my work, I explore the complexities, the duality, the contradictions, the humor, the beauty and the fragments that are an ever-present part of my life. They are attempts to understand myself and how I fit into this world.”

However, Petrirena believes his art is not only limited to those with Cuban-American heritages. His use of postcards allows for his art to be more easily seen and

“As an artist, if you really offer what you have to give as an individual, you tap into something universal,” Petrirena said.

Petrirena’s artistic passion also stems from his appreciation of certain artists, such as Duane Michals, Yoko Ono and Joseph Cornell. Michals is an American photographer, lauded for his use of text and photo sequences to investigate topics such as gender, death and sexuality. Ono is a musician and pioneer of conceptual art, whose works such as “Cut Piece” and “Grapefruit Book” paved the way for Conceptualism. Cornell was an American artist who played major roles in surrealism and assemblage art.

Petrirena is very active in the Atlanta art scene, and has served on boards for the High Museum of Art, the Contemporary and other various committees. He is friends with other Atlanta-based Cuban American artists, including Mirth Ferrer, Tina Dunkley and Rocio Rodriguez.

Petrirena’s artistic process is mostly intuitive, and he frequently works on multiple projects simultaneously. He spends a period of time gathering materials and looking for images, though most of the time he is not looking for anything in particular and instead clips images and textures that appeal to him. Once the materials are all compiled, he uses paper glue and a handheld roller to form his collages.

His collage postcards, which often deal with relevant issues, are acclaimed for their poetic juxtaposition of certain imagery. In “Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love,” he used flagrant patriotic imagery to mask the speaker at a podium, while the Lincoln monument sits in the blurred

The overall aesthetic, coupled with the title, which is a lyric taken from the Christian hymn “Blessed Assurance,” force the viewer to question their ideas of patriotism and religion.  He finds that his more political pieces tend to do well.

“People have always like my collages about conflicts,”
Petrirena said.

Despite the recent increase in popularity of digital art, Petrirena still stands by his process and prefers to cut and paste pieces together by hand rather than in front of a computer.

“Beyond being old, there is something in the physicality of cutting the paper,” Petrirena said.

Currently, Petrirena is working on a retrospective gallery for the University of Georgia, which will be exhibited in the next year.