Habitat is a weekly series that visits with artists in their workspaces.
This week’s studio: Carlos Vega; Midtown, Manhattan. “I like the idea of humanity going through a process of unstoppable enlightenment,” Carlos Vega told me recently in his studio. Late last year Vega exhibited work at Jack Shainman Gallery in a solo show called “Faith Need Not Fear Reason,” which celebrated a brief period of time in 12th-century Spain when Christianity, Judaism, and Islam peacefully coexisted and philosophers freely pursued enlightenment, unbound by religious dogma. “Many of the pieces in that show were about the cosmos,” Vega said. “In our secular society, we look to the cosmos as being a kind of structure that rules the order of things.”
Vega’s work has an underlying sense of positivity and has long examined humanity’s relationship to faith, philosophy, and popular culture. His recent studio practice has explored these themes using lead, vintage postage stamps, and gemstones, which he shapes into intricately layered forms on wall-hung panels.
“I’m in a moment of recapitulating, evaluating, and also trying new things,” he said, adding that he is about to begin a new body of work. “After a show,” he continued, “you have kind of a quiet time. I like to give myself the chance to go back to basics. Sometimes it’s very important for me to do work that only stays in private.”
The artist splits his time between his Manhattan studio and a place in Kinderhook, New York, which he’s been going to every weekend for the past 15 years. “I love the countryside but I also like the simplicity of New York City,” he said. “I have an almost monastic life in Manhattan. It’s very convenient, and a good place to disappear from the world.” While working, he often listens to classical music and compared the life of an artist to that of a writer. “Artists spend so much time alone trying to make something out of nothing,” he said, looking at a large panel that took three months to complete. He considers his time in the studio to be meditative.
With his work, he wants to highlight a sense of optimism. “Material things are too shallow,” he said, “and you find that there is this disappointment even when you are blessed with plenty, it doesn’t really help to carry the load—because we all carry a load, one way or another. We are here on this journey of being alive and hoping to make the best out of it.”
Vega’s work is currently featured in a group show at Rennie Collection in Vancouver. He is spending time in the studio, after recent solo exhibitions at Jack Shainman and the Orlando Museum of Art. Below, a tour of Vega’s Manhattan workspace.
ALL PHOTOS: KATHERINE MCMAHON