On International Artists’ Day, we look back at our interview with “neo-pop expressionist” John Paul Fauves.

By Dani Osorio.

The man behind the mask broke into the art scene in 2017 with his landmark exhibit “A Loss of Innocence.” With solo shows at the Guy Hepner Gallery in New York, the Meir Art Gallery in Antwerp, and an upcoming exhibit in Taipei, John Paul Fauves has taken the art world by storm. 

Painting under this pseudonym, Fauves felt the freedom to explore his true self. “My art for me is an expression from my soul,” he says. Starting with the contrast of hedonism versus innocence, Fauves gives us a glimpse into his journey on the road to redemption. “I believe that before we have this spiritual enlightenment our souls are going to keep rotating until we are ready to evolve.… the more raw you keep it and the more untouched by society, the closer you get to finding another understanding,” he explains. Liberating himself from the burdens of his past life through a newfound spirituality, he has managed to turn that internal turmoil and frustration into striking works of art. 

Fauves describes himself as a “neo-pop expressionist,” and he is best known for his iconic depictions of hedonistic versions of Mickey Mouse, Alice in Wonderland, and Marilyn Monroe. These figures represent characters that seek pleasure at all costs, without regard for consequence, “where one bad choice can take you down a dark hallway that you don’t find your way out [of].” This is an extrapolation of the hedonistic lifestyle Fauves feels we are all being tempted by, which then results in the inevitable loss of innocence. He elaborates, “Our soul is constantly trying to tell us things, but we are so distracted by this material world, that we forget that there’s a deeper meaning to existence.”

Fauves began his artistic journey at an early age, when he studied under Central American painter Joaquin Rodriguez del Paso. The drive to create art is “much more emotional than rational…and I was fighting it,” he says. Following the wishes of his family, he suppressed his desire to paint and instead went on to study business in Madrid. “I felt pressure to fit into that mold… [but] I always knew that I wanted to be an artist.” Nonetheless, he returned to Costa Rica to settle into the corporate world. 

Feeling trapped in a life he never wanted, Fauves would party hard and then come home late at night to paint in secret. Sometimes, he says, “When I woke up I had to erase some of those paintings because I didn’t like what I saw.” During this time he created a lot of dark paintings and writing, and he was even arrested for putting graffiti on some walls. That’s when he decided to quit his job, sober up, start from zero, and focus on painting. “It was a really cool awakening,” he says. Now, he paints with abandon, each brushstroke taking him one step closer to healing and finding inner peace. 

During this period, Fauves started reflecting on “who I was, why I existed in this world, and why I had to do certain things in art.” He started painting directly on canvas without mixing colors, straight from the tube, “as a true expression of a natural pattern without knowing the natural pattern.” Fauves uses a lot of bright colors, neons, and primaries. This reflects a style and a medium that one can imagine appealing to the Fauvists, who were a strong and early influence on him. He adds, “It’s all related [and] and I admire [their] process” as he attributes the essence of his stylistic inspiration to the French Fauvism movement. Art critic Louis Vauxcelles first coined the term “Les Fauves” in 1905 when he used it to describe these artists, and thus the movement was born. Furthermore, “Les Fauves” means ‘The Wild Beasts” in French. Fauvist painters like Matisse and Derain often chose to paint directly with colors as they came, frequently using primary colors rather than mixing them, to express emotion boldly. When he talks about the development of his own process, Fauves says, “I was a rebel. I tried to paint without following any order or sequence….I just grabbed the [paint] tubes almost like a bullfight on the canvas. This was my inner wild beast.” And so, @leFauves was born.

It is often said that no one is a prophet in their own land, and Fauves was no different. At the start of career, he received very little support in Costa Rica and turned to social media platforms as a way to share his paintings. He has amassed an audience of nearly 50,000 followers—“Instagram helped me open my art into the world,” he says. This new medium enabled him to connect with a different demographic that was more open to his ideas, and it also helped shape his evolution as an artist. 

Through “The No Profile,” his upcoming exhibit, Fauves is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest Latin American artists of our generation. In this new series, he explores the search for one’s true self. This exhibit “talks about the lost identity of self. [It is] attached to a false illusion of existence without looking deeper into who we really are, or what we are not.” Just like the masks that he wears in photographs and public appearances, these new paintings are designed to make us question our own existence and sense of identity. 

“The No Profile” series is derived from the concept of the identity we create for our social media platforms, in which inevitably “you are not you.” He explains, “You have to express a face, you need approval, and it’s all related to approval from the people…but we are just tricked into believing that we need it.” He feels that we pressure ourselves to believe in something and to yield to the structure imposed by society, which in reality is just a copy of the structures of the society that came right before us. “We all start as this blank slate, then we start having experiences… and it’s about how we experience our society.” Eventually, we start to adapt our personality to the system, and we start building shields. 

Fauves believes that we all wear masks every day, both in real life and through our social media accounts. It starts with the “small things that we hide or that we change because we see something wrong.” We create our own masks as shields and layers to protect us from societal expectations, but “when we keep accumulating these small changes, we forget who we are,” he says. Fauves likens this to a constant spinning wheel or being stuck at a never-ending carousel. 

The idea for this new collection came together during a trip to London, when Fauves met up with a graffiti artist and they took some pictures together in Piccadilly Circus. They then decided to play around with some masks from a previous collection, and it changed everything. “We put the masks on and we started rolling and we became a different self,” he explains. He adds, “The mask is our personality, and we have a lot of masks inside of us…so I started asking myself, why do I have to put a mask on? Why am I shy or why am I afraid?” Now Fauves seeks to strip them down as he explores the idea of unmasking our true selves.