Carlos Pineda-Palma, a.k.a Winternitz, creates works that are graphic—both in style and in content. He became captivated by depictions of sex, excess, and violence while growing up in Lima, Peru, a city the artist describes as “a place where violent riots and uncensored animation were openly broadcasted on national television in times of dictatorship.” This exposure influences his work, as does his lifelong obsession with comics. Through his work, he explores the power dynamics between the viewer and the picture, and also within the narratives he creates within each piece.
In this in-depth interview, Carlos discusses the whimsically macabre imagery in his work, the role gender plays in his fictional characters, and how the punishing nature of painting helped him grow as an artist.
When did you begin creating your art? How has your upbringing shaped your art practice?
I was a very obsessive kid. Ever since I can remember, I was obsessed with making stuff. Growing up I’d make my own toys, I’d sculpt small figurines to play with or cut and glue existing toys into new ones. I created some darn atrocities that I couldn’t put down. I started studying drawing at the age of 15 and since then I couldn’t stop, I became obsessed. I knew right away I’d never let go and I’m still at it 14 years later.
Can you talk a bit about the role sexual politics has in your work?
Yes, I love exploring the power dynamics between the viewer and the picture and also within the picture’s narrative itself. Sometimes I depict my subjects intoxicated by their own sexual prowess in one image only to strip them away from their sexual currency by the next one. ‘Every sword needs a sheath’ came as my response to watching men playing extremely loud music on the street while driving enormous cars. The way they stride around desperate to project swagger and be noticed must be overcompensating for something. So I made this painting of a boy with a small groin infatuated with a giant sword. This is also a common trope in fantasy media, a male character swinging around a humongous sword. In the next painting I’m working on, a young man with a giant sword isn’t doing so well and his blade didn’t help him much.
I insist on making many of my characters’ genders as ambiguous as possible to go deeper in this conversation. I think it says a lot about us as people and what we understand as masculine or feminine when we are too eager to box fictional characters with an ambiguous appearance into one category or another.
I love the type of graphic style your artwork has—whether it's your paintings or comics. What is your relationship to comics? Are there any comics and/or graphic novels that inspire you?
Painting and comics are my two biggest obsessions. As a maker I struggle to find time in my day to devote to each and only wish days were longer. I’ve recently gotten back into making comics after many years of strictly oil painting and can’t express in words how much I missed it. I originally came to New York to study comics for my undergraduate at the School of Visual Art, but it's there that I discovered painting and tried doing both at the same time. I had to fully commit to painting by the time I got to graduate school to truly learn and it was a most humbling experience after having achieved proficiency in a different field. Learning how to paint will break you down and rebuild you stronger as an artist. It’s a very punishing yet fulfilling venture.
There’s too many comics to mention as points of influence and inspiration. Lately I can’t stop reading the work of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Jaime Hernandez, they do things with the language of comics that are exclusive to the medium and cannot be replicated in other media. This quality is what I look for in art that I enjoy.
What would you say is the core theme/subject that connects your work?
At the moment I'd say it's ‘Power’. Not exclusive to the power dynamics I enjoy exploring. There is this ominous sense of dread, of impending doom I’m trying to capture in my latest body of work while playing with my whimsically macabre imagery. This and the obsessive pursuit of skill as power, to an almost neurotic point. Nothing can ever just feel ‘good enough’. Each piece has to be better than the last one I created and I have to get better with each new work. However, what matters most ends up being the pursuit and not the end point in itself. It’s easy to lose sight of the image if you obsess over the process.
What brought you to NYC? How has your experience there changed how you approach your work?
I came to New York city to finish my art education. I've been here seven years now and I constantly go back to Peru each year as many times as I can to be with my family. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t miss the food. Peruvian food not being readily available 24/7 in New York city should be a crime. *Cries in Spanish.*
If you are experiencing a creative block, what do you do to get your creativity flowing again?
The only creative block I’ve ever encountered is when real life circumstances get in the way, such as a loved one passing away or falling sick. I never stop creating, the work just doesn’t go anywhere as I keep redrawing the same image over and over, changing the tiniest details in a most neurotic manner. What helps me is to stop working and address the real life issues. A salute goes out to my mother who is recovering at the moment from her illness. Fuerza mamá. Te quiero.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in relation to your artwork?
My biggest challenge was learning how to paint. It truly felt impossible and the frustration and anger I felt was hard to describe. I still can’t believe I learned how to do it, it felt unachievable for the first four years but I stuck with it because I loved it. The identity crisis this brought was unimaginable as I always felt tempted to go back, to play it safe and just draw, but I kept painting. I realized it would only be harder to learn how to paint if I waited longer and was already a professional, as risk-taking and experimentation would have to happen in the public eye. I’m very grateful to all my teachers who encouraged me to take risks and pushed me. Gracias Totales.
Do you have anything coming up you’d like to tell us?
I’m currently working on my debut solo show and I'm also working on my first graphic novel. I’ve never felt this excited about my work but I can’t share much about these projects other than the book’s title. BUSHWHACK.