When I first thought to interview Jaime Carbo a few months ago, my idea was simple - showcase the work of a talented Baja artist and gain insight into what inspires his colorful work, which he categorizes as tribal pop. What ended up happening was all of that and much more as we broached the topics of open borders, how travel changes you, family, and the importance of being thankful over tacos, tostadas, and beer.
Carbo was born in the smoldering bordertown of Mexicali which is a stone's throw away from the United States. Typical of most border residents, Jaime effortlessly shifts between both worlds in all areas of his life thanks to a binational upbringing and adult-life. He attended primary school in sleepy Calexico, but university in bustling Mexico City. Jaime's vibrant paintings and indigenous-inspired sculptures are easily identifiable in Baja and other parts of Mexico, yet foreigners who have never stepped foot in the country recognize it as well thanks to well-recieved exhibitions throughout the world. And or course, he has family and friends on both sides of the rusty fence that separates the U.S and Mexico.
Inspired by politics, the art of Mayans, Aztecs, and Hichols, and his varied life experiences, Jaime's tribal pop pieces tell Mexico's story - past, present, and future. Across mediums his work has complex themes of spirtuatliy, self-reflection, and national pride despite appearing simple at first glance due to the heavy use of primary colors. For years Carbo maintained his own studio and gallery in Rosarito, but has recently been forced to close its doors due to declining tourism in Baja amid fears of violence. Whereas others in his position would be discouraged, Jaime instead sees this as a lesson from the universe in being thankful for neglected gifts. "I didn't realize how lucky I was," he said, between bites of tacos and swigs of beer. When I asked what he meant, Jaime went on to say that he did not realize that he was actually working for all those years, because he was doing what he loved. Now primarily earning a living from a factory job to make ends meet and painting after hours to feed his soul, Carbo has a new appreciation for his old life. "I'll get it back and this time I'll be more thankful," he says after enthusiastically showing me the blueprints for two murals that the city recently commissioned him to paint.
More tacos, more beer, more conversation. Jaime and I talked a bit about the dynamics of the border, from why Northern Mexicans love In-and-Out Burger as much as Californians to what are the economic and social forces that compel desperate attempts to enter the U.S. illegally. "It's cool," Carbo said, referring to how intertwined but separate life is on the U.S.- Mexico border. He reminisced about a Rosarito that was once full of U.S-tourists, but also pridefully spoke about the Mexican-led revitalization of downtown Tijuana, another area of Baja mitigating the negative effects of fewer visitors from up north. We exchanged stories of personal international travels, making note of new places to visit and things to do once there, which led us to the importance of knowing where you come from, even once you have opportunities to leave. "This is home," as he looked around a small restaurant where he seemed to know everyone and vice versa.
One more tostada. I had to order it because Jaime looked so happy eating his earlier during lunch. After a long debate about the translation of callo de hacha and if this was in fact the proper Spanish word for scallop, we somehow landed on the topic of family. "I used to watch my mom paint," and even though Jaime never remembers his mother working as an artist full-time, he acknowledges that this is what piqued his interest in painting. Carbo admits that painting (well) did not come naturally, chuckling as he described dimensionless and flatly toned early works - "they were bad." With the encouragement of family combined with his fiery spirit, he kept wetting his brushes and his work gradually improved, becoming more polished during and after art school. I started to ask Jaime if he had children and before I could finish the question he responded: "She's so smart," referring to his daughter, an elementary schooler who's cuteness can melt even the coldest of hearts. "We paint together, she has a whole wall that we draw on together," he continued, which made me realize it had all come full circle in just two generations. "Would you want her to pursue art?" A valid question given Carbo's recent struggles. Without hesitation he responded, "whatever she wants," although he hopes that she inherited financial savvy from her accountant mother. The waitress brought the bill and one of the most amazing lunches that I have had in Mexico came to an end.
As if lunch was not enough, Jaime invited me to his home where I met his father, photographed the doodling wall that he shares with his daughter, and saw some of his work (I of course bought a piece, Lucky). To call this a great Saturday would be an understatement - it is easily tops the list of my best memories since moving to Tijuana. I learned so much about not only Jaime the Artist, but also Jaime the Father, Son, Businessperson, Baja Resident, and Dreamer. My final conclusion about it all? Jaime and his art represents everything that I know the border region to be - resilient, engaged, and incredibly capable, and the border is everything that I know Jaime to be.
Artist Jaime Carbo + Various Works // Rosarito, Mexico // January 2015. Photos by Nakashia (Kashia) Dunner // Copyright 2015.