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Portrait Of A Young Artist:
Hector Acuna

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Image courtesy of Hector Acuna
An Array Of Young Artists Are Now Using The Scottsdale Art Walk To Share Their Work With The Phoenix Metro: A Conversation With One Of Them
 
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By Stephanie Sparer
Modern Times Magazine
 
June 20, 2017 — When I stumbled across Hector Acuna, a young man in his mid-20s, painting a small landscape scene at the Scottsdale Art Walk, or “America’s Original Art Walk” as Scottsdale likes to call it, I was a little surprised. I wasn’t even there for the art walk, even though I’m 30, and I really strive to be more cultured. I was there for the boba tea. But I stayed for the art walk... and to talk to Acuna, the first in my new Portrait of a Young Artist series.
 
The Scottsdale Art Walk is every Thursday between 7 and 9 p.m. in Old Town Scottsdale, primarily along Main Street and Marshall Way. Unlike First Friday or your nephew’s art show, it features legitimate artists from all walks of life.
 
Chances are your parents have gone to the art walk with their friends, or they used to go, or want to go, maybe even did go, once, after a nice Thursday night wine at Citizen Public House (author’s note: go to Citizen Public House), but you are likely under 65 and spend your Thursday nights with wine, too, but also Netflix, because that new season of Master of None isn’t going to just watch itself, you know.
 
The Scottsdale Art Walk is itself an institution. It’s over 40 years old and so are most of the people in attendance. Or at least, that’s how it used to be.
 
But the Scottsdale Art Walk is changing. The crowd age is shifting and there’s an uptick in younger people who are interested in supporting their local arts and making connections within the community. There’s also an increase in younger artists trying to make their mark there, like Hector Acuna.
 
Acuna’s art is often inspired by daily observations and happenings. When I meet up with him, he is painting a flower he sees in a bush along the Art Walk route. “This is just little,” he said. “Something people can watch me do.”
 
He handed me some photos of his other work; a man that looks like a distant memory, his face distorted like something you dream; and also a portrait of Acuna as a young boy set against a blue background.  Acuna explained the second piece on his Facebook page, writing it is a “quick monochromatic study exploring form and expressive mark making.”

 
I’m a writer, so I just assumed the painting was about missing his youth. I might be projecting, because I’m sort of missing mine. But that’s kind of the point of art, right? To take what you need from it and make your own kind of connection.
 
“Making connections with people is an important part of my strategy,” said Acuna. “I just wanted to go [to the art walk] and if they kicked me out, then they kicked me out.” They didn’t kick him out. Instead, Acuna found himself chatting with all sorts of people.
 
“It’s interesting because as an artist you’re looking for people who inspire you, even subconsciously, [as well as] people [you can connect with for future projects]. People aren’t just gonna come and knock on your door...you have to put yourself out there first.”
 
Part of the draw to the Scottsdale Art Walk? Consistency.
 
“It’s nice that [the art walk] is weekly,” he said.  “Most other cities do an art walk once or twice a month. I just think it’s generous for [Scottsdale] to set up a weekly art walk that’s good quality. The format is always the same, it’s all on Main Street, and it centralizes everybody, giving them a shared experience of traveling between galleries and meeting people. It helps to create a sense of community. Everybody that I’ve spoken to has always been really interested and responsive.”
 
Acuna hails from Wisconsin and moved to Arizona at the end of a bike tour he planned himself.
 
Living in Arizona after growing up in the midwest has changed the way Acuna paints. “[Living in Arizona] is a totally different landscape than what I grew up with... It’s just fun to totally change up what you’re used to as far as mixing colors, composing the space with long horizons but then the mountains... It was fun to do something different than the trees and lakes in the midwest.”
 
He picked up his paintbrush his sophomore year of high school, but it wasn’t until he was a junior in college that he realized art could be an actual career. “I’ve just always enjoyed doing things that are calming and peaceful,” he said, noting he was almost an art therapist before becoming a painter. “The whole idea [of being an artist] just seemed sort of far-fetched. You have to be self driven.”
 
He’s been interested in art his entire life, but Acuna admits both his parents draw and paint so he shrugged. “It might just be genetics. Maybe I’m predispositioned to enjoy art.”
 
But it’s also more than that, said Acuna, “I like painting and drawing because I like doing things that are a slow process. It’s sort of a selfish reason. It gives me time to reflect on concepts and conversations. It’s a nice time to sit and revel in parts of yourself. It’s good for people to have something that gives you time to be alone and be comfortable, but you’re also producing something so it’s a double win. It’s meditative.”
 
His art demonstrates that. His portfolio is in shades of primarily calming blues, grays, and golds. Some images are familiar, like the cast of The Office and others are like faraway memories of people whose faces you can’t quite remember. His earlier work depicts downtown buildings (Edward Hopper is an influence) and landscapes. His art feels like a walk down memory lane, even if you don’t know the surroundings. There’s a familiar touch to his art, as though he’s starting a conversation with you from the middle and you already know the subject.
 
Said Acuna, “Painting is forcing yourself to get into a subject matter that is constantly changing. Shadows move. Colors change. Skys can change…I was working from photos [in the beginning of my career], but then getting outside and being able to see light... is really helpful.”
 
But overall, Acuna said, “I just want to make something that I believe in first and I hope other people will spend time with and give a chance.”
 
You can watch Hector Acuna paint at the Scottsdale Art Walk every Thursday or visit his Etsy website, https://www.etsy.com/shop/acunaart.
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