I’m sure you’ve spotted Robert Chapa ‘always’ at my side in the city. You’ve also likely spotted Robert’s graphic designs right here on Sean In The City DFW. Whether it be at fashion events, art shows, or the aisles at Target inseparable is an understatement describing us two. As best friends, we have been compared to Bert and Ernie, Oprah and Gayle, and yes even Cheech and Chong (cough). Our friendship has spanned nearly a decade now, and lord knows, a best friend doesn’t even come close to describing Robert.
This year, Robert has become quite the toast of our city. Last May, his paper rendered models of some of Dallas’ centerpiece structures landed the cover of the Home Design Issue of FD Luxe. His paper creations, for the longest time, have been kept behind closed doors with one mere admirer- me. So, I finally present my overdue interview with a creative force who happens to be my very best friend. We talked all about why he kept his paper talent all to himself, what his creative process is, and what’s in store for the second half of his trailblazing year. Truth be told, I learned a lot more of my BFF, perhaps, even making this ‘ConversaSEAN’ among my faves, without bias of course!
Sean Charles: Ok, seriously, I think you need no introduction. You have been at my side for everything. Hell, you were next to me when I published my first blog post. This city however has since made up their minds that we are a premier gay couple. So I think its only best to start by clearing the air.
Robert Chapa: OK, Yes, we are happy to announce that we are getting married this fall, for the rice [Laughs]. No, only kidding, we are just the best of friends.
SC: OH LORD! Ironically enough, this is the hardest interview thus far- I find it very odd. Maybe its the best friend factor. So, I’ll start by asking about your big moment back in May. How do you feel now that all this has come to pass, now that DFW has seen your work?
RC: Don’t know why you’re nervous, we talk everyday seriously [laughs]. Well, FD Luxe, one word-blessed. Blessed to have been given such an amazing opportunity.
SC: For the longest time I have been, technically, the only admirer of your work, due to its private nature. You even point it out in the issue. Why did you keep your paper art on the down-low?
RC: It was my personal work I did at home, something I thought of at home. It wasn’t for school, wasn’t for business, it was just for me. A way to wind down the day. I never paid it any mind to put it out there, but I think it made the issue all the more surreal, for me.
SC: How has your reception been?
RC: People are amazed. The cover looks like an actual home I designed which I think is funny. They really don’t notice it’s paper. That to me is great, people see it as it was intended. I think people’s reaction to the fact that it’s paper makes them see paper in a new light. And that’s been the best feedback, their amazement of the medium.
SC: Why buildings and structures?
RC: I love what architecture represents. I love what these structures are meant for, how they are used in the world. Manmade structures where people are inspired to go into, work in, be a part of it somehow. Concerts, places of enjoyment, and celebrations. I find it inspiring.
SC: You’ve had an interesting background in multiple areas, and many different arenas in the creative industry. I think you really have explored many aspects of them, perhaps that’s why your pieces are so well done. Do you think your training in other areas somehow set the stage you’re on now?
RC: Art itself was a big part of my upbringing. My mother is a great drawer. My grandmother would sew, she would add on creatively to anything we needed in our clothes. Maybe that’s what fueled my exploration in fashion design. To this day, fashion is big source of inspiration for me. I was always in art competitions when I was young, too. I enjoyed to challenge myself and see what else I could do in different areas with different mediums and there were a lot of mediums [laughs]. I went from painting, drawing, even ceramics. Then I went into digital art which really sparked me creatively. Thats how I found myself in graphic design.
SC: Speaking of graphic design, I’m proud to say that you are the official graphic designer of SITC, and have been since the start. Tell me about your graphics designs, and are you still working on that side of the biz?
RC: Very much so. Graphic design is a big passion of mine, also like paper, there are multiple layers of detail.
SC: Among all those mediums that you have under your belt, did you in the smallest thought ever consider architecture?
RC: I did for a small period of time. The aesthetics of architecture is really what caught my attention. But the technical side of architecture wasn’t my forte. I see that art forum as a jewel among cities around the world. I see these structures as bigger-than-life sculptures in the middle of every city. There is always one big piece, one show stopper in every city. Those aesthetics are what inspire my love and respect for architecture.
SC: This is true, being from a small town and moving to the big city was always a goal in my life. I would see Nightline everynight just to see Times Square in the background of the anchor desk. So, I fully get your inspiration. Even the name of my blog is a testament to that aspirations and appreciation of being in a city. However, I think you made me more aware of these observations. I really appreciate urban structures more now. Especially here in Dallas we have some of the greats, not to mention one of the best skylines. Ok, so why paper, why is paper your medium of choice?
RC: Paper is my canvas. Paper is easy access really. This medium is everywhere. Everything you see on a day-to-day basis. Paper is among those daily, hourly, visuals that you see. We see it in money, office supply, and we get a receipt after every coffee. So as an artist I find it interesting to make art with an everyday thing. It’s also a challenge. There are many different types of paper. I enjoy the how-to process,and the logic in it is half the fun.
SC: Now, I’ve seen you in action but I actually don’t really know how you get from a pad of paper to a city highrise. When do you know when a certain building is the next project, and what’s the process?
RC: I pick structures that will challenge me the most, a structure that seems almost impossible to render out of paper. I also get inspiration by how the cities react to the structure, whether loving the structure or hating it. Controversial pieces… that may explain my Museum Tower piece [laughs]. It motivates me creatively. I think the challenge is my process.
SC: What about scale, the scales you work with are so tiny, and some are a bit larger. Do you enjoy these mini-to-medium scale, how about full-scale?
RC: I enjoy the mini scales. I find them to be a tad more fantasy like. I find the details pop more in miniature form. In the future, I would like to explore larger scale models, maybe when I get my first loft [laughs].
SC: How about other forms other than buildings. Have you explored more surreal sculptures?
RC: Well, most of my work is influenced by architecture. I sometimes play with more avant-garde shapes and using paper in other ways, but they end up looking like a building in the end.
SC: OK, now let’s get to the backstory. You are from Laredo TX, and I’m from a small town near Corpus Christi.Like I mentioned, it was always my aspiration to move to the big city. Was this one of your aspirations growing up?
RC: Oh yes, I knew that early on. I always knew I didn’t fit. Even growing up, when I was exploring art, people would ask me where I was from even though I was born and raised in Laredo. People had the impression I was from somewhere else all the time. Laredo is pretty big, too, but I knew somehow I was meant to be somewhere else.
SC: Why did you feel different?
RC: I was very opened minded maybe a little too much [laughs]. I was also so picky on what I would do with my down time. I loved museums or talking about art, and I don’t know, maybe some people thought that was a tad odd [laughs]. Looking back, maybe I wasn’t that different but I felt it.
SC: And what made you decide on Dallas?
RC: Well I wanted a city that was far from home yet still relatively close, plus, I was really attracted to the skyline, and at the time it was growing. When I moved here we didn’t have Museum Tower or the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge. Seeing our city grow proves I made a perfect choice.
SC: You moved here around the same time I did. Did you feel a big relief finally getting to the big city?
RC: It was, but very nerve-racking. I remember being so nervous. It was very challenging moving to a city you don’t know too much about. It was very hard, but I was thankful for being able to do it. I moved here right out of high school too. There were so many things to discover here. It was a culture shock. But it was part of what I wanted also-that shock of city life.
SC: Do you feel all that has happened this year: the magazine, your pieces being in demand (I love saying that), is validation of what you set-out to do? Making it in the big city? Do you think that’s what has happened to you for this year?
RC: I’ve proven to myself that I am doing it, I am doing what I love to do. It hasn’t happened, but it is happening. I feel there is so much happening now, more to do, more I am doing. Now that is exciting! To me, this was something that was a gift and being able to act on the gift is again a blessing.
SC: And to think, all this is happening with the work you essentially did not intend to put out in the world. How does that make you feel?
RC: Everything happens for a reason. It’s funny how things happen really. I created these pieces just for sheer pleasure, and to see it become something is again so surreal.
SC: So, you have gotten in the habit of even keeping things secret, even from me, What’s in store for you? Do you have anything planned?
RC: Well, a good handful of projects in the works right now, but stay tuned [laughs].
SC: I know these questions are a little cliché, but I love them. What’s your dream structure to construct?
RC: I would love to do a concept building, something that doesn’t yet exist. However, I would really love to start on The Vatican. Talk about detail and a lot of coffee [laughs].
SC: Well, I know I can’t wait to see that! I think that’s a perfect place to wrap up. I doubt this will be your last appearance on SITC, So, until next time.
RC: Yea, I doubt that too, Shout out to the SITC readers out there, I’ll see you in the city.
SC: Wait, that’s my sign off [laughs].