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Carlos Antonio Piñón

artist, writer, performer

Carlos Antonio Piñón performing in the 2017 BFAW Reading at the LeRoy Neiman Center. Photographer: Qais Assali.

Young Author

by Iliana Alvarado
September 17, 2014

In many ways, Carlos Antonio Piñón seems like just any other person. However, in many more ways, he is an incredibly talented young man. As an artist and writer, he self-published his first book titled Paper Dreams & Other Collections in 2014. The book is a collection of poems, short stories, and excerpts from some of his personal journals through the years. Since then, he's produced Misprints in 2016, a collection of glitch art books, and Husk & Other Collections in 2017, a collection of nonfiction personal essays. Along with establishing himself as bookbinder and visual artist, he's also performed his nonfiction essays live at the Rudy Lozano, Albany Park, and Back of the Yards Chicago Public Libraries, as well as the Jackson Junge Gallery, the LeRoy Neiman Center, and the Steppenwolf Theatre. In addition to his books, Carlos created a website for his own work to be easily accessible online.

Carlos was born on April 20, 1995 in the great city of Chicago. His parents raised him with his sister and three brothers. Family is important to him, as in one of his journal entries he explains that he loves his family more than he loves himself. We can also see that love in the first page as the book is dedicated to his nephew. Carlos did that not only out of love, but to show him that the possibility of doing something is endless. His days as a youth consisted of going to school and then coming home and playing video games like The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon, where worlds in which playing the hero was possible. Carlos attended a couple of elementary schools before settling into Rufino Tamayo UNO Charter School. Not wasting time with cliques and trying to fit in, Carlos focused on his studies leading him to attend Lane Tech College Prep High School where he graduated in 2013. He later graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in December 2017 with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts with an Emphasis in Writing.

Carlos has been writing for as long as he can remember. His early pieces were a means to express himself. As he got older, he learned to raise his voice and let people know how he is feeling. "The more and more I spoke my mind, the more I found solace in writing...[writing] does get easier once you stop caring about what others think and just write for yourself," he said.

Carlos Antonio Piñón posing in front of his installation in the 2017 Fall BFA Show at Sullivan Galleries. Photographer: Ariel Carter.

Carlos's interest in writing became stronger while in high school. He attributes a specific English teacher, Andy Fine, to that peak. With a class reading list of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, there was freedom in being able to write more creatively and artistically. Perhaps uncoincidentally, this connection would later pique Carlos's interest in live lit performances, as Mr. Fine's husband, Jeremy Owens, runs You're Being Ridiculous, a popular nonfiction storytelling event. As a frequent audience member, Carlos would go on to perform at the show several times himself.

Paper Dreams & Other Collections consists of fifty pieces. Carlos started off with the intention of putting all of his writing in the book going as far back 2009, but with a budget and crucial thinking, he had to make some cuts. Carlos chose the best pieces and the ones that had more sufficient writing. As great as the book is, how it came to be is a story all on its own. Carlos always had the intention of publishing a book, but didn't exactly know the details of what that meant. So he did what any smart author would do: he asked his friends. He created the inside cover page, posted it on Facebook and asked, "who would be interested in a copy?" After getting a wave of positive responses, he felt empowered to continue full speed ahead. "Probably a week or so after I made it a Facebook status, my friend Goldie was the first to hand me money for his copy. This is when I knew people were serious." Carlos got down to the dirty work. He originally had a book containing all of his writings, which added up to 140 pages and a cost of $30. Carlos didn't think it should cost so much so he spent two months revising and going over all the details until he narrowed it down to a book with 50 pieces and costing a mere $17.

Getting the money to make all the copies and publish the book was a major hurdle Carlos faced. In February 2014, Carlos created a video explaining his book and his idea to self-publish it. He asked for donors to help him make his dreams a possibility. He uploaded that video on Kickstarter, a global operation that allows people to put their projects on the web and help receive donations to fund those projects. Carlos's project ran for a little over a month and rose to 180% of his original goal. From there, he took his book to print at SAIC's Service Bureau and was now a physical object he could hold. Carlos said that his book is the thing that he is most proud of. It's his writing and work that he would truly love to be remembered by.

A person's writing style is as unique as that person's signature. Each piece of Carlos's writing carries a little piece of him. The way he writes not only paints a mental picture but some actually show a physical picture. This style is known as visual poetry, which draws inspiration historically from concrete poetry. For example, his poem "Teardrop" seems talks about someone hurting you and the sadness you feel; however, the words are actually shaped into an actual tear. Or how another poem, "Skyscraper", the formation of the words is composed in a vertical rectangle, like a skyscraper, and has to be read from the bottom up. Carlos says when creating a piece of writing, they all have to be handled and processed differently. When he gets an idea, he just simply writes and lets the piece tell him where it is going to go and what form it should take. For him, it's all about comfort and accessibility. "When you are comfortable and honest, writing becomes more free flowing."

Besides creating physical work, another big project is running his website. The website includes majority of Carlos's work in all media. "Part of making art," he explained, "is being able to share your work with others. Whether that means being onstage in front of a large audience or sitting beside one good friend." For Carlos, finding a voice unique to you is a key to being human, but it is often only unlocked after we find inspiration. For this reason, he believes that his art should be accessible for everyone to enjoy, but especially for those who, like him, once needed guidance. "I have something important to say, a specific story to tell that can only be told by me," Carlos said, "and it's worth it for that person in the audience who [has their own story to tell, too]." Still, Carlos understands that sometimes people may find his pieces hard to relate to for any number of reasons. Yet, he absolutely delights in the knowing that you have at least read it and made your own interpretation of his work. "Someone wrote a poem in response to a piece that I wrote, and so I printed it out and put it on my wall," he said. "On the copyright page of my book, I talk about how my writing can serve as a prompt or inspiration, so I always grant others the ability to branch out. The world's fascinatingly endless."

Since publishing his first book in 2014, Carlos has gone on to publish two more books, as well as making over a dozen books by hand. This second book, Misprints, is an exhibition book from 2016 reflecting on a year-long project that "seeks to reinterpret past and present SAIC publications through the process of databending sonification." As a glitch artist and a bookbinder, Carlos combined his visual poetry style with his glitch aesthetic by manipulating hundreds of scans in an audio program to produce entirely new books as art objects. "For me, being in between the crosshairs of writer and artist, I have been working closely in ways to explore the ways people interact with words and language." Carlos said. "I hadn't found a way to incorporate [glitch art] into the rest of my practice until this project." More recently, in 2017, Carlos published Husk & Other Collections, a series of nonfiction essays produced as the culmination of his time in the writing program at SAIC. These essays are a return to the more personal side originally in Paper Dreams & Other Collections. This collection includes five essays, from how his favorite pair of red pants relates to his sexuality, to vignettes about the neighborhood he grew up in, as well as his personal struggle with family dynamics and religion, to his perspective of his body image. The final essay chronicles the process of writing the first four essays, including the inspirations and problems along the way. "I very much aimed to write essays that people could relate to, but also told my own specific experiences as a person," he said. "Opting to stick to nonfiction essays, I wanted a frank voice that could not be misunderstood like my attempts at poetry and fiction have been."

With everything Carlos has done with the book and the website, most people would assume that's all he has done. Incredibly, it's not. This ambitious young man has taken on a full plate and keeps going. While still a student at SAIC, Carlos had also served as a teaching assistant for incoming students in their first year at SAIC, as well as a digital asset assistant in his school's Office of Institutional Advancement. Since then, Carlos has found himself working in a variety of different roles, most recently at Blick Art Materials. Even with such a heavy workload and creating writing and art pieces, Carlos still finds time to relax. He enjoys hanging out with friends, playing Terraria and The Forest, and watching TV shows like Futurama and The Walking Dead. The way he puts it, his life is actually pretty simple. "You just gotta keep working hard at what you believe in and always look forward to the future."

Last updated: October 22, 2018