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Louisville artist explores identity and heritage in ‘No Hablo’ exhibition

A man in a button-up shirt and slacks, his sleeves rolled up, stands next to a colorful art collage. It is a self portrait of the artist, Andy Perez.
Scott Recker
Andy Perez standing next to his work “No Hablo.”

In his latest exhibition, local artist Andy Perez uses his signature bold, cut-and-paste style to be vulnerable about sometimes feeling disconnected from his Puerto Rican roots. The show blends complex feelings — insecurities, joy and searching — into a beautiful statement.

For several years, Andy Perez has used his colorful, distinct pop-art style to depict cultural icons and meditations on nature.

A glance at his portfolio reveals a cartoon-like portrait of hip-hop artist Jack Harlow wearing a University of Louisville basketball jersey on stage at Forecastle, a painting of Gov. Andy Beshear giving one of his signature updates during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a side profile of a perched cardinal against greenery and sky, as well as other inspirations from the world around him.

In his latest exhibition, the bold and bright aspects of his signature cut-and-paste painted collage creations remain the same, but the subject matter is different. This time, the Louisville-based artist is looking inward. He’s honest and vulnerable about the sporadic disconnection he feels from his Puerto Rican roots.

The exhibition is titled “No Hablo: A Self-Exploration of Identity,” referencing the fact that Perez doesn’t speak Spanish. He said he often feels like an outsider, like he doesn’t totally belong.

A prominent piece in the show is a medium-sized self-portrait that has the mouth blurred out. It’s one of the first pieces you see upon entering, and it grounds the theme of the exhibition.

“I’ve heard people say that you have to be vulnerable, and that’s how to connect to other people, to be the most vulnerable that you can be. This is sort of the thing that I’m most embarrassed about,” Perez said, referring to him not speaking Spanish. “So I’m just trying to put it out there and say, ‘Here it is.’ Let’s see what happens.”

The exhibition runs at KORE Gallery through Sunday. In addition to his focus on vulnerability, viewers will see joyful symbols of things that connect Perez to his heritage, like the Puerto Rican flag, a well-known neighborhood in San Juan that he recently visited and a can of Goya Gandules Verdes, an essential ingredient in his favorite dish and a nod to Andy Warhol’s famous“Campbell’s Soup Cans.”

Three colorful works of art are visible on a white gallery wall. The artwork most in focus shows a collage depiction of the Puerto Rican flag by artist Andy Perez.
Scott Recker
“La Bandera” by Andy Perez.

Like his previous work, “No Hablo” conveys Perez’s affection for celebrities. The exhibition features a portrait of superstar Bad Bunny, a Puerto Rican musician who is Spotify’s most streamed artist for the last three years in a row, clearing 18.5 billion listens in 2022 alone.

Altogether, “No Hablo: A Self-Exploration of Identity” highlights the complex feelings of who you are and where you’re from, both the pride and the insecurities.

It’s his own story, but it’s a relatable one.

It started on a snow day

Perez, who grew up in Louisville and Southern Indiana, decided that he wanted to be an artist in middle school. It was a snow day when he painted a pink cutting board with acrylic paint his mom had at home. He turned the cutting board into an abstract painting of a pig, with “weird swirls.” He still has it.

“Since then, it turned a switch or something in my mind,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be an artist.’”

Perez attended the Milwaukee School of Art & Design where he studied illustration. Since graduating in 2004, he’s split his time working as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer and artist.

In 2021, he was commissioned to create the Kentucky Derby Festival Poster, a prestigious local accomplishment with a selection process that dates back to 1981. A vibrant, cartoon-like mythical Pegasus dominated his poster, while his overarching concept wove in pieces of past Derby Festival posters.

That same year, Perez created the figures for the inanimate onstage characters in “Ali Summit,” a performance anchored by voice actors that was part of the 2021 Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Don Cartwright, the manager and owner of KORE Gallery, met Perez about four years ago, around the time the gallery moved into its new location on Kentucky Street near Logan Street Market. He was looking for new artists to represent, and was impressed by what he saw from Perez.

“I like his bold colors and the fact that they’re collaged pieces cut out of paper and formed together to make a visual representation of whatever the item is,” Cartwright said. “He’s continued to work over the years, and his work is getting better and better and better.”

A trip to the island

Perez traveled to Puerto Rico for the first time with his family last year. That trip became a catalyst for the creation of the exhibition “No Hablo: A Self-Exploration of Identity.” In preparation of the trip, he started his journey to become fluent in Spanish. While he’s not there yet, he’s currently on more than a 600-day streak on the language app Duolingo, diving into the process of accomplishing a significant life goal.

In Puerto Rico, his group did a small loop across half of the island through the week they were there, taking in several different areas. Perez and his family soaked up a lot of culture, but one of Perez’s major takeaways was the bright color schemes that defined the aesthetics of the island.

One of the pieces in “No Hablo” is of La Perla, a historical shanty town neighborhood in Old San Juan that Perez drew inspiration from.

“I’ve always been drawn to bright colors for some reason, but visiting the Island of Puerto Rico, it was very bright,” Perez said. “In San Juan, there were bright colors everywhere, really all across the island is very bright, so I was thinking about that, trying to bring some of the liveliness and color from the island, but also just my tendency to use a lot of color anyway.”

A colorful collage by Andy Perez depicts a horse.
Scott Recker
A detail of the piece “Color Horse.”

One of the many stunning pieces in “No Hablo: A Self-Exploration of Identity,” is called “Color Horse” and it’s a good example of both Perez’s unique artistic style and the deeper meaning of the exhibition. From afar, the horse attracts attention with its bright colors and emotive eye. It’s magnetic and playful. Up close, the depth is clear. Perez builds up color on each individual piece of paper that make up his collages. There are heavy brush strokes, movement and energy on each scrap, and together they capture the essence of the animal. It is at once both powerful and peaceful.

Beneath the surface, “Color Horse” represents a connection between Perez’s home and his heritage.

“The reason I included it in the show is that I was doing some research before we went to the island and I realized that there are wild horses in Puerto Rico, which I had no idea, that in some areas, they’re just roaming around,” he said. “When we were there, I think we saw some, which was really cool to see, so I thought that was a really interesting tie between Kentucky and Puerto Rico. I mean, everybody loves a good horse.”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

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