Why This Arizona Artist Paints In Abstract Explosions Of Color


Fausto Fernandez stands in front of a table and behind him hangs a large painting of military officers

Mixed-media artist Fausto Fernandez uses collage techniques to create pieces such as Waves of Impact as a Method of Truth-telling, shown here in his studio.

The prismatic collage paintings of Fausto Fernandez never feel merely two-dimensional. The Phoenix-based artist excavates meaning by merging photography, found media and abstract explosions of color. And his subject matters follow suit. Working in series, his poignant inspiration ranges from math equations to Navajo rugs, and from outer space to the U.S.-Mexico border culture he experienced growing up in Juárez. “I’m always trying to push myself into an uncomfortable zone,” Fernandez says of his richly layered style. “Because if it becomes a formula, there’s no challenge.”

a painting of a machine on a black background with colorful collage on top

Artist Fausto Fernandez incorporates motifs of machinery and tools as a metaphor for human behavior, such as in Quetzalcoatl.

a man painting with large colorful paintings hanging on the wall behind him

Fernandez says he still leans into his early graphic-design training. “I still want to create visually exciting paintings,” he says.

A hand holding a paintbrush

“All my work has personal stories,” Fernandez says. “The motion, the splattering, all those things are part of the story that I want to convey.”

His approach stems from a background studying painting and graphic design at The University of Texas at El Paso. Before the world’s digital evolution, graphic art was still primarily a tactile experience, with compositions drawn and cut by hand. Even as Fernandez pivoted more toward painting after graduation, he still enjoyed “the old-school process of cutting and assembling things,” he recalls. Weaving these cut layers into his work became inevitable. 

His techniques have grown more dynamic with time, each series inviting new applications. Fernandez employs different painting styles to convey movement, whether using brushes to create free-form acrylic drips or textured spray paint to add grit and diffusion. For the collage elements, he incorporates both archival images and his own photography, highlighting and obscuring the subjects under swaths of paint. Fernandez then hunts for paper ephemera with interesting motifs and histories. Think old maps, sewing patterns, architectural blueprints and vintage wallpapers. And for his series exploring the material fragility of Navajo rugs, he incorporated gunpowder burns, kintsugi-like gold leaf and thick black paint to convey the imperfect beauty of repairing broken things.

The artist’s new work, Burden Narratives While Stuck In Traffic In Pursuit Of An Obligation At The Port Of Entry, will be on view at an exhibition at the Mesa Arts Center opening this month. The piece features the slow creep of laser-cut cars, painted in a sensuous blur of hot pink and concrete hues. Graphic in form, it seems at first like pure abstraction. But another story emerges through keener eyes: an examination of the communal and tedious experience of crossing the border. Like all his work, the layers always beckon you to look again, and look closely.